Volvo Trucks shuns metal for 3D printed thermoplastic tools on the factory floor

Volvo Trucks has cut design and manufacturing of tools to build its trucks from 36 days to just two, using 3D printing.

The tools, usually produced in metal, have been printed in thermoplastic using the Stratasys Fortus 3D Production System in its engine production facility in Lyon, France.

In addition to time savings, using thermoplastic has slashed material costs. Manufacturing director Pierre Jenny said that where small quantities or customised tools are required, 3D printing costs are as little as 1 per cm3, compared to 100 per cm3using metal.

"The capability to produce a virtually unlimited range of functional tools in such a short timeframe is unprecedented and enables us to be more experimental and inventive to improve production workflow," Jenny said.

Within three months of buying the 3D printing system, Volvo Trucks had printed more than 30 different production tools for its production line operators. This included lightweight clamps, jigs, supports and handheld-friendly tool holders for employees.

Less waste

Jean-Marc Robin, technical manager at Volvo Trucks, said: "We're working in the heavy-industry sector, so reliability is naturally critical. So far every piece that we have 3D printed has proved to be 100 percent fit-for-purpose.

"This is crucial from a practical aspect, but also instils trust among operators and quashes any traditional notion that everything has to be made from metal in order to function properly," he adds.

Robin said that additive manufacturing (another name for 3D printing) of production tools allowed the team to be more responsive.

"The fast and cost-effective nature of additive manufacturing means that we are far less restricted than we were even six months ago, allowing us to constantly improve our processes," he said.

"We now have operators approaching our 3D print team with individual requests to develop a custom clamp or support tool to assist with a specific production-line issue they might be having. From a time and cost perspective, this is unimaginable with traditional techniques."

"Additionally, in the rare case that the design specifications of a traditionally-manufactured metal tool were inaccurate, the lengthy and costly design and manufacturing process had to begin again. With a 3D printed part, we can simply alter the design specifications and re-3D print the piece in a few hours," he added.

Unilever recently revealed it had streamlined its manufacturing process for moulds that help make its laundry and household goods packaging - cutting costs and time.


Margi Murphy

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