Mercedes-Benz Trucks introduces on-demand 3D-printed spare parts

Genuine spare parts for Mercedes-Benz Trucks (Stuttgart, Germany), even for older models that are no longer being produced, are now available thanks to 3D printing technology. The German truck maker announced last week that it plans to make 30 3D-printed plastic spare parts available in September. The parts will be “genuine-parts quality” printed on demand, and more parts are scheduled for the company’s aftermarket parts sales.

The use of 3D printing for plastic spare parts will now be the standard production method in the customer services and parts sector, according to an announcement by Mercedes-Benz Trucks. Currently 30 genuine spare parts can be ordered and supplied at the press of a button from the 3D printer quickly, economically and in any quantity.

By adopting 3D-printing technology as an after-sales production process, Mercedes-Benz is taking on a pioneering technology leadership role among global truck producers, said the company.

Mercedes-Benz trucks“In keeping with our brand promise—“trucks you can trust”—we set the same benchmarks for reliability, functionality, durability and economy for spare parts from 3D production as for parts from conventional production,” said Andreas Deuschle, Head of Marketing & Operations in the Customer Services & Parts Mercedes-Benz Trucks Division. “We shall be rapidly extending the production of 3D-printed parts,” added Deuschle.

Currently, Daimler manufactures more than 100,000 printed prototype parts for the individual company divisions ever year. “We benefit from our extensive experience at Daimler with 3D-printing processes in prototype construction,” Deuschle commented in the release.

The available spare parts include covers, spacers, spring caps, cable ducts, clamps, mountings and control elements. The parts are created using the selective laser sintering process. To match the quality standards of Mercedes-Benz Trucks, the process parameters have been optimized by Daimler’s research and development divisions. Every 3D-printed spare part can be ordered by the customer using the special spare part number under which it is recorded in the order code lists and spare parts catalogs. Thus, even after several decades, rapid supply to the customer is ensured via the Mercedes-Benz Logistic Supply Chain all over the world.

The challenge in the spare parts business lies in securing supply even for models that are no longer in production. Producing parts for which there is minimal demand is uneconomical for suppliers, as production facilities and tools often have to be maintained for years. With the 3D-printing process, these challenges are a thing of the past, as each spare part is available on demand at short notice all over the world, said the company.

The printing itself can take place within a very short time following receipt of the design definition and order, considerably speeding up the production and supply of spare parts and eliminating warehousing. At the same time, the burden on costs and resources and the environmental impact are lessened, as there are no material surpluses, the disposal of which is very complex, said Mercedes-Benz.

Is 3-D Printing Pausing Before Takeoff?

3-D printing stocks have had a rough few years, but analysts caution against giving up on the sector just yet.

Purps the penguin testing out her 3D printed orthotic boot made by 3D Systems (photo credit: 3D Systems)

On Monday, July 18, an African penguin at Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, took her first steps with a new mobility boot crafted by 3D Systems. The event for the penguin made for adorable pictures, and was also an opportunity for the Rock Hill, South Carolina–based 3-D printing company to tout the medical uses of its products for both animals and humans. But the penguin excitement was pushed aside by less flattering news that day when Piper Jaffray downgraded the company’s rating to underweight from neutral, citing a recent slump in 3-D printer demand. After that announcement, 3D Systems stock plummeted 8 percent, while its rival Stratasys, which also got downgraded, sank 9 percent.

Neither company’s stock has performed well this year, and these falls come within the context of several years of volatility for an industry that promises technological transformation of industries from medicine to manufacturing but is having trouble proving its relevance to many investors. By one measure — Kensho Technologies’ 3-D Printing Index, which tracks 3-D printer makers, firms that produce the components for 3-D printers and those that create the necessary software — the sector is down more than 32 percent over the past three years. And according to Piper Jaffray, the industry just had its worst quarter yet in terms of demand for 3-D printing systems. In the meantime, tech giants such as HP and Dell have entered the 3-D printing fray, using their established clout and resources to avoid being fully disrupted. Why, then, did ARK Investment Management, a New York–based registered investment adviser that offers a range of proprietary exchange-traded funds, choose July 18, to launch the first and only solely 3-D printing–focused ETF?

“This is classic disruptive innovation,” says Catherine Wood, founder, CEO and CIO at ARK. “If you look at the S curve, you go through a height phase, a consolidation and restructuring phase — which we’ve just been through — and then takeoff. We think we’re in the saddle phase, getting ready for takeoff.”

The new ETF — PRNT — is listed on the BATS ETF Marketplace and includes 3D Systems, Stratasys, ExOne Co. and Organovo Holdings, as well as HP. It’s proof that whereas some investors have given up on the industry, many are still holding out hope for a 3-D revolution. ARK is not alone in believing the 3-D printing slowdown is temporary, and it is in fact an expected part of the disruptive process. The Consumer Technology Association recently predicted that the industry would approach $5 billion in sales by 2017, up from $1.7 billion in 2011, and argued that it will have “a greater impact on the world over the next 20 years than all of the innovations from the Industrial Revolution combined.”

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