You’ve all heard of 3D printing. It is mind-blowing technology which I must admit, I still haven’t got my mind around. I mean, I wouldn’t like my liver to be made by a 3D printer. However, it’s making inroads into many sectors through 3D printing’s ability to make almost anything.
I once saw some parts made from 3D printing and asked if they could make Angelina Jolie for me. When they said no, I laughed it off as being of absolutely no use to me. Well, that may well be the case but it’s of huge use to other sectors – including the trucking sector.
Proof of this is that 3D printing has now arrived in the metal parts arena with the latest news from Mercedes-Benz Trucks in Stuttgart being that the first printed spare part made of metal – a thermostat cover for truck and Unimog models from older model series – has passed all the stages of the stringent quality assurance process smoothly and is now celebrating its premiere.
“With the introduction of 3D metal printing technology, Mercedes-Benz Trucks is reasserting its pioneering role among global commercial vehicle manufacturers,” says Andreas Deuschle, head of Marketing & Operations in Customer Services & Parts at Mercedes-Benz Trucks. “We ensure the same functionality, reliability, durability and cost-effectiveness with 3D metal parts as we do with conventionally produced parts.”
In the Customer Services & Parts division of Mercedes-Benz Trucks, automotive 3D printing began in the production departments for the after-sales and replacement parts business a year ago. Since then, Customer Services & Parts has worked together with the researchers and pre-developers at Daimler AG to constantly improve and expand the use of the latest 3D printing processes for plastic parts. 3D printing of high-quality plastic components has now successfully established itself as an additional production method and is particularly suitable for the production of smaller batches.
Metal parts from the 3D printer excel with their high strength and thermal resistance. The process is therefore particularly suitable for the production of mechanically and thermally stressed components required in small numbers.
Metallic components can be produced “at the touch of a button” with any geometry and in any numbers. 3D replacement parts production began with rarely ordered aluminium parts. These excel with almost 100 percent density and greater purity than conventional die-cast aluminium parts.
Apart from their high strength and hardness, as well as high dynamic resistance, their production requires no cost-intensive development work or procurement of special tools. Conceivable areas of use are peripheral engine parts made of metal, in-engine parts and also parts in cooling systems, transmissions, axles or chassis.
Especially when they have complex structures, 3D-printed metal parts in small numbers can be produced cost-effectively as infrequently requested replacement parts, special parts and for small and classic model series.
“The availability of spare parts during a workshop visit is essential for our customers – no matter how old the truck is, or where it is located. The particular added value of 3D printing technology is that it considerably increases speed and flexibility, especially when producing spare and special parts. This gives us completely new possibilities for offering our customers spare parts rapidly and at attractive prices, even long after series production has ceased,” says Deuschle.
In the future, 3D metal printing might allow decentralised and therefore much faster, local production directly in the worldwide Mercedes-Benz production locations. This would further improve parts availability: expensive warehousing and the associated, complex transport processes would be unnecessary, with delivery times made shorter for customers.