Being originated from rapid prototyping applications, 3D printing exhibits itself at different points in the manufacturing supply chain. And one of the latest: Metallic spare parts for automobile. Mercedes-Benz Trucks in Germany 3D prints first metal spare part. It has started printing aluminium thermostat covers for its customer services & parts division. Being known worldwide as one of the best automotive manufacturers, Mercedes-Benz’s embracing of 3D printing has shown what this disruptive technology is capable of. Daimler AG has already established 3D printing as one its production methods for high quality plastic parts, and has now demonstrated its interest in doing the same with metals.
3D Printing Thermostat Cover
The company printed thermostat covers for older trucks and Unimog models that were phased out around 15 years ago. As the requirement is not repetitive in big numbers, it doesn’t make sense to manufacture and store old parts in large numbers. Hence it turned to metal 3D printing technique called selective laser melting (SLM) to make parts on demand. In this process, a layer of powdered metal is deposited on a platform and scanned with continuous-wave laser to selective melt and solidify the exposed region. The same process is repeated with subsequent layers on top and the final component is manufactured in a layer-by-layer fashion. Unlike selective laser sintering (SLS) where powdered polymers are heated to semi-melting temperatures, metallic powders are heated to full melting temperatures in SLM. Therefore it’s possible obtain near 100% dense parts by this method.
Mercedes-Benz used AlSi10Mg, an alloy of aluminium, silicon and magnesium to print the thermostat cover. Previously the parts were made of aluminium die casting. The resultant 3D printed thermostat cover possessed good thermal resistance and mechanical strength. It is reported to have passed all quality assurance requirements before being validated for end user. Andreas Deuschle, Head of Marketing and Operations at Mercedes-Benz Trucks’ Customer Services and Parts can be quoted as saying
“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”
We can expect more automotive companies to follow suit and introduce metal 3D printing for spare parts and services. Such decentralised on-demand manufacturing would lead to availability of complex-shaped parts anywhere in the world. Perhaps we might not have to wait long anymore for unavailable spare parts in our vehicles’ service centres.