Automotive manufacturer Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, is no stranger to 3D printing – its commercial vehicles segment has fully integrated the technology into its development process and series production workflow. The company produces over 100,000 prototype parts for its individual company divisions each year, and has utilized 3D printing to help Mercedes-Benz Trucks deliver thousands of on-demand replacement parts, and produce parts to help Daimler Buses fulfill special customer requests, replacement parts, and small series production.
Another division of the company, Oregon-based Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA), is the leading heavy-duty truck manufacturer in the US. DTNA is joining the rest of the company, as it’s partnering up with 3D printing service bureau The Technology House (TTH) to launch a 3D printed parts program.
DTNA, which manufactures, sells, and services commercial vehicles under the Freightliner, Western Star, Detroit, and Thomas Built Buses nameplates, believes that 3D printing is a great way to provide better service to its customers, specifically those who require parts that are not easy to find in traditional supply chains, like components for older trucks.In addition, the trucking company, which prides itself on pioneering emerging technologies, believes that it won’t be much longer before 3D printing starts to “play a significant role in the industry,” though with big names like Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, and Audi employing the technology, I’d posit that adoption is already picking up.
During the pilot phase of its new program, DTNA will release a controlled quantity of 3D printed plastic parts, such as plastic covers, map pockets, and nameplates, to select customers – the first delivery will be completed in the next few weeks. TTH, which has over two decades worth of 3D printing experience, is working with DTNA to 3D print the parts using selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing technology; the parts have been validated to ensure that they do meet durability requirements.
“Over the past 5 years, DTNA has made significant financial and intellectual investments in the supply chain network in order to deliver parts to our customers faster than ever before. The addition of three new PDCs coupled with dedicated delivery service puts us on the path toward achieving this objective,” said Jay Johnson, DTNA General Manager, Aftermarket Supply Chain. “We realize that we must continue to innovate and we will invest in new processes including 3D printing. What DTNA is launching today with 3D printing is only the beginning as we continue to develop this technology in our quest to be the benchmark for parts availability.”
Any parts in the pilot program that are eligible for 3D printing will also be stored in DTNA’s digital warehouse, so they can be quickly printed on demand if necessary. On-demand 3D printing means that companies like Daimler will no longer have to keep warehouses full of physical inventory, and since tooling will not need to be maintained for these parts, they will be readily available to customers.While DTNA’s order process currently takes two to four weeks, when the program moves out of pilot, it will only take a few days for 3D printed parts to be shipped out to customers, which could, as the company puts it, “increase uptime for our customers who may otherwise experience long wait times for a hard-to-find part.” During the pilot program, DTNA invites feedback from technicians and customers who receive 3D printed parts; the company will also collect performance data on the parts, and determine if there could be any future demand for them.
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