From full-size buildings to fashion items, 3D printing is breaking down the barriers usually associated with manufacturing fiddly low-volume products. Now, Daimler has turned to the process for replacement parts in buses. The move allows complex interior components to be economically made in small batches, with shorter turnaround times than possible using conventional production methods.
This isn't the first time Daimler has turned to 3D printing for replacement parts – last year, the company announced it would be using Selective Laser Sintering to produce 30 plastic truck components. Before that, the process was also used to develop more than 100,000 prototype components.
When a bus operator needs a specific replacement part, they simply need to order the part based on its specific order code. Daimler is able to print the parts at will, and says making small batches of specific parts (between 1 and 50 pieces) is much cheaper than before. The turnaround is also much faster than using conventional production methods – design, costing and production can take just a few days.
It isn't just simple, single-piece components that Daimler is printing. The example provided is the banknote storage container integrated into the driver's compartment in some buses. Rather than having to make the lid, housing, assembly clips, hinges, handle and dividers separately and then assembling, 3D printing allows the parts to be manufactured in a single step. They also don't use any excess material, and specific materials don't need to be stored on site.
"The 3D printing process allows us to install local printers at the production plants operated by Daimler Buses worldwide," says Hartmut Schick, Head of Daimler Buses. "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."
More than 750 components have been printed for customer buses so far, and more than 150 replacement parts are being scrutinized for their potential as 3D printed replacements.