MAN Truck & Bus, the Munich-based, leading producer of commercial vehicles, has collaborated with BASF spin-out Replique, a digital manufacturing platform also based in Germany, to 3D print spare parts. Leveraging Replique’s global network of on-demand manufacturing partners, MAN was able to source the bronze manifold for a marine engine that was out-of-stock, with the casting mold for the part also unavailable.
MAN is a subsidiary of Traton Group, itself a subsidiary of Volkswagen Group (Traton was formerly known as Volkswagen Truck & Bus AG). Notably, in 2021, Volkswagen announced its goal to 3D print 100,000 parts per year by 2025.
Using the bronze alloy m4p Brz10 and powder bed fusion (PBF) additive manufacturing (AM), MAN went from its initial inquiry to receiving its first spare parts in less than two months. According to Replique, the Central Material Technology department at MAN demonstrated that the parts printed in m4p Brz10 outperformed the original in tensile tests. The parts’ subsequent demonstration of success in real-world scenarios resulted in MAN’s ordering 10 more units.
Replique’s distinction from other digital inventory platforms is underscored by its ability to enhance technical performance beyond the original part, particularly through the utilization of m4p Brz10. In an interview last summer, Replique Co-founder and Chief Operations Officer Henrike Wonneberger described to me how prioritizing materials qualification is at the center of Replique’s focus.
This announcement also reinforces the argument I made in an article from October, about how the next phase of AM’s scale-up could be largely driven by the increasing demand for automated quality control of spare parts sourcing for transportation-related sectors. As I noted in that story, the state of the technology supporting AM-centered distributed manufacturing still makes such distributed manufacturing more of a dream than a reality.
Nevertheless, a company like Replique working with a company like MAN is precisely the sort of business relationship that can serve as a precursor to the widespread deployment of distributed 3D printing. The fact that MAN and Replique are already in the process of working on more printed spares hints at the likelihood that in 2024, the AM sector will bring distributed production of on-demand spare parts even closer to reality.
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