Volvo CE 3D Prints Spare Parts for Construction Equipment
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on March 29, 2018 |

Large construction companies like Caterpillar have learned that additive manufacturing (AM) provides a unique opportunity to serve customers by providing spare parts for massive pieces of machinery. Volvo Construction Equipment (CE) is the latest to jump on that opportunity. Volvo CE announced that it will be using AM to create aftermarket parts for customers. 

The Volvo EC140E excavator. (Image courtesy of Volvo CE.)
The Volvo EC140E excavator. (Image courtesy of Volvo CE.)

Because construction machinery is so large and specialized, and the equipment is designed to last for such long periods of time, 3D printing can be used to create highly specialized spare parts more quickly and affordably than would be possible with traditional methods. This is particularly true for legacy equipment that may not be in production any longer.

“We are supporting customers through the life cycle of their equipment,” Jasenko Lagumdzija, Volvo CE manager of business support, said. “It’s especially good for older machines where the parts that have worn out are no longer made efficiently in traditional production methods. Producing new parts by 3D printing cuts down on time and costs, so it’s an efficient way of helping customers.”

Turnaround time for replacement can be as short as a week, which minimizes downtime for a piece of equipment in the field. The ability to replace parts for legacy machines also extends the equipment’s lifetime even further. And, because AM is designed for small run sizes, there is no minimum order requirement, which also reduces Volvo CE’s reliance on maintaining part inventories.

To produce parts for customers, Volvo CE relies on its own archive of drawings, 3D models and other product information, and has components made by an outside service, who 3D prints the parts in thermoplastic. Such components include plastic coverings, portions of air conditioning units and cabin parts. While plastic is the only offer for the time being, the company is considering offering metal parts in the future.

“The customer is getting exactly the same part in replacing plastic with plastic,” Annika Fries, Volvo CE aftermarket branding manager, said. “We do a lot of quality assurance—the 3D parts have the same specifications and go through the same process as the original, and get the same warranty, so customers can be confident they are getting a genuine Volvo-approved part.”

Volvo CE also will be using AM to prototype future equipment, maintaining several 3D printers for research and development purposes. In many ways, this follows Caterpillar’s own use of 3D printing, which includes prototyping and production, though we don’t yet believe Caterpillar has initiated widespread use of the technology for spare parts. With Volvo CE taking advantage of 3D printing for this application, however, there’s no doubt that other major heavy machine manufacturers will follow suit.

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