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Daimler 3D prints its first truck spare parts in aluminium

Mercedes-Benz Trucks used 3D printing technology to produce its first aluminium spare parts for a truck model whose series production ceased 15 years ago

The working cavity of the SLM laser printer: as the work platform is raised, the powdered aluminium/silicon material moves to the side to reveal the contours of the thermostat covers.
The working cavity of the SLM laser printer: as the work platform is raised, the powdered aluminium/silicon material moves to the side to reveal the contours of the thermostat covers.
After the aluminium/silicon metallic powder is removed by suction, the, the first printed thermostat covers emerge, still connected to the work platform.
After the aluminium/silicon metallic powder is removed by suction, the, the first printed thermostat covers emerge, still connected to the work platform.

Daimler has used 3D printing technology to produce its first metal spare part – a thermostat cover for Mercedes-Benz truck models whose series production ceased 15 years ago – and seen the part pass of all the stages of the manufacturer’s stringent quality assurance process.

3D printing can produce metal parts that are exceptionally strong and thermally resistance, making it particularly suitable for producing mechanically and thermally stressed components, as well as parts that are only required in small numbers – where conventional production might prove costly.

The technique for 3D metal printing uses selective laser melting (SLM), which involves the layer-by-layer application of powdered aluminium/silicon material (ALSi10Mg) that is then melted together using one or more laser energy sources.

Thanks to the layered structure, the process also can offer a level of geometrical freedom that cannot be matched by other production methods, and deliver aluminium parts with up to 100% higher density and purity than die-cast parts.

“With the introduction of 3D metal printing technology, Mercedes-Benz Trucks is reasserting its pioneering role among global commercial vehicle manufacturers,” said Andreas Deuschle, head of marketing and operations for customer services and parts at Mercedes-Benz Trucks.

He added: “We are ensuring the same functionality, reliability, durability and cost-effectiveness with these 3D metal parts as we do with our conventionally produced parts.”

Apart from the high strength, hardness and high dynamic resistance of the parts, 3D printing can produce components with highly complex structures without the need for a corresponding increase in the complexity of the tooling.

And even when the parts are only required infrequently – such as in the case of highly specialised parts or those or small and classic model series – 3D-printed parts remain just as cost effective.

With the technique, engine parts, powertrain and even chassis parts might all conceivably be produced “at the touch of a button” for any geometry and in any numbers.

Deuschle concluded: “The particular added value of 3D printing technology is that it considerably increases speed and flexibility — opening up the possibility of offering spare parts rapidly and at attractive prices, even long after series production has ceased.”

The parts division of Mercedes-Benz Trucks first began exploring 3D printing plastic components for the after-sales and replacement parts business around a year ago.

In that time, Daimler has also established the 3D printing of plastic components as a viable additional production method.

In the future, 3D metal printing might allow decentralised, local production, leading to vastly reduced spare parts lead times, and a reduction in warehousing and transport requirements and costs.

In the UAE, 3D printing is being used by Etihad Airways and by Dubai's RTA, for the Dubai Metro, while the desire for niche aesthetic and architectural elements could spur the rise of the technology in the construction sector.

 

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Construction Week - Issue 751
Oct 13, 2019