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  • Writer's pictureNATALIA SOUSA

Mobile 3D printing centre for even greater customer proximity and fast availability of spare parts

Daimler Buses and its service brand Omniplus have created a mobile "mini-factory" for the decentralised production of 3D printed spare parts providing bus customers with spare parts more quickly. The mini factory is built into a shipping container; it includes all of the stations relevant to the production of spare parts using a 3D printer. The entire unit is an area of only 36 m2. The twelve by the three-metre container can be transported by truck to any location. Once there, only electricity and an internet connection are required for its operation.

The pilot project at the service centre in Hamburg

The pilot container from Neu-Ulm will be in operation at the BusWorld Home (BWH) service centre in Hamburg. As a result, the service centre in Hamburg that already offers a range of services for Mercedes-Benz and Setra buses will be able to produce spare parts inhouse quickly. Thus, physical transportation routes are further reduced, and the spare part is at the customer's site even faster. Thanks to the expertise of BWH Hamburg in the field of painting, the spare parts can be refined directly, according to customer requirements. Daimler Buses is thus setting up a further production facility for 3D printed spare parts at the BWH Hamburg – in addition to the internal industrial 3D printing centre in parts production in Neu-Ulm.

"Thanks to the mobile 3D printing centre, we can exploit the advantages of 3D printing to a greater extent and further increase the speed at which we supply spare parts. Decentralised production of parts as required avoids warehousing costs and reduces transportation routes. Thus, 3D printing not only allows us to react fast, flexibly and economically to customer requirements but also to improve our ecological footprint for the production of spare parts," says Bernd Mack, Head of Customer Services & Parts at Daimler Buses.

Industrial 3D printing on twelve by three metres

The mobile container is equipped with a top-quality industrial 3D printer that produces 3D printed products to the same quality as other genuine parts. Therefore Daimler Buses is the first provider that can deliver series-production quality using a mobile solution. The 3D pieces are additively manufactured using high-quality polyamide and meet the production standards for injection-moulding and deep drawn parts as stipulated by Daimler AG. The 3D printing data is prepared at a CAD workstation before the printing process. The required powder is prepared at a processing station, where the printed spare part is also freed from residue powder in a final step. A blasting system and an air compressor are located in an adjacent room: the blasting system smooths the surface of the component parts for a perfect finish. Here, the printed spare parts can also be painted in a limited range of colours. The compressor provides the systems with compressed air. The container is also equipped with an industrial vacuum cleaner, an air filter and an air conditioning system.

3D printing at Daimler Buses – from physical to digital warehousing

Using 3D printing, Daimler Buses can react fast and flexibly to urgent customer requirements, for example, when customers order rarely required parts or have special requests. Instead of a wait of several weeks as for conventional spare parts, production and delivery of a 3D printed part take only a few days. Just under 40,000 bus spare parts are already 3D printable today. Ralf Anderhofstadt, Head of the "Center of Competence 3D-Printing" at Daimler Buses and his team are currently focussing on around 7,000 parts that are being successively digitised. Some of these are already available only as 3D printed spare parts after having undergone the appropriate digitisation steps, approval processes and numerous product tests and are stored in the "digital warehouse" together with the necessary printing information. In the next step, Daimler Buses intends to expand further and decentralise the business model: customers will then purchase 3D printing licences from the "commerce" section of the Omniplus On portal and have the corresponding parts produced in a 3D printing centre certified by Daimler Buses. As printing centres of this kind are still uncommon, these mobile mini-factories represent an expansion of the planned business model.

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