“In the future? Maybe we will print a whole truck!”
Daimler Trucks North America’s 3D printing experts Angela Timmen and Nathan Zamani explain how they are already using the technology in After-Sales Procurement and what the future of 3D printing might look like.
Mrs. Timmen, Mr. Zamani: How did you as Daimler procurement experts get involved with 3D printing technology?
Angela Timmen: We’ve been in situations where customers were calling us to help them with certain parts for their trucks. Some of the parts are very rare and for highly specific truck configurations. Like a switch for the instrument cluster or a small part of a Cascadia’s dashboard that is not produced any more.
Nathan Zamani: These are low-volume parts and they are hard to get. But we’ve been looking to the future and asking the organization to push forward harder. It was a necessity: We have these parts on the list but can’t deliver them to anyone because of the low volume. But customers still need these parts – that’s how the whole thing started.
Angela Timmen: We therefore look for actual customer orders when we’re having trouble delivering through our conventional channels. All these plastic parts are more cosmetic in nature and not safety-relevant. We currently have six part numbers available for customers, but we’re already looking for new parts.
What is the advantage of 3D printing?
Nathan Zamani: When you start getting into much lower-volume parts, 3D printing is an opportunity to do away with the traditional tooling and come up with something that probably takes up less space. It’s also less costly for us on a day-to-day basis, and we maximize capacity by getting rid of the tools needed for the low-volume parts. We currently focus on After-Sales and actual parts that customers need, but we’re expanding and looking for more complex parts and new technologies.
Who came up with the idea to do 3D printing?
Angela Timmen: This project was driven by our Procurement team here at Daimler Trucks North America. We initially considered buying our own 3D printer, but the technology is changing every day, so it doesn’t make the most sense for us. We currently have one service partner for printing our 3D parts, but we’re always looking for new pioneers in this field.
You say this is procurement-driven. How did you set up the collaboration between Daimler engineering and external service partners?
Nathan Zamani: We’ve been working very closely with engineering and our service partner every step of the way. We work with a cross-functional team, and together we select the parts, screen the parts, decide on what makes the most sense, and send the data.
How does our 3D printing performance compare with that of competitors?
Angela Timmen: Many companies have been doing 3D printing since the mid-1990s. But they focus on printing prototype parts – a different focal point. This makes us a pioneer since we print After-Sales products. And even in this short time of just two years, we have achieved more than other companies when it comes to 3D printing. We think we’re probably ahead of everyone else. Not to say that the others won’t catch up, so we need to stay on top of that.
How does 3D printing develop itself, and what would be your ideal printing process in the future?
Angela Timmen: In the future? Maybe we will print a whole truck! (smiles). But in all seriousness, 3D printing will soon become commercially competitive for higher and higher volume projects. And soon I’d expect that this will become a significant part of not only our industry but all manufactories.
Nathan Zamani: We want to expand in different areas of 3D printing, therefore we need to search for more service partners. For example, if we expand in printing with non-plastic materials we can’t do this without bringing more service partners on board. We face technological challenges, but we have an industry maturity problem, too. We have a small industry of prototypers and makers, and we need to develop them into suppliers for large-volume projects.
Angela Timmen: And they don’t have experience with that yet, so one thing we need to do is develop our supply base. We would also really like to see our conventional suppliers become more involved in this process and bring their experience to the table.