Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing, might not capture headlines like other potential disruptive technologies like autonomous vehicles and e-commerce, but that ability to print products on-demand could perhaps have the most significant impact on the manufacturing, logistics and trucking industries, according to Eric Starks, chairman and CEO of FTR.3D
Speaking at an economic outlook presentation to Volvo Trucks North America dealers and fleet customers at a business symposium in Newport, R.I., Starks said 3D printing has quickly evolved beyond machines that spit out small plastic resin prototypes to include a wide variety of materials including metals, concrete and biomaterials.
As reported by CCJ magazine:
“We are seeing a significant change within the additive manufacturing environment,” he said. “The amount of different materials that are available to this market is huge. This is not hypothetical. I think additive manufacturing is probably going to be the biggest change you will have to go through over the next five years.”
Starks points to the medical and dental industries where the Food and Drug Administration already has approved more than 350 3D-printed implant devices for use today. The Federal Aviation Administration is allowing machine-printed parts for planes, including a GE jet engine nozzle and titanium parts for the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
“The premise that we cannot additive-manufacture parts to go on trucks because of wear-and-tear is a fallacy,” said Starks.” It is not a possibility, but a reality.”
“This will be a big deal for the aftermarket,” said Starks. “I think any aftermarket shop or dealer service location is going to have an additive manufacturing machine accessible to them.”
As exciting as additive manufacturing’s potential is for parts and service providers, consumer thirst for instant gratification could be the real game changer for how products are made and distributed. As online retailers lower purchase-to-delivery times from two days to same day and even two hours, additive manufacturing could become a viable option.
UPS operates more than 50 3D printing locations around the country where customers can print 3D CAD files. Starks also referenced a 2014 prediction by Biz Stone when the Twitter co-founder said Nike would be a software company by 2024, allowing consumers to purchase a one-time license to 3D print their favorite sneakers right in their own home.
“If that happens, how does that play into trucking? You’re not going to be shipping shoes, you’ll be shipping polymers, resins and things that are bulk commodity,” Starks told attendees.
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