The parent company of Thomas Built Buses announced that it is making its first delivery of plastic parts produced using 3D printing technology with the aim of keeping costs down for customers while increasing their vehicle uptime.
A spokeswoman for Daimler Trucks North America said Thomas Built parts are not part of the pilot program. “We will have the capability to print parts for these buses once the program is fully launched,” added Paige Jarmer, DTNA’s corporate communications manager. “We estimate full rollout in six to 12 months and are already looking for parts to fill the pipeline.”
DTNA is among the very first commercial vehicle OEMs to offer 3D printed parts. Ford began testing 3D printing for certain automobile brands earlier this year and Daimler began 3D printing of older parts for Mercedes-Benz models this past summer.
DTNA is partnering with Technology House, a 3D printing service bureau, to use Selective Laser Sintering for parts production. DTNA explained that Selective Laser Sintering or SLS, is a process that layers powder in a print chamber and then uses layers to “selectively” melt a pattern before adding another layer.
The parts will be stored in DNTA’s digital warehouse that the company said allows for print on demand with shorter lead times and without the need to store parts. Jarmer said DTNA’s digital warehouse will provide the capability to 3D print on demand virtually any plastic part for any vehicle. Exceptions would be some larger parts that don’t fit inside of 3D printers currently available, which she said are about the size of a piece of paper.
In a statement on Monday, DTNA said it sees 3D printing as an opportunity to better serve customers, especially those in need of parts that have proved difficult to fulfill through traditional supply chain models. These include parts for older vehicles or parts with low or intermittent demand.
During the pilot phase, DTNA said it will release a controlled quantity of 3D printed parts and will be compiling customer feedback as well as data on the parts performance. The initial order process of two to four weeks will be reduced to a few days once the program is fully launched.
Jay Johnson, the company’s GM of aftermarket supply chain, said the launch of 3D printing is only the beginning of DTNA’s quest to “be the benchmark for parts availability.”
“Over the past five years, DTNA has made significant financial and intellectual investments in the supply chain network in order to deliver parts to our customers faster than ever before,” he said in a release. “The addition of three new PDCs coupled with dedicated delivery service puts us on the path toward achieving this objective. We realize that we must continue to innovate and we will invest in new processes including 3D printing.”