The way Eric Starks describes the future of additive manufacturing in the trucking industry is hard to believe. Today, at least.
As FTR Transportation Intelligence Chairman and CEO, Starks regularly identifies, researches and evaluates the potential for advanced technology in commercial transportation. He’s no stranger to new ideas and futuristic concepts, which means when he sees a technology that makes sense for trucking, his opinion is worth noting.
Starks says 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is one of those technologies.
“I am relatively bullish on additive manufacturing. I think it makes a lot of sense for this market,” he says.
Starks tethers much of his optimism for the technology to a pair of longstanding truths about the trucking industry: trucks stay on the road a long time; downtime is crippling to a fleet’s operation.
Though most suppliers to the trucking market using additive manufacturing today are relying on the technology for R&D and to create tools needed to improve the effectiveness of their conventional production lines, Starks says a future where additive manufacturing becomes a preferred method for producing small-batch parts and legacy aftermarket components is not out of the realm of possibility.
Furthermore, he can envision a future when dealers and parts distributors have their own 3D printers and produce components directly for customers at their behest. In this scenario, Starks says manufacturers would sell single-use licenses to distributors, who would then print components on demand.
He adds this futuristic strategy has advantages for all segments of the supply chain. Suppliers would no longer be required to maintain costly manufacturing lines for older, low-volume components.
Distributors would dramatically reduce fulfillment times and, most importantly, customers would get back on the road faster. Distributors could tell customers, “I don’t have it now but I can print it for you in three hours,” Starks says.