Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) announced Monday that it will make its first delivery of plastic parts produced using 3D printing technologies to its customers in the coming weeks, as part of a pilot programme.
The company is confident that these new technologies will soon play a significant role in the trucking industry.
More importantly, DTNA sees 3D printing as an opportunity to better serve its customers, particularly those customers in need of parts that have been difficult to provide through traditional supply chain models, such as those for older trucks or parts with very low or intermittent demand.
During this pilot phase, DTNA says it will release a controlled quantity of 3D printed parts and will invite feedback from customers and technicians that receive them.
DTNA will also collect data on the parts performance as well as assess potential future demand for 3D printed parts.
Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz unit started a similar pilot in Europe last year.
To print the parts, DTNA has partnered with the 3D printing service bureau, Technology House, which has over 20 years of experience in additive manufacturing.
The companies have made the first parts available to customers with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
The SLS process refers to layering powder in a print chamber and then “selectively” melting a pattern with lasers before adding the next layer.
The 3D printed parts have been validated to meet durability requirements and many will appear no different to the untrained eye, according to DTNA.
During the pilot phase, only parts such as nameplates, map pockets, and plastic covers will be printed and delivered.
Additionally, parts that are eligible for 3D printing are also being stored in DTNA’s digital warehouse.
This allows a part to be printed on demand with shorter lead times. Without the need to maintain tooling, these parts will remain available to customers when needed.
On-demand 3D printing also removes the need of holding physical inventory.
Currently, the order process takes 2-4 weeks, but once the program is fully launched, parts will be able to be shipped in just a few days.
This capability has the potential to increase uptime for DTNA customers who may otherwise experience long wait times for a hard-to-find part.
The pilot programme comes hot on the heels of a prediction at the recent CCJ symposium that trucks could have 3D printers integrated into them sometime in the near future, allowing them to create replacement parts whilst on the road.
As well as haulage trucks, DTNA manufactures a range of vehicles for construction site operations.