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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Additive Manufacturing And Its Pending Impact On Trucking

Researchers in Australia recently printed not one, but two metal jet engines. The 3D printing process they used took the powder form of metals, melted and fused them together into objects using a laser.

Impressed yet? How about a Chinese company that recently printed a five-story apartment building; same premise, even larger scale results. Is it a growing trend? A recent report from Eye For Transport found that 19% of manufacturers and retailers are already using 3D printing in their businesses.

According to a recent paper on 3D Printing and the commercial transportation industry, 3D printing has substantial implications for both domestic and international freight businesses. It will likely reduce the importance of some transportation lanes while possibly opening up new ones.

The give and take for transportation is not clear; however, materials used in any manufacturing process, must arrive at the printing/manufacturing site in order to be incorporated into the process. The other side of that scenario is that a local 3D printing site could easily accept something a customer bought online at Amazon, had the specs shipped to the print site, and stop by later to pickup.

Another way the transportation industry might be able to capitalize on the additive manufacturing process might be the way Volvo has adopted 3D printing. Volvo, the world’s second-largest heavy duty truck brand, produces and sells more than 100,000 units per year.

Stratasys says Volvo Trucks has decreased turnaround times of critical assembly line manufacturing tools by more than 94% since incorporating additive manufacturing technology into their engine production processes in Lyon, France. Sources at Volvo say the new additive manufacturing process takes a process that once took 36 days to complete and finalizes product in less than two days.

Volvo claims the capability to produce a virtually unlimited range of functional tools in such a short time frame enables them to be more experimental and inventive to improve production workflow.

It is easy to recognize that the evolution of 3D Printing will have an enormous impact on many segments of the global economy, but for transportation and HD trucking there is a huge upside that may easily outweigh any perceived losses.