Dec 29, 2016 | By Julia

Mercedes-Benz has teamed up with the Oakland, CA-based 3D printing studio FATHOM to engineer a sophisticated cargo delivery management system. Using electromechanical tiles embedded with sensors, cargo delivery companies can now actively track packages from inside the delivery vehicle. The Mercedes-FATHOM system eliminates the sometimes lengthy time spent sorting and identifying packages once they’re in the truck, and a much faster delivery system overall.

“The delivery van is currently a little bit of a black box,” explains Neal Ulrich, a design engineer at the Mercedes Xtron Lab. “The cargo sensor system gives us an idea of what’s in the van, it tells the driver where the packages are located, and it speeds up the delivery process.”

Composed of a ray of smart tiles, the innovative cargo system precisely tracks a package’s weight as it’s being placed on the cargo bed. The exact weight of the package is then cross referenced with the delivery manifest system to instantly identify which package is where. When the driver goes to deliver a specific package, the cargo sensors can tell him or her exactly where that package is located in the truck.

Although the tiles themselves aren’t 3D printed (yet), the design team relies heavily on additive manufacturing in its prototyping stage.

“The whole design process has really benefitted from 3D printing and other rapid prototyping processes,” says Ulrich. “This speed allows us to bang out a bunch of different variations all at the same time or in quick succession, and really see what works and what doesn’t by playing with the actual prototypes. We went from engineering drawings to our first physical prototype in just about four weeks.”

And with no shortage of additive manufacturing tech at FATHOM’s Oakland studio, it’s not hard to see why. The California company initially began by selling 3D printers, but nowadays it’s geared towards production and innovation. Lining the studio walls are a vast array of different additive manufacturing technologies, including fused deposition modeling (FDM), polyjet, stereolithography (SLA), selective laser sintering (SLS), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), as well as the ultra-rare Dragonfly 2020 from Israeli company Nano Dimensions.

“At FATHOM, we focus on an outside-in approach versus an inside-out approach. Focusing on how a product should function versus how it should be made allows us to push the limits of manufacturing and product development,” says FATHOM Co-founder Richard Stump.

That attitude has landed the California 3D printing studio some significant contracts with impressive partners – the Mercedes cargo sensor system is one of FATHOM’s most high-profile ventures. Currently, the Oakland team has worked with Mercedes engineers to produce over 240 electromechanical tiles in just under five weeks.

While not on the market yet, the new cargo sensor system is generating lots of industry buzz. Check out the video below (starting at about 7 and a half minutes) for CNET On Cars’ special segment on Mercedes, FATHOM, and how 3D printing is being used to harness and improve automotive innovation.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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