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Daimler division prints first spare truck part of metal

A European sister operation of Daimler Trucks North America has taken 3D printing to the next stage: Production of heavy-duty model parts, starting with a thermostat cover.

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Mercedes-Benz Trucks produces complex metallic spare and special parts in top quality using a new 3D printing process. Shown here is the working cavity of the laser printer at whose center a metallic thermostat cover has been produced for the first time using Selective Laser Melting. When the work platform is raised, the powdered aluminum/silicon material moves to the side (top) and component contours become visible.
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3D printer interior shows the first printed thermostat covers still connected to the work platform. After removal of the platform and support structure, the aluminum/silicon metallic powder is removed by suction, sieved, cleaned and ecologically fed back into a recycling system.

“With the introduction of 3D metal printing technology, Mercedes-Benz Trucks is reasserting its pioneering role among global commercial vehicle manufacturers,” contends Customer Services & Parts Head of Marketing & Operations Andreas Deuschle. “We ensure the same functionality, reliability, durability and cost-effectiveness with 3D metal parts as we do with conventionally produced parts.”

The division began automotive 3D printing for after-sales and replacement parts markets in 2016. Since then, it has worked with Daimler AG researchers and pre-developers to improve and expand the use of the latest 3D printing processes for plastic parts. 3D printing of high-quality plastic components has now successfully established itself as a production method, especially in limited batches.

Mercedes-Benz Trucks engineers see additional promise in 3D-printed metal parts, which excel with their very high strength and thermal resistance, and entail a process particularly suited to production of mechanically and thermally stressed components required in small numbers. Metallic components can be produced at the touch of a button with any geometry. 3D-printed replacement parts production began with rarely ordered aluminum items; they exhibit nearly 100 percent density and greater purity than conventional die-cast parts.

Beyond their high strength, hardness, and dynamic resistance, 3D-printed metal part production requires no cost-intensive development work or procurement of special tools. Conceivable areas of use are peripheral engine parts made of metal, in-engine parts and also parts in cooling systems, transmissions, axles or chassis. Especially in the face of complex structures, 3D-printed metal can prove cost effective for producing infrequently requested parts or those for small or classic model series.

“The availability of spare parts during a workshop visit is essential for our customers—no matter how old the truck is, or where it is located. The particular added value of 3D printing technology is that it considerably increases speed and flexibility, especially when producing spare and special parts. This gives us completely new possibilities for offering our customers spare parts rapidly and at attractive prices, even long after series production has ceased,” Deuschle concludes.

3D metal printing stands to allow decentralized and therefore much faster, local production directly in the worldwide Mercedes-Benz production locations. Expensive warehousing and the associated, complex transport processes would be unnecessary, with delivery times made shorter for customers.

PREMIER PRINTED PRODUCT

A new thermostat cover is an example of cost-effective spare and special parts production in top quality, aluminum alloy. The part is only ordered in small numbers, and used in truck models whose production ceased around 15 years ago.

In contrast to the plastic sector’s Selective Laser Sintering, 3D printing of metallic components uses Selective Laser Melting. The thermostat cover saw powdered aluminum/silicon material (AlSi10Mg) applied in individual layers and melted by an energy source—usually one or more lasers. When one layer is completed, a new layer of powder is applied automatically and the melting process repeated until a high-strength, three-dimensional aluminum component suitable for use in areas of high temperature has been produced. Thanks to the layered structure, the process also offers a level of geometrical freedom that cannot be matched by any other production method.


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Joining Plant Manager Henning Bruns (second from left) for the logistics center groundbreaking are Cleveland colleagues (from left) Stefan Pies, Bob Riley and Joel Demelza.