3D printing is something most of us would have scoffed at years ago. Now, it’s a serious reality for consumers and businesses across the globe. Thanks to their incredible portability and flexibility, 3D printers are creating things from tiny toys to complete concrete houses. But how is this technology going to affect the trucking industry?
3D Printing and Trucking
Sure, custom-printed shoes are neat, but that doesn’t mean a lot for transportation. It’s hard to think about 3D printing having much of an impact on trucking, but it could be a game changer for one major reason – parts.
With current 3D printing possibilities, every fleet could have the ability to print almost every plastic or rubber part they could need. Headlight cover? Check. Silicone hoses? Check. Radiator caps? Check. Shops could potentially be covered from bumper to bumper.
What’s more, there are even new options for 3D printing with metal. It’s a little different in this case, because metal powder is extruded and then melted into shape instead of being pushed out of the machine itself. Although this technology is still uncommon, it’s being perfected more and more each day. Many manufacturers hope to make it nearly as affordable as other options.
Why 3D Printing Makes Sense
First and foremost, 3D printing saves time, and time is money. Think about how long it takes a mechanic to load up, drive to the parts warehouse or store, look up the necessary part, buy it, and drive back to the shop. With specialized parts, you could be looking at hours of lost time. Plus, you’ll have to wait for shipping if the piece isn’t in stock and must be ordered. This could make a huge productivity difference.
3D printing is also cheaper than buying from a parts store, because – after the initial cost of the printer – all you have to cover is the cost of the material. You won’t have to deal with stocking fees or costs stacked onto the part as with traditional purchases. Let’s say a coolant hose costs the original equipment manufacturer $1.25 to make. It’ll probably wholesale it to a supplier for $2.50, and the wholesaler will turn around and offer it to you for $5. If you can print it for $2 instead, you’ll cut your costs by more than half.
Finally, 3D printing is so much more flexible. It doesn’t matter if you have an antique rig or brand new one – your parts will always fit if they’re custom printed correctly. This is an absolute game-changer for many trucking companies, because parts houses don’t carry supplies for every brand or model year. You could even fabricate custom parts that aren’t OEM replacements if you have more specific needs.
As fast as innovation has been in the last decade, many industries are expecting some negative disruption, but 3D printing offers positive change for the trucking industry. New technology can be intimidating and unsettling, but when it comes to 3D printing, we’re sure of one thing – the sky is the limit.