Remanufacturing traditionally involves removing material for restoration but processes like 3D printing and additive manufacturing are offering more ways to increase useful life in used parts. Twin wire arc welding produces higher material deposition rates, which can be beneficial in the remanufacturing process.
 - Photos courtesy of Detroit Reman

Remanufacturing traditionally involves removing material for restoration but processes like 3D printing and additive manufacturing are offering more ways to increase useful life in used parts. Twin wire arc welding produces higher material deposition rates, which can be beneficial in the remanufacturing process.

Photos courtesy of Detroit Reman

Historically remanufacturing has involved the removal of material as part of the process. “Additive manufacturing on the other hand involves building up material layers,” says Gene Evans, site manager, Meritor Aftermarket Remanufacturing.

Today additive manufacturing processes such as laser sintering and thermal spraying are being used in the remanufacturing process to bring worn parts or cores back to their original dimensions and 3D printing is also being used in several ways by remanufacturers.

It all adds up

Henry Foxx, director remanufacturing, Bendix, sys, “As a product gets older, the question always becomes how can we extend the life of that core? The opportunity for us to increase the useful life of the core is to thermal spray or add material back to that mechanical part. The bigger the component, the higher price of the componentry the more opportunity there is to do that.”

Additive manufacturing is being seen as beneficial to remanufacturing. “With reman you can extend the life cycle [of a component] from one cycle to between two and nine. However some of the material removal techniques like regrinding crankshafts and things like that put a limit on how many live cycles you can get out of a part,” Carl Fletcher, leader remanufacturing and aftersales development, Navistar, explains.

“If you can deposit replacement material and bring the component back to its original condition then you start to get multipliers of being able to reman a part seven, eight and nine times,” he says. “How exciting is that to be able to use a part and get nine lives out of the initial component?”

He adds that Navistar has done bore spray welding to restore cylinders and has used spray welding to restore cylinder blocks. “ [Basically] we deposited material and brought the component back to its original specifications.”

While additive manufacturing may not be new, there are more techniques coming out including cold spraying that are giving remanufacturers more options when it comes to building products back up to spec. “However a lot of them are in their infancy and we don’t quite know where they are going yet. But they will evolve over time and will make sense for our industry at some point,” Fletcher believes.

There are two primary roles for additive manufacturing in remanufacturing, according to Todd Wieland, director of research and technology, New and ReCon Parts, Cummins. “Some additive manufacturing processes (e.g., directed energy deposition) make standalone parts, but can also be applied to an existing part to repair damage or even to add features as part of converting a core to the latest specification.” The other is making miscellaneous internal components via 3D printing.

Plasma transfer is one type of additive manufacturing.
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Plasma transfer is one type of additive manufacturing.

Print what you need

Perhaps the more well know side of additive manufacturing, is 3D printing. According to Fletcher, 3D printing offers some big opportunities for remanufacturers. Ian Buxcey, global remanufacturing manager, Borg Warner, adds, “Quite a few remanufacturers are now using 3D printing specifically for low volume items where parts are no longer available.” For the most part, these are mechanical parts. “As long as you have the original design to work from, you can print a part and be able to remanufacture a product that otherwise with those parts not being available you would not be able to do.”

Fletcher explains that a 3D printed part has a tooling cost of zero. “However it is little bit more expensive from a piece part standpoint, but in terms of the whole business model it can make sense to 3D print a part than to make it any other way.”

Borg Warner also uses 3D printing to make some of the fixtures in the assembly process for very short batch runs of a part. “Making a traditional metal fixture is an expensive way of doing things when you can print them for very few dollar and because of their very limited use, they will be last for quite a long time.

Meritor’s Evans says when used for making fixturing and testing mechanism 3D printing saves time. “That is the real advantage. We print something and it does not work we try again and print something else. 3D printing is another tool to help us meet our business needs; the latest technology to help us move forward in a quicker, faster manner and in a more accurate manner.”

“3D printing is helping our industry because we are a low volume, high variety industry,” he says. “I see this a very much growing side of our industry,” Buxcey says.

“As the cost of 3D printing comes down, which it will,” Fletcher says, then it will have more appeal for creating more components from scratch effectively.”

3D printing is one technology that Josh Stahl, president and CEO of Reviva, is “super excited about. I see this as a technology that is going to help all of us because if you can print, one, two or three oddball parts instead of having to tool up that will help us.”

Abe Aon, regional aftermarket sales leader, North America, Wabco, says that while additive manufacturing is a bigger field than 3d printing, “3D printing is very, very interesting because it is something that is very new but it will enable us to be agile, fast and we can do everything in house for very little cost.”

Richard Marcus, business development manager, Detroit Reman, adds, “We are in the aftermarket and we are dealing with old, obsolete parts in many cases that are hard to get. That is probably the biggest benefit of 3D printing we see: giving us some opportunity to produce parts that would be cost prohibitive from a casting perspective. In addition trying to find a supplier that wants to produce five of something a year is pretty difficult. The benefit to us is to be able to make obsolete parts.”

Jeff Wickman, engineering manager, Alliance Truck Parts and Detroit Reman, believes that 3D printing is especially important to the OE remanufacturer. “You start dealing with declining volumes, suppliers exiting the business and hard to find parts. We want to make sure that we are supporting not just the first customer, but the second customer and the third customer as well. We want to manage the life cycle of that vehicle from cradle to grave.”

Detroit Reman has heavily invested in additive manufacturing.
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Detroit Reman has heavily invested in additive manufacturing.

Beware of limits

While additive manufacturing and 3D printing are touted as bringing a lot of value to remanufacturing, there are some limitations to the technology.

Currently one of the limits with 3D printing is the kind of material that can be used. “Once they get material flexibility — and I don't have any idea how they are going to do that — so that you can print 15 different types of aluminum that it when it is going to be a big deal,” Stahl says.

In addition, “Some of the metal printing technology is probably not quite to the resolution that it need to be,” Marcus says. “ However, you can get something close that may require some machining or other level of processing to make it usable.”

Cummins’ Wieland, says that Remanufacturing is cost-effective to the extent it leverages the material that exists in the cope. “Additively manufactured parts produced using today’s technology might typically have a higher unit cost than using core, but the cost of additive manufacturing will drop over time.”

In addition, he explains that some high-value components have significant machining and surface treatment built into the core that would have to be replicated on an additive produced part. “Therefore, there are material limitations on what can be printed today, which will also decrease over time.”

He adds, “Finally, typical remanufactured products are assemblies involving many different materials  — metallic and non-metallic. So, in the near- and medium-term, additive manufacturing will likely have a greater influence on the source of the internal components used in a remanufactured product rather than replacing the entire assembly.”

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