3D printing is going mainstream
For automakers, some parts, like ones that are commonly replaced on current models, are easy to keep in stock. But what about the ones that are rarely needed? Continuing to produce and store those can be expensive. To solve this problem, Mercedes has decided to turn to 3D printing.
Today, Mercedes-Benz Trucks announced that it has approved its first “printed spare part made of metal.” It’s a thermostat cover (pictured above) that fits older truck and Unimog models. And according to Mercedes, it’s the first 3D printed metal part to be offered to consumers. This isn’t Mercedes’ first foray into 3D printing, however. It began offering 3D printed plastic parts a year ago.
If you’re worried that these parts won’t be as strong as regular ones, don’t be. “We ensure the same functionality, reliability, durability, and cost-effectiveness with 3D metal parts as we do with conventionally produced parts,” said Andreas Deuschle, Head of Marketing & Operations in Customer Services & Parts at Mercedes-Benz Trucks, in a statement.
According to Mercedes, the advantage of printing these parts instead of casting them is that they can be made “‘at the touch of a button’ with any geometry and in any numbers.” Production also doesn’t require expensive development work or specialized tools. From here, Mercedes plans to use 3D printing to make metal parts for engines, cooling systems, transmissions, axles, and even in the chassis.
“Especially when they have complex structures, 3D-printed metal parts in small numbers can be produced cost-effectively as infrequently requested replacement parts, special parts and for small and classic model series,” the German automaker said in its statement.
And while 3D metal printing has only just gotten to the point it can sell a single component, Mercedes sees this process completely changing the way it supplies parts for older, out-of-production vehicles.
“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 said.