Will the next truck component you buy be 3D printed? It’s possible, especially if that part is plastic. Already a handful of components are being 3D-printed today and many more are suitable candidates for the technology as the cost of materials goes down and printing techniques keep improving. These developments mean not only a great number of 3D printed parts but also more complex ones and ones made from raw materials other than plastic, like metal for instance.
Impact of 3D printing on the trucking industry
The growth of 3D printing could bring wide-ranging benefits to truck owners and operators. Here are five ways it could make a difference:
- Lower weight: 3D printing can help reduce the weight of components by streamlining complex designs or even replacing some metal parts with high-strength plastics. By doing so, component weights can be cut by almost a third– a key step in cutting fuel consumption.
- Spare parts on demand, when you need them: 3D printing allows you to print a component when and where it is needed. That could cut the time needed to access a rare part or enable the sourcing of a part at a remote location.
- Improved durability & reliability: By redesigning a part directly for 3D printing, components can be made more durable. Complex components or systems with several joints or seals can be redesigned and printed as one unit, reducing the chance of a fault.
- Quicker innovation: Today, 3D printing is being used by OEMs, including Volvo Trucks, to print prototype moulds. Using 3D printing in the prototype process cuts the time needed for designing and testing new components. It also speeds up the pace of innovation and improves quality. But 3D printing could take things even further, since the technology allows you to produce new products and designs, free from existing manufacturing limitations.
- Tailored technology: 3D printing lets manufacturers produce small batches and unique parts, parts that are hard to find or no longer available for sale. This makes tailored applications and solutions possible for a niche application
3D printing technology is still restricted by the cost of the materials and equipment and the relatively slow process, which makes it difficult to scale. But the technology is getting better, faster and less expensive through improvements to existing processes and the introduction of entirely new techniques. This opens up the possibility of using 3D printing in a wider range of applications and for more components.
To take a closer look at those possibilities, Volvo Trucks carried out the Vulcan Project which involved the 3D printing of an engine to make it lighter and more streamlined.