The Volvo Group has been evaluating 3D printing for many years, but still has only one component in mass production. The Group is now looking forward to exploring opportunities afforded by the technology – as well as its limitations – together with other partners in the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing, and intends to make use of lessons learned there in its own strategy for additive manufacturing.
The Volvo Group has worked with additive manufacturing for a number of years and recognises that it will be an important production process in the future.
“We have also realised that it will not be a silver bullet, but something that will be part of our process and not our only process,” says Johan Svenningstorp, Director Research and Technology Development Truck Operations, Volvo Group.
The Volvo Group has a large aftermarket business where they are struggling with high maintenance costs for the increasing number of component variants, long lead times, and age-related failures. Svenningstorp therefore believes that the aftermarket will be the Volvo Group’s first application area for additive manufacturing:
“In the aftermarket we can see the benefit of more quickly starting a vehicle that is stationary, and we can reduce the cost of a spare part. However, it is when we can start making new, unique designs that we will achieve energy efficiency, better functionality and so on.”
When the opportunity arose to become a partner in the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing, the Volvo Group showed no hesitation.
“We still need to experiment and test many different machines, processes and materials,” explains Svenningstorp. “Doing it ourselves is untenable. Partnership is the only way this type of evaluation is affordable.”
The Volvo Group has high expectations for what the partnership can contribute, both within the Group itself and to Swedish industry.
“I hope the results of the evaluations we carry out in the Center will help us mature in order to make our own decisions about which processes we will implement in different operations, and that we attain a good basis for decisions relating to our own strategy going forward,” says Svenningstorp and adds, somewhat jokingly:
“I also hope we have some spectacular failures! Then we will know which routes not to take.”
He describes the automotive industry as a very conservative industry where one does not dare set the bar too high, which he hopes the Center will be able to help with:
“I think that if we can share the risks, we will dare to do more.”
When the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing now opens its doors, the Volvo Group will prepare a wish list of things they want to explore.
“I think it’s very exciting to investigate technologies that have not yet been tested, for example, the manufacturing process Binder Jetting, which may prove to be extremely cost-effective,” says Svenningstorp.
However, the needs within the Volvo Group are numerous and diverse. Among other things, there is a need in the plastics area, where there is very high demand for plastic spare parts.
“If we achieve a quality level where we can serve our customers requiring plastic parts, then it is probably the fastest and best business opportunity for additive manufacturing.”
The Application Center for Additive Manufacturing can also be of great importance to Swedish industry. By increasing knowledge of additive manufacturing in Swedish companies, we can strengthen our position on the global market.
“In the plastics area, it’s about being able to offer customers products and services on par with the rest of the world,” says Svenningstorp. “If we don’t do this, someone else will.”
As for metals, we are presently world-leading when it comes to powder materials, but the amount currently used for additive manufacturing is vanishingly small.
“On the other hand, we have an incredible knowledge base in the metals area, which gives us a competitive advantage. I wholeheartedly believe that we must continue to work on both plastics and metals, and within the latter we already have a head start that we must strive to maintain.”
As the initiator and host of the Application Center for Additive Manufacturing, RISE plays a central role, both in the Center’s development and as regards the effects for Swedish industry.
“RISE must create opportunities for experimentation, if we succeed in this, I’m convinced that the pace of development will be quickened,” says Svenningstorp.
Accomplishing this will require an open and tolerant environment with good dialogue between all partners. RISE will help to initiate the dialogue and to coordinate and organise. If RISE sees that two or more partners have similar needs, these can be linked and projects can be started.
“This is not a collaboration where we only share costs, it is a collaboration in which we share knowledge.”
In the AM Center we offer the opportunity to test different additive manufacturing techniques including pre- and post-processing. We lower the threshold, and give small and medium-sized companies quick and easy access to the latest technology. The AM Center offers a wide range of expertise and services at all stages along the additive manufacturing value chain, for example in: