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Daimler Buses Rolls out Mobile Facility for 3D Printing Spares

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We’re slowly starting to see the roll out of 3D printing for spare parts in the transportation industry. A variety of train and bus companies are implementing pilot programs to test feasibility and, in some cases, have moved onto larger-scale projects. Daimler Buses is now experimenting with a new method for 3D printing replacement parts, a mobile “mini factory” for decentralized production of 3D printed spares.

The second-largest German automaker and sixth-largest globally, Daimler AG is best known for its Mercedes-Benz brand. After initiating a 3D printed replacement parts program for buses and trucks in 2017, Daimler has steadily been increasing its use of additive manufacturing (AM) for end items and participating in projects dedicated to ensuring AM will work for serial production. As it stands, nearly 40,000 spare bus parts have been made 3D printable and 7,000 more are in the process of being digitized.

This latest endeavor sees the company’s bus line, Daimler Buses, along with its service brand, Omniplus, deploy spare part 3D printing within a mobile shipping container, measuring 12m x 3m. The container can be transported by truck to the necessary location, where it will require electricity and an internet connection to get up and running.

The mobile printing centre in the form of a container includes all of the stations relevant to the production of spare parts using a 3D printer on an area of only 36 m2. Image courtesy of Daimler Buses.

The mini factory features an HP Multi Jet Fusion machine for 3D printing parts in polyamide, as well as the necessary powder processing station, including blasting system and air compressor, for finishing the part. The parts can additionally be painted in a limited number of colors. The shipping container also includes an industrial vacuum, air filter and air conditioning system.

The pilot project for mobile repair shop will begin at the BusWorld Home (BWH) service center in Hamburg, Germany. This site, which already services Mercedes-Benz and Setra buses on location, will now be able to get spare parts 3D printed in-house. Naturally, this will see the amount of travel required to repair the vehicles shortened and turn-around times greatly sped up. Additionally, BWH will be able to use its own painting expertise to finish 3D printed spares to customer requirements. This facility will complement Daimler’s existing industrial 3D printing center in Neu-Ulm.

“Thanks to the mobile 3D printing centre, we can exploit the advantages of 3D printing to a greater extent and further increase the speed at which we supply spare parts. Decentralised production of parts as required avoids warehousing costs and reduces transportation routes. Thus, 3D printing not only allows us to react fast, flexibly and economically to customer requirements but to also improve our ecological footprint for the production of spare parts,” says Bernd Mack, Head of Customer Services & Parts at Daimler Buses.

The goal of the program is to be able to quickly and flexibly respond to customer needs. Not only can 3D printing speed up the production of a part, but the delivery a mobile repair shop increases that speed even more. An unspecified number of digital spares have undergone the relevant testing and approval so that they can be 3D printed on demand.

Next, Daimler plans to make its parts available to customers through the commerce section of the Omniplus On website, where they will be able to purchase 3D printing licenses and have their replacement items produced by a certified 3D printing center. As these certified centers are established, the mobile mini factories will be able to serve as a stopgap measure until the 3D printing centers are more widespread.

While we have seen a number of transportation providers use 3D printing to manufacture spares—such as Siemens and Deutsche Bahn, among others—this is the first time that a mobile shipping container facility has been deployed for such an application. Typically, shipping container factories have been used by various military bodies, such as the U.S. Air Force or the Dutch Navy. Molyworks also develops shipping containers for making metal powder.

Here, however, a container facility is being used for bus repair. It’s difficult to see the need to 3D print replacement bus parts on demand and on location to be so great that a mobile factory would be needed, but who am I to argue with a major vehicle manufacturer? It’s interesting that Daimler is deploying it as a stopgap until more 3D printing facilities are up and running.

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