A report out of the US tells us 3D printing is changing trucking and will create dramatic innovation in the future. The headline development being reported in the general media is concerned with a truck with a 3D printer on board rushing to a delivery as the printer creates the item to be delivered.
In fact, the impact, certainly in the short to medium term, will be rather different in reality. The technology is already affecting the trucking industry in a number of ways.
Right now, replacement truck parts are being produced on demand using 3D printer technology. In the past this kind of printing was expensive and only used when the truck manufacturers were going through their prototyping process. However, now the costs have dropped to the point where slower moving individual components to be supplied to customers can be printed as and when required.
“In keeping with our brand promise ‘Trucks you can trust’, we set the same benchmarks for reliability, functionality, durability and economy for spare parts from 3D production as for parts from conventional production”, said Andreas Deuschle, Head of Marketing and Operations in the Customer Services and Parts Mercedes-Benz Trucks Division. “However, 3D offers many more possibilities; this is why we shall be rapidly extending the production of 3D printed parts.”
The advantage is clear, especially for a large area like Australia. Finding a location nearby with the components will no longer be the important consideration. It will now be finding a 3D printer in a nearby location.
A new vehicle in Baltimore in the US demonstrates the power of 3D printing to effect change. A small minibus, called Olli, carrying visitors around the harbour area in Baltimore’s port is able to interact with tourists, answering their questions and taking them where they want to go autonomously. It was built entirely using 3D printing technology and is viable just as a one-off.
Elsewhere in transport small individually tailored vehicles or equipment used in loading and unloading could also be tailor made to suit very specific applications. It is possible, now, to create a targeted one-off piece of equipment to aid in carrying out a particular task.
Australians are well known for our ability to use a bit of ingenuity and basic engineering knowledge to solve a problem. Introducing 3D printing on this level opens up myriad opportunities.
The other area where 3D printing is likely to improve outcomes is in the ongoing development of our vehicles and equipment. Current vehicle design uses computer aided design to create solutions and try out new components and design ideas.
The next stage in the process is to actually test out those ideas in the metal (or plastic, or whatever). This can be time consuming and costly, slowing down the development of new vehicles and making more conservative choices more attractive. The ability to fine tune components during testing, by simply printing another one is expected to speed up the vehicle development process considerably.
3D printing is also developing rapidly itself. A new process, known as Continuous Liquid Interface Production, is coming on stream from the Ford organisation and is expected to be another quantum leap in the ability to print individual vehicle parts.