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Liebherr Components has always attached great importance to innovation and new technologies. We are proving it once again with a new successful collaboration between our large diesel engine production site in Colmar (France) and the company BASF Forward AM, in Heidelberg (Germany), which specialises in 3D printing solutions.
The story began with the Liebherr Components additive manufacturing team, fully devoted to research & development in additive manufacturing solutions. In autumn 2019, they contacted the company BASF Forward AM to start a project and answer this question: is Metal Fused Filament Fabrication (MFFF) technology a reliable and competitive way to produce parts for prototyping phases?
During prototyping phases, we do not have tooling for all components. As a result, they are often produced in very small quantities, with processes that are not representative of the series, which means high costs. We therefore wanted to carry out a feasibility assessment and draw conclusions on the benefits that could be obtained with this new process.
When we had to choose a possible part to test, our choice went to 4 brackets that hold the protective gird on the front of our diesel engines. On the one hand it was a low risk/high price part compatible with the process and on the other hand, it was important for us to have this pragmatic approach, balanced between R&D/integration of new processes and solution cost effectiveness.
The printed brackets (in red) hold the protective grid (in yellow).
The first months were spent on project definition, feasibility studies and simulations, to start manufacturing the first parts during Q2-2020. These parts were tested and optimised through a number of test phases, including assembly tests. The brackets were finally analysed by an experimental modal and microstructure analysis at the end of 2020. Since the beginning of 2021, we have started implementing the new brackets on diesel engines prototypes for test runs.
If you would like to read more on the technical issues related to this project, click on this link .
Additive manufacturing enables variable density
The part will be sintered to get its final properties
The results are very satisfying:
We have answered our question: it is possible to use MFFF metal and 3D printing for prototype parts, as it enables on demand production while shortening the supply chain.
However, that is not all, in view of the potential of this technology, we have today redefined a new objective: to fully integrate the component on engine prototypes during endurance tests on test benches.
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