Bus manufacturer Daimler Buses is putting 3D printing to good use in an effort to meet the special needs of its customers.

The company is using the cutting-edge digital component and production technology to produce small batches and replacement parts for Mercedes-Benz and Setra.

Currently, it is already possible to print complex parts located in the bus interior in a single step.

Daimler said it was drawing on over 25 years of experience with 3D printing processes in truck and prototype construction to produce perfect solutions for customers who are seeking special equipment features or waiting for a corresponding replacement part.

“In the medium term, we see digital production technologies as harbouring vast potential to enable us to address market and customer requirements in a flexible manner while at the same time minimising investment risks,” said Hartmut Schick, head of Daimler Buses.

3D Printing

Daimler said 3D printing provided its bus division with a means of responding swiftly, flexibly, economically and ecologically to individual customer requests and requirements for replacement parts.

“In top quality and with low production costs, the 3D parts correspond to the injection moulding standards stipulated by Daimler AG, while avoiding the costs relating to tool production, component storage and the disposal of surplus materials,” the group said.

“The potential of 3D printing is clear in the area of special customer requests and replacement parts at Daimler Buses, where some 780 components have been printed for customer vehicles to date,” it added. “In addition, more than 150 different replacement parts for buses are currently being scrutinised and validated with regard to their feasibility as 3D printed parts.”

The company said the printed replacement parts consist of high-quality polyamide plastic components. “They are created with state-of-the-art 3D printers based on the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) printing process. In this generative layer-building process the three-dimensional structures of the pre-programmed 3D part are produced layer by layer from the powder-form polyamide materials by means of a laser,” the company explained.

It added that 3D printing allows any desired geometry, even for complex bus components. Special parts and low-volume parts can be modified at will, adapted to customers’ special requirements and produced in an attractive design.

“This proves particularly economical in small series involving batches sizes from 1 to 50 units,” Daimler said. “The entire process, from the initial idea through design, costing and production to delivery, takes only a matter of days.”

3D-printed parts more favourable

In most cases, Daimler said 3D-printed parts also prove more favourable than conventionally produced counterparts in terms of weight, as the design engineer is no longer restricted by the constraints previously imposed by the production processes and can adapt the components ideally to the given functions.

“From now on, 3D printing will render it possible to print complex, moving parts which have consisted to date of several components in a single step and without requiring extensive assembly operations, which will also result not least of all in markedly reduced costs,” the company said.

The multi-piece stowage compartment for banknotes which Mercedes-Benz integrates on request in the side panelling on the left-hand side of the driver’s area in place of the cup holder is just one of many examples.

Daimler said 3D printing was a particularly interesting proposition for customers who attach great importance to special shaping for colour-coordinated components in the interiors of their touring coaches. It added that costs are also cut and that it raises environmental acceptability.

“In addition to avoiding the costs of manufacturing special production tools, additional savings arise in particular for small series and special parts as a result of the fact that it is no longer necessary to produce all-time stocks,” Daimler said. “The 3D technology avoids bottlenecks and surplus production. This ensures that special parts are produced and replacement parts are supplied in precisely the required quantities. As the parts can be delivered quickly and without requiring large-scale stockpiling, no stocks require to be maintained.”

Costs are saved while at the same time conserving resources and protecting the environment: there is no surplus production. Fast delivery is a further crucial aspect. Here, 3D printing offers an excellent means of quickly and efficiently meeting customers’ individual requirements.

“The 3D printing process allows us to install local printers at the production plants operated by Daimler Buses worldwide. It also enables us to respond in a flexible manner at local level to customers’ special wishes and replacement part needs,” Schick said. “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.”