PHOTO COURTESY: Mercedes-Benz
Mercedes-Benz has passed a significant milestone this month by announcing the ability to 3D print metal parts for trucks. They successfully printed a number of “highly resistant thermostat covers for trucks and Unimog models from older Mercedes-Benz model series.”
The company has been pioneering the use of 3-D printing processes for spare parts for some time. Mercedes-Benz announced in July 2016 that “30 genuine plastic spare parts could be ordered and supplied at the press of a button from a 3-D printer.”
What is 3D Printing?
3-D printing is an additive manufacturing process that creates a physical object from a digital file. In other words a solid three-dimensional physical object is created by adding material layer by layer. There are many different technologies and materials that can be used including Prototyping Plastic, High Detail Resin, Fiber–Reinforced Nylon and Industrial Metals. It’s currently being used primarily for prototyping, small production runs, customizable products and spare parts. GE, Boeing, Ford, SpaceX, McLaren and Adidas are just some of the brands actively using 3-D printing technology.
Ford Buys the 3rd 3D Printer Ever Made
“In 1986, 3D printing was called stereolithography, and Ford Motor Co. Bought SLA 3, the third 3D printer ever made,”
“Ford’s been using 3D printing for over 25 years for everything from early concept prototypes to prototypes that are actually runnable and testable on to some very limited production tooling,” says Harold Sears, additive manufacturing technical expert at Ford. “It’ll allow the engineers to shorten that timeframe [of production] down and do that iterative testing and get through it much quicker. The end result is higher-quality products and more cost-effective products for our customers.”
Ford are currently utilizing Carbon3D’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) 3-D printing technology.
“We are researching the use of 3D printing for production or replacement parts, with a focus on quality and durability,” Ford spokesman Kristen Simpson tells Fleet Owner.
Mercedes-Benz Starts Printing Metal Parts
Meanwhile Mercedes-Benz is taking the leap into metal 3-D printing. It is using Selective Laser Melting (SLM) technology with a powdered aluminum/silicon material (ALSi 10Mg) to print the thermostat covers. It provides “almost 100% density and greater purity than conventional diecast aluminum parts. Conceivable areas of use are peripheral engine parts made of metal, in-engine parts and also parts in cooling systems, transmissions, axles or chassis.”
The scope of 3-D printing’s use in the automotive industry is rapidly accelerating. More complex designs can be created, customized one-off production runs are feasible, no tools or molds are required, prototyping is much easier and faster, and there is less waste.
The technology itself is not yet ready for full-scale automotive production runs but definitely offers considerable advantage in spare parts manufacture. 3-D printing can produce spare parts on demand for much older vehicle models as well as current. Large investments in spare parts shipping, distribution and storage are no longer required plus the maintenance and storage of production tooling to make those spare parts is also no longer required.
Amazon Ahead of the Curve – Again
Always ahead of the curve Amazon filed several patent applications in 2015 for a system that could print goods on demand in “mobile manufacturing hubs” i.e. trucks outfitted with 3-D printers that could rapidly produce and deliver items on their travels.
It’s looking like truck drivers could be printing their own spare parts on demand much sooner than we think!
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