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Will 3D Printing Change the Supply Chain for Truck Parts?

Learn about where we are in 2021 with manufacturing heavy-duty truck parts with 3D printing technology and where we are headed.

Episode 84: In this episode, we discuss how 3D printing will change the supply chain for heavy-duty truck parts in the future. We have two engineers join us and they share their extensive experience with 3D printing and additive manufacturing.

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Show Notes

In 2020, we focused on how emerging digital technology will empower repair technicians and fleet maintenance managers to identify the parts they need to repair commercial trucks and trailers. We talked a lot about how this kind of technology connected to repair information and an eCommerce site will play a significant role in disrupting the traditional distribution channel in the not-so-distant future. 

It is my opinion that soon some manufacturers will start to use a vertically integrated approach to distribution and will either sell parts directly to end-users through a digital sales channel or will use third-party platforms to essentially achieve the same result.

This is a complex issue with many facets and 3D printing is a part of the puzzle. In fact, 3D printing will accelerate the disruption of the supply chain in several ways but first, we need to establish where we are in 2021.

Hawk Ridge Systems

We talked to Brandon Brown who is a mechanical engineer that is based in the Spokane, Washington area and specializes in additive manufacturing and 3D printing. Brandon currently works at Hawk Ridge Systems.

3D printing.

I wanted to know what the main differences between traditional manufacturing and 3D Printing are.

“In traditional manufacturing, you have either subtractive or formative manufacturing, with additive manufacturing you are taking material and adding it, one layer on to another… this is 3D printing,” explained Brandon Brown.

To understand how this technology is going to play a role in changing the supply chain of heavy-duty truck parts there has to be some clear advantages.

Advantages of 3D Printing

  • Very efficient in terms of material usage
  • Less tooling and no specialized tooling
  • Less engineering labor
  • Simple to program the machines
  • Post-process is significantly less

When Brandon was talking about the advantages, I realized that while many theoretical or research studies talk about all the amazing things that are possible for the future of 3D Printing, we are not going to see them anytime soon.

ZF Wabco

We wanted to find out what was going on in the world of heavy-duty parts manufacturing and 3D printing right now, so we talked to Aaron Schlumpberger, Manufacturing Engineering Leader, for MICO Inc. a ZF Wabco company.

ZF Wabco is a global leader in heavy-duty parts manufacturing and is on the cutting edge of many technologies that are changing the commercial vehicle parts manufacturing industry. Aaron talked about the ways they are using 3D printing.

“The biggest thing that additive manufacturing has changed is the way we build prototype parts, what took us days or weeks in the past now can be done in a matter of hours,” said Aaron Schlumberger.

3D Printing.

Again, I am struck by how it doesn’t seem that any finished products that are purchased by fleets are being produced with 3D printing or additive manufacturing.

“At this point, no finished products are being manufactured completely with 3D printing, we do make nests for holding parts during the inspection process… and we make cutaways for tradeshows,” Aaron Schlumpberger continues.

When I asked Aaron Schlumpberger what he thinks the future looks like for 3d printing and commercial vehicle parts manufacturing this is what he said.

“3D printing is evolving very, very fast, but it still has a long way to go to reach the same level of precision as subtractive manufacturing,” said Aaron Schlumpberger.

Original Equipment Parts

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) will continue to use 3D printing when making prototypes, developing tooling, and will continue to expand the number of parts manufactured using this process.

It is clear that the main advantages of 3D printing to the manufacturers include reducing the cost of research and development, tooling, and the consolidation of multi-part subtractive manufacturing into single-part 3D printing which reduces waste. This will lead to the complete automation of production lines thereby reducing the cost of manufacturing of both parts and entire commercial vehicles in the future.

Aftermarket Parts

Aftermarket parts manufacturers may find themselves in a very difficult spot in the near future. While they will be able to capitalize on the advantages of 3D printing in many of the same ways that the OEMs do, there may be a conflict that they will have a difficult time overcoming.

OEMs have every right to patent the 3D printing designs used to make heavy duty parts thereby restricting the ability for aftermarket parts manufacturers to produce alternatives for the marketplace. This conflict will no doubt be in part resolved in international courts.

Aftermarket parts manufacturers are going to have to put a heavy emphasis on developing new designs and technology that exceeds OEM specifications and performance in order to remain competitive in this new marketplace dictated by digital technologies like 3D printing.

Remanufactured Parts

One of the clear advantages for remanufacturers of heavy-duty parts is the ability to produce parts that are no longer supplied by the OEMs or even aftermarket parts manufacturers as commercial vehicles using these parts approach the end of their lives.

Being able to reproduce obsolete parts that are no longer in production is a critical component of remanufacturing heavy-duty parts. While aftermarket parts manufacturers may struggle to use patented 3D printing designs, remanufacturers may not have the same legal struggles with producing parts for older equipment.

They may be able to provide the industry with improvements on OEM designs thereby not having to deal with the patent infringements of not only the part being manufactured but also the 3D printing design.

3D Printing Heavy-Duty Truck Parts in the Future

3D printing is going to play an important role in the development of the digital sales channel. One of the major challenges for eCommerce in 2021 and beyond is order fulfillment. When repairing commercial vehicles fleets and repair shops require heavy parts to be delivered within 2-hours, therefore companies using eCommerce are still very reliant on traditional distribution to fulfill the orders.

3D Printing.

3D printing is the very technology that may completely cause traditional distribution channels, especially aftermarket warehouse distributors and retailers to collapse. Imagine needing a part, ordering it through an eCommerce site and that part being manufactured in a nearby warehouse and delivered by an autonomous vehicle.

This very well may be the future of heavy-duty parts distribution and if this comes to pass it will mean the collapse of traditional wholesale distributors and retailers who currently use brick and mortar warehouses and retail stores to stock and deliver parts. If you doubt whether or not this will actually happen check out Amazon’s patent for 3D printing in delivery vans. Amazon imagines a scenario where package trucks will 3D print items ordered onboard as the trucks rush to deliver them.

Although we may be years away from this reality, it is clear that 3D printing is going to play a significant role in disrupting the supply chain of manufacturing heavy-duty parts and commercial vehicles and will be part of the equation of the total disruption of the traditional distribution of heavy-duty parts.

Disclaimer: This content and description may contain affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, The Heavy-Duty Parts Report may receive a small commission. 

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