Case study 6: MAHLE
Tier 1 automotive supplier MAHLE GmbH (Stuttgart, Germany) uses metal AM technology to produce EOAT, fixtures and toolholders for its manufacturing operations around the world. Previously, the company had designed manufacturing aids for its own operations and either interrupted its own machine shops to have them produced or turned to service bureaus to have them 3D printed. Not long after joining the company in 2012, Mark Brooks, design technician, MAHLE Engine Components USA Inc. (Morristown, Tenn., U.S.) — a CAD designer by background — stepped in to run the facility’s polymer additive printer. In 2016, he was asked by his boss to research and purchase a metal AM printer to produce components for a new production line being installed at the facility.
Over the next few years, Brooks looked at printers from five different companies. He also identified a single part that was necessary for use on the new production line and that was considered unmanufacturable (or, at least affordably unmanufacturable) with conventional metalworking processes. As a test to better assess the capabilities of each of the printers under evaluation, Brooks had each printer OEM produce a few of these parts on their machines using his design and send them back to him. Different companies sent printed parts back in different materials.
“Some of the suppliers printed the benchmark part in aluminum, some in M300 [a maraging steel alloy], some in tool steels and one even produced them in titanium — basically, they sent us whatever they had on hand and happened to feel like printing,” Brooks recalls. To see how durable the parts were, they were installed in 12 locations on six production lines already operating at the MAHLE facility and most of those parts are still in place and, he says, are holding up well.
Eventually, after more visits and more evaluations, Brooks’ facility purchased an XM200C direct metal laser sintering/solidification (DMLS/PBF) printer from Xact Metal Inc. (State College, Pa., U.S.), which was installed at the end of 2018. Since then, Brooks has used the printer to produce tooling for robots, coating operations, fixturing, sensor brackets and tool holders not only for his own facility but for other facilities around the world. The printer is used exclusively to produce parts in M300, which saves the time and cost of switching between metal powders. Brooks says that he conducted a cost analysis and found that the company had achieved ROI within the first 6 months of owning the machine.
“This was our first foray into metal additive and we found it took stress off our machine shop, since we no longer have to interrupt other work to have manufacturing aids machined for us,” Brooks explains. “From completed design to finished part in hand, we average a day and a half, which makes it much faster and less costly to produce. Also, since you can iterate so fast, if something isn’t quite right the first time, you can easily modify it and print another one very quickly.”
Originally published in CompositesWorld