Car and truck manufacturer Mercedes-Benz ensures that every part for every car it’s ever produced is available in case someone wishes to purchase it. But not only does it cost a lot of money to keep up a massive stock of parts, it takes up a lot of space, and many of the company’s older spare parts aren’t possible to reproduce using conventional manufacturing technology. But its parent company, Daimler AG, uses commercial 3D printers to make over 100,000 prototype parts for each of its divisions every year, including Daimler Buses, and last summer, the Customer Services & Parts Division of Mercedes-Benz Trucks announced that it would begin offering a larger catalog of 3D printed automotive replacement parts to its customers.

3D printing the replacement parts on demand makes the process less expensive, and negates the need to keep a large backstock of parts. Customer Services & Parts has been working with Daimler researchers and pre-developers since 2016 to continue improving upon and growing the use of 3D printing technology to make plastic parts, and now the company says that 3D printing high-quality plastic components has “successfully established itself as an additional production method, and is particularly suitable for the production of smaller batches.”

Mercedes-Benz Trucks

“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,” said Andreas Deuschle, Head of Marketing & Operations in Customer Services & Parts at Mercedes-Benz Trucks. “This gives us completely new possibilities for offering our customers spare parts rapidly and at attractive prices, even long after series production has ceased.”

While 3D printing plastic components is all well and good, 3D printed metal parts offer very high strength and thermal resistance – perfect for making small batches of mechanically and thermally stressed components. The division’s first 3D printed metal spare part, a thermostat cover for older truck models, is now available, as it has passed all stages of the Mercedes-Benz quality assurance process.

Deuschle said, “With the introduction of 3D metal printing technology, Mercedes-Benz Trucks is reasserting its pioneering role among global commercial vehicle manufacturers. We ensure the same functionality, reliability, durability and cost-effectiveness with 3D metal parts as we do with conventionally produced parts.”

The 3D printed replacement parts production journey for Mercedes-Benz Trucks began with aluminum parts, like the thermostat cover, that are not ordered very often, and offer 100% density and high purity. No costly development work or special tools were needed to produce these strong parts, so this saved the company even more money. The new die-cast aluminum alloy thermostat cover, for trucks and Unimog (Universal-Motor-Gerät) models from older series that stopped production 15 years ago, is a great example of high-quality, spare metal parts produced in a cost-effective way, as it’s only ordered in small numbers.

This photo shows the working cavity of the laser printer at whose centre a metallic thermostat cover has been produced for the first time using selective laser melting (SLM). When the work platform is raised, the powdered aluminium/silicon material moves to the side and the contours of the component become visible.

While Mercedes-Benz uses an SLS technique to print plastic parts, SLM is used to print its metallic components, such as the thermostat cover, made with powdered aluminum/silicon material (ALSi10Mg). Due to the layering technique inherent to 3D printing, the parts can be made with a high level of geometrical freedom that’s not possible in other methods of production.

Eventually, as digitization advances, Mercedes-Benz hopes to be able to provide highly specific, cost-effective 3D printed metal components to its customers, in high OEM quality, anywhere in the world. 3D metal printing may even allow for direct, faster local production of parts in worldwide Mercedes-Benz locations, which would negate cost-prohibitive warehouses and complex transportation processes.

The view into the interior of the 3D printer shows the first printed thermostat covers, which are still connected to the work platform. After removal of the platform and support structure, the aluminium/silicon metallic powder is removed by suction, sieved, cleaned and ecologically fed back into the recycling system.

At the moment, Mercedes-Benz believes other replacement parts that could conceivably be 3D printed out of metal, in small numbers, include in-engine parts, peripheral engine parts, transmissions, chassis, axles, and parts in cooling systems. Discuss in the Mercedes-Benz forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Daimler]

 

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