Car Parts Industries exploits potential of 3D printing
Remanufacturing of used spare parts is a growing trend. And no wonder – after all, it saves valuable raw materials, reduces CO2 emissions and consumes less energy than the production of a new part. But what do you do when there are no replacements for small parts and wear parts available in the market? The answer from Car Parts Industries, Europe’s largest automotive remanufacturer: Simply produce them yourself!
No question: Among remanufacturers, Car Parts Industries holds a unique position. On the one hand, Car Parts Industries has been professionally involved in the remanufacturing of automotive spare parts for 40 years, and its nine product groups – EGR valves, Intake Manifolds, alternators, starters, A/C compressors, turbochargers, brake calipers, steering racks and steering pumps – deliver OE matching quality along with broad market coverage and high availability. On the other hand, the company moves with the times, is constantly developing, recognizes new trends and uses them for its own benefit.
For example, the specialists in the company’s own research and development center responded early to the increase in electrically controlled components in vehicles. They acquired the know-how to analyze and interpret the communication between electrical spare parts and control units. As a result, Car Parts Industries is one of the few remanufacturers on the market able to restore electrically controlled steering racks, EGR valves, eAC compressors and Electric Parking Brakes to as-new condition.
Additive manufacturing: more than just a trend
Another example of how Car Parts Industries is making good use of new technologies for itself and its customers is 3D printing. 3D printing, or rather „Additive manufacturing“ is a process in which a three-dimensional computer model created by means of a CAD or CAM application is built up layer by layer with the aid of a special printer. The materials used are primarily plastics, but synthetic resins, ceramics, metals, carbon and graphite materials can also be „printed“. The particular advantage here is that no tools such as casting molds are required. Also, much more complex geometries can be realized than would be possible with traditional manufacturing methods. And last but not least, one part can be produced just as well as a large number of the same part.
Own 3D print shop in Poland
At its remanufacturing site in Poland, Car Parts Industries therefore started up its own 3D printing shop for plastic parts in 2015. As to why, Grzegorz Pawlowski, Group Operational Technology Director, explains, „An invaluable advantage of Car Parts Industries’s product range is that it includes spare parts for very old as well as very young vehicles. This is where we differ significantly from our competitors. The challenge with both, however, is spare parts availability. The small parts we need for remanufacturing may no longer be available on the market for very old vehicle components and may not yet be available on the market for very new ones. That’s why we came up with the idea of producing them ourselves using 3D printing.“
Most of the plastic components that Car Parts Industries „prints“ in-house are covers or plugs, for example for alternators and EGR valves. But the devil is in the details: Before the first production-ready spare part was created in this way, it was necessary to find out which type of 3D printing was best suited for which purpose.
Not all 3D printing is the same
In principle, there are three popular types of 3D printing: fused deposition modeling (FDM), stereolithography (SLA) and selective laser sintering (SLS). Car Parts Industries uses each of these three processes for different purposes according to its strengths and the merits of the resulting material.
FDM, for example, is found to be ideal for printing flexible, chemically resistant and simple structural elements. Accordingly, the Remanfacturer’s developers use this technology as part of prototyping when it comes to technically modeling a product and conducting functional tests. SLA, on the other hand, is used at Car Parts Industries for the production of components that require particularly high precision. This is the case, for example, with snap-fit assemblies, where tightest tolerances are required in order to achieve the desired quality. Likewise, SLA is ideal for the production of temperature-stressed parts. Finally, Car Parts Industries also uses SLS, depending on the application, for functional testing, rapid prototyping and printing spare parts.
High demand for quality, performance and durability
The biggest challenge in 3D printing, however, is not so much the production process itself. Rather, it is determining the optimal technology and material for a specific application. For example, it must be ensured that the replacement part produced using 3D printing has the right cold shrinkage, heat expansion and wear properties. Grzegorz Pawlowski: „Our demands on the quality, performance and service life of our products are known to be very high. Right down to the smallest wear part, we want to at least meet the original specifications of the series product or, ideally, even exceed them. That’s why we spend a lot of time and many series of tests to determine exactly the material and printing technology that will guarantee the right mechanical and chemical properties.“
There is also another challenge: process efficiency. Because it is still comparatively low in 3D printing due to the technology. Series production of a small part using such technology is therefore still relatively expensive and reserved for applications that have the corresponding market potential. „However, the topic of additive manufacturing is still at an early stage in the industry,“ says Pawlowski. „We are certainly doing a bit of pioneering work, but conversely we may assume that the process efficiency in 3D printing will increase as the technology develops further.“