Jun 2, 2017 | By Benedict

Daimler Buses, a division of German automobile company Daimler AG, is using 3D printing to produce customized, small-batch, and replacement parts for its Mercedes-Benz and Setra buses. The company says 3D printing is more environmentally friendly than other production methods.

Every customer is different. That’s something that automaker Daimler Buses learnt early on while serving a client base that spans all corners of the globe. But what the German bus manufacturer realized more recently is that 3D printing can help meet the demands of those individual customers.

A technology leader in the bus and coach sector, Daimler Buses is using additive manufacturing technology to meet customers' special requirements and produce small batches and replacement parts for its Mercedes-Benz and Setra brands. In a press release put out today, the company says it is currently 3D printing complex internal parts, including moving components, in just a single step.

But 3D printing isn’t a totally new concept for Daimler Buses. The company says it has 25 years of experience with 3D printing processes in truck and prototype construction. And while prototypes aren’t the same as end-use parts, the company says it has made a smooth transition from rapid prototyping to printing actual roadworthy components.

In particular, Daimler Buses sees 3D printing as a great way to provide one-off and small-batch parts for individual customers who need a little something different in their vehicles.

“In the medium term, we see digital production technologies as harboring vast potential to enable us to address market and customer requirements in a flexible manner while at the same time minimizing investment risks,” commented Hartmut Schick, Head of Daimler Buses.

Impressively, Daimler Buses says its 3D printed parts are of a similar standard to its injection molded parts, adding that 3D printing also allows it to avoid “the costs relating to tool production, component storage, and the disposal of surplus materials.”

The high quality of Daimler Buses’ 3D printed parts might have something to do with Daimler AG’s close affiliation with German 3D printing giant EOS (though the company has also used Ricoh SLS 3D printers).

Large-scale adoption of 3D printing might be a relatively recent strategy at Daimler Buses, but the company has been quick to make the most of its fleet of 3D printers.

To date, Daimler Buses has 3D printed over 780 components in response to special customer requests and calls for replacement parts. These have included drawers, cover moldings, retaining strips, adapters, and surround rings. And there’s more to come: more than 150 different replacement parts for buses are currently being “scrutinized and validated” with regard to their feasibility as 3D printed parts.

Most of these 3D printed parts are metal, and are being produced with SLS 3D printers. Like most 3D printing methods, SLS proves economical for producing small batches of components, rather than huge numbers of them. The printers are speedy too: Daimler Buses says it can get through the entire production process (from design to delivery) in a matter of days.

That speed is also partly because 3D printing can be used to massively shorten delivery times.

"The 3D printing process allows us to install local printers at the production plants operated by Daimler Buses worldwide,” Schick says. “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.”

Daimler Buses is purportedly already making savings in this regard, but one of the biggest advantages of 3D printing spare parts will be found in the long term. When Daimler Buses creates a 3D model of a bus component, it can keep that model on file forever. This means that any future iterations of the design can be reeled off in no time at all, and also means that no physical copies of the part need to be stored in costly storage units.

(Images: Daimler Buses)

Germany, where Daimler AG is based, is actually a hotbed for this practical application of additive manufacturing. Just two months ago, German rail company Deutsche Bahn called on its suppliers to cut out its inventory costs by adopting 3D printing for spare parts.

Although Daimler Buses can use 3D printing for a variety of components, it has highlighted a few recent examples that have benefitted most from additive manufacturing.

“The multi-piece stowage compartment for banknotes which Mercedes-Benz 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 here,” Daimler Buses says, adding that “3D printing is a particularly interesting proposition for customers who attach great importance to special shaping for color-coordinated components in the interiors of their touring coaches.”

Next time you’re riding in a Mercedes-Benz bus or coach, keep an eye out for any 3D printed parts. There could be more of them than you think.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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