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3D Printed Thermoplastics versus Metal: Why Volvo Trucks Chose Additive Manufacturing for 30 Engine Assembly Tools

You have to be tough and efficient to be a Volvo Truck engine.  These ultra-reliable paradigms of automotive innovation are built for the long haul with maximum productivity.  The manufacturing and assembly tools used to build them also have to be tough and efficient.  Which is why Volvo Trucks is now producing more than 30 tools using Stratasys additive manufacturing, slashing the tool turnaround times by more than 94%!

Assembly line tools produced by Volvo Trucks with Stratasys’ FDM 3D printing technology include this durable, yet lightweight punching tool
Assembly line tools produced by Volvo Trucks with Stratasys’ FDM 3D printing technology include this durable, yet lightweight punching tool

Previously these tools were produced in metal using traditional manufacturing methods. Pierre Jenny, manufacturing director at Volvo Trucks’ engine production facility in Lyon, France reports that the time required to design and manufacture them has been cut from 36 days to just two days using additive manufacturing with their Stratasys Fortus 3D Production System and ABSplus thermoplastic material.

These game-changing gains in time are also improving the production plant’s overall efficiency and flexibility, helping meet delivery times while reducing waste and costs. Jenny estimates that, where customized or small quantities of tools are required, the all-in cost of 3D printing ABS thermoplastic items is – in some cases – as little as $1.13 per 0.06 cubic inches (1€/cm3), compared to up to $113 per 0.06 cubic inches (100€/cm3)  if making the same item from metal.

This Stratasys 3D printed hose holder (in gray) is used to maintain the position of an engine hose during engine assembly by the production line operator. These 3D printed tools are designed and produced 94% faster than before.
This Stratasys 3D printed hose holder (in gray) is used to maintain the position of an engine hose during engine assembly by the production line operator. These 3D printed tools are designed and produced 94% faster than before.

“Stratasys 3D printing has made an incredible impact to the way we work,” Jenny said. “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.”

Volvo Trucks purchased its Stratasys Fortus 3D Production System from Stratasys’ reseller CADvision and, within a three-month period,  had already 3D printed more than 30 different production tools, including a range of different durable yet lightweight clamps, jigs, supports and even ergonomically-designed tool holders that ensure a more organized working environment for operators.

“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% fit-for-purpose,” said Jean-Marc Robin, Technical Manager, Volvo Trucks. “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.”

According to Robin, developing production tools using additive manufacturing also enables the equipment design team to be far more responsive and avoids possible waste in the event of last-minute design changes before tools are made.

Using Stratasys additive manufacturing technology, Volvo Trucks has reduced turnaround times on certain clamps, jigs and supports from 36 days to just two days.
Using Stratasys additive manufacturing technology, Volvo Trucks has reduced turnaround times on certain clamps, jigs and supports from 36 days to just two days.

“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,” Robin 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.”

Volvo Trucks’ Lyon engine plant produces various engine types and sizes for the Volvo Group, including Renault Trucks, which the Group bought in 2001.

This post is also available in: German, Portuguese (Brazil)

Comments(2)

  • Hans Erdmann
    Mar 18, 20154:00 PM

    Well I would like to know where the limit of size and exactness is set.. And what powers will limit tools in that material due temperature gets thermoplastic soon leave a stabile structure.. Is this solved by material included to stiffen it up?

    Let us please know more about this ..more pictures and what areas not can cover by this material it this moment..

    Kind regards Curious Hans

    • Stephen Burg
      Mar 18, 20154:00 PM

      Hello Hans, We are conferring with our material experts internally and will have an answer for you shortly.

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