Self-made parts aid maintenance

| Manufacturing

Daimler and Setra buses and coaches can have 3D prints made from digital twins of component

Manufacturers are making their designs available to enable users to use 3D printing for their own maintenance requirements

The supply of spare parts can sometimes be hampered by supply chain issues, which are becoming more frequently after the pandemic, political upheavals and conflict. One way to overcome these problems is to be able to manufacture spare parts at the point of use. Now, some companies are enabling this to happen with the use of additive manufacturing, providing corporate spare part consumers with licences to manufacture what they require using 3D printers.

One company that’s taking this approach is Daimler Buses with 3D printing licences being available to some service partners as early as this summer.

As a result, the owners of Mercedes-Benz and Setra buses and touring coaches will soon be able to produce numerous spare parts quickly and cheaply on their own premises or at servicing partners. All they need is a certified 3D printer, a one-off registration process and a licence for the required part in the desired quantity to create the bus or touring coach company’s own “mini parts factory”. Thanks to the new licence management for spare parts, the Omniplus service brand from Daimler Buses is seen by the company as the forerunner of similar offerings within the wider automotive industry.

Omniplus 3D printing licence

The public transport industry relies on being able to keep their vehicles moving and so the rapid availability of spare parts is essential in order to keep company fleets on the road. For this reason, Daimler Buses has created its Omniplus service brand which eliminates convoluted ordering processes, doesn’t need shipping or logistics headaches and does away with waiting times. All this is replaced by a flexible, 24/7 supply of spare parts from within the company’s own premises.

Daimler currently has a register of over 1500 different 3D-printable components in its public transport spare parts list and the company says that over 100 out of this list will be the first to be available to print from this summer with other digital licences to follow as they become available.

Daimler explains that the service is similar to streaming services or media libraries, where record collections and fixed airtimes are now things of the past, and anyone can enjoy their show or favourite music at any time and from anywhere.

3D Printing Equipment

Bus and coach companies need to complete a one-off registration process at the 3D Printing Licence eShop with their 3D printers. At the shop, customers are only shown the parts that are available for or compatible with their own printer. The launch was implemented together with industrial 3D printer manufacturer “Farsoon Technologies” but additional 3D printer providers will be gradually added over time. Next, customers purchase an encrypted 3D printing licence for the component they currently require in the desired quantity and can print it out within their own enterprise. After having successfully printed the component part, the respective licence expires without the data being saved. Alternatively, customers can let their nearest Omniplus service partner know about their requirements. The latter can then acquire the corresponding licence and take care of the printing. Wibu Systems encryption technology is used to ensure that the data is protected throughout the process and that the ordered quantity is kept to.

Because of the data and the individual building instructions, the digital twin at the digital warehouse and the provision of encrypted 3D printing licences allow spare parts to be made available worldwide in the quickest possible way, and exactly where they are currently needed. The benefits include faster availability of parts, shorter supply chains and cost savings.

3D Printing with Scan option

Meanwhile, additive manufacturing specialists at Desktop Metal have partnered with Industrial X-Ray CT system specialist Lumafield, to help manufacturers quickly and accurately produce high-demand spare parts with an easy system to scan and 3D print.

The idea came about as a result of the US Government’s “AM Forward” initiative to enable additive manufacturing as a way of overcoming supply chain disruptions as well as wide swings in pricing and inventory resulting from the recent pandemic and other global factors.

Additive manufacturing offers the ability to cost-effectively in-source production and reduce supply chain risk, but often requires manufacturers to have CAD models of their parts. For new production such as is the case at Daimler, this isn’t a problem. However, Desktop Metal understood that many manufacturers rely on thousands or millions of parts, many of which were designed years ago and don’t have associated CAD files. For this reason, 3D scanning was proposed as a solution, but it’s limited to capturing exterior part features.

Computed Tomography

The Supply Chain Resilience package from Desktop Metal and Lumafield closes that gap by joining 3D printing with X-ray computed tomography, also known as CT scanning. The combination of these technologies allows manufacturers to scan old parts and reproduce them quickly in a variety of materials using 3D printing.

Lumafield’s CT platform digitises parts with a series of X-ray images that capture both external and internal features in detail, using powerful cloud-based software to create a 3D model that can be exported as a mesh representation for 3D printing.

Desktop Metal’s software and 3D printers can then turn those mesh models back into high-quality metal or polymer parts, making it possible to seamlessly replace legacy manufacturing processes with in-house 3D printing.

“Manufacturers have wanted to replace legacy fabrication processes with 3D printing for a long time, but digitisation of parts has been a barrier,” said Ric Fulop, Founder and CEO of Desktop Metal. “With accessible CT scanning, we finally have the digitisation method we need to quickly convert old designs into complete CAD files for 3D printing.”

According to Eduardo Torrealba, Co-Founder and CEO of Lumafield, the last two years have been profoundly disruptive and it’s unlikely that supply chains will return to normal.

“Fortunately, we now have the technology to seamlessly bring production in-house, taking control of our supply chains and reducing risk,” he says.

This method can be used on all of Desktop Metal’s 3D metal printers, including the Studio System, X-Series and Production Systems. It can also be used on all ETEC DLP polymer 3D printing systems, which includes the D4K, P4K, Envision One XL or Xtreme 8K, which can be used with elastomers, hard plastics, high temperature plastics and biocompatible materials.

Lumafield’s Neptune scanner can be used in any office or workshop environment, ready to become an everyday tool for entire engineering teams. With a user-friendly touchscreen and AI-powered configuration, anyone can use it with minimal training.

The associated software produces mesh exports for 3D printing as well as revealing invisible features. It has measurement tools that take guesswork out of inspection and a powerful automated analysis engine that pinpoints voids, pores and cracks before they turn into critical problems.

Jonathan Newell
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