Printer drivers come to the fore
Daimler Buses is using 3D printing to produce some small batch components at the request of customers
The concept of 3D printing is not new, but many are still not aware of just how many companies are making use of the technology.
The tip of the nosecone on the Bloodhound supersonic car that will attempt to break the world land speed record in SA was printed on a 3D printer. The Red Bull F1 team uses a 3D printer back at its base in Milton Keynes, England to print parts that need to be flown in at the last minute for a race weekend.
Daimler Buses is one of the latest to announced that it is exploiting the benefits of 3D printing to meet customers’ special requirements and produce small batches and replacement parts for the Mercedes-Benz and Setra brands.
Currently, the company says it is already possible to print complex parts located in the bus interior in a single step, which formerly consisted of several.
"In the medium term, we see digital production technologies as harbouring vast potential to enable us to address market and customer requirements in a flexible manner while at the same time minimising investment risks," says Hartmut Schick, head of Daimler Buses.
3D printing provides the division with a means of responding swiftly, flexibly, economically and ecologically to individual customer requests for replacement parts. The company insists the 3D parts correspond to the injection moulding standards stipulated by Daimler, while avoiding the costs of tool production, component storage and disposal of surplus materials.
The potential of 3D printing is manifest in the area of special customer requests and replacement parts, where some 780 components have been printed for customer vehicles to date. In addition, more than 150 different replacement parts for buses are being scrutinised and validated with regard to their feasibility as 3D printed parts.
The "printed" special and replacement parts consist of high-quality polyamide plastic components. They are created with state-of-the-art 3D printers based on the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing process. In this generative layer-building process the structures of the preprogrammed 3D part are produced layer by layer from the powder-form polyamide materials by means of a laser.
3D printing allows any desired geometry, even for complex bus components. Special parts and low-volume parts can be modified and adapted to customers’ special requirements. The company says that this proves particularly economical in small series involving batch sizes from 1 to 50 units. The entire process, from the initial idea through design, costing and production to delivery, takes only a matter of days.
The customer can subsequently re-order any 3D part using a specific part number under which is specified in the order code lists and the replacement parts catalogues of Daimler Buses. This allows a swift supply of replacement parts, even after decades, worldwide.
In most cases, 3D-printed parts also prove more favourable than their conventionally produced counterparts in terms of weight, as the design engineer is no longer restricted by the constraints previously imposed by the production processes and can adapt components to the given functions.
Numerous components have already been adapted for the process. Drawers, cover mouldings, retaining strips, adapter and surround rings represent just some examples of the production of special and replacement parts using the method.
From now on, the company says that 3D printing will render it possible to print complex, moving parts which have consisted to date of several components in a single step and without requiring extensive assembly operations, which will also result in reduced costs.
The multipiece stowage compartment for banknotes, which Mercedes integrates on request in the side panelling on the left-hand side of the driver’s area in place of the cup holder, is just one of many examples. This complex component comprises a number of individual parts: the housing, various assembly clips, hinges, lid, handle and compartments. The conventional production process would entail manufacturing the individual parts using various sophisticated thermoforming and injection moulding tools, followed by joining of the individual parts.
3D printing is a particularly interesting proposition for customers who attach great importance to special shaping for colour-co-ordinated components in the interiors of their touring coaches. In addition to avoiding the costs of manufacturing special production tools, additional savings arise in particular for small series and special parts as a result of the fact that it is no longer necessary to produce all-time stocks.
The 3D technology avoids bottlenecks and surplus production. This ensures special parts are produced and replacement parts are supplied in precisely the required quantities. As the parts can be delivered quickly and without requiring large-scale stockpiling, no stocks need to be maintained.
"The 3D printing process allows us to install local printers at the production plants operated by Daimler Buses worldwide. It also enables us to respond in a flexible manner at local level to customers’ special wishes and replacement part needs. In this way, the availability of parts can be speeded up considerably while avoiding long transport distances as well as high transport costs and customs charges," says Schick.