3D printing is poised to change the trucking world. New techniques and business models are in place to fundamentally change the business as we know it.
3D printing works by putting down layers of a rapidly-drying liquid, generally a plastic, in order to build up a shape. Laser techniques can selectively cure areas within a pool of resin, building up a smooth, solid shape that grows from the liquid. It is even possible now to print with metals, liquefying small amounts of powdered metal as the shape grows.
This development has exciting implications for trucking. Repair and maintenance typically uses 10% of a commercial truck’s operating budget. A new rig costs upwards of $150,000 – that’s upwards of 17% of a truck’s operating budget. Fleet mechanics could one day print custom replacement components, significantly reducing repair costs. Even with print stock and patterns taken into consideration, the process would be simpler, cheaper, and more reliable.
In fact, the unlimited potential of 3D printing could change fundamentally change the fleet industry. Simple, sedan-style 3D cars have already been developed and are being tested for mass use. From printing replacement components, businesses could one day print entire fleets, customized to answer specific industry needs and problems. The basis of this exciting future is already in place.
On the other hand, there is a clear downside if 3D printing takes over the manufacturing world. 3D printing means fewer production lines which means a significant drop in cargo shipping. Some goods obviously cannot be printed, like food, and overland shipping as a whole will not close. But the trucking industry will change if 3D printing takes off. Some types of cargo will cease to exist, cargo that currently provides truckers with a lot of business. Private homes and small businesses will begin to print their own products with their own supplies of 3D print stock. The very thing that could be a boon for some aspects of the trucking business will spell the end for others.
As usual, it will be those trucking companies that can adapt to a changing industry that will succeed.