Volvo Trucks sees benefits of 3D printing tools and fixtures at NRV plant

Volvo Trucks North America announced this week that it has adopted 3D printing for the production of tools and fixtures. The 3D printed components are being used at its New River Valley (NRV) facility in Dublin, Virginia, where all trucks for the North American market are manufactured. Since implementing additive manufacturing for tooling, the automotive company says it has already experienced faster production rates and continuous quality improvements.

Though Volvo Trucks has been working with 3D printing for some time in a prototyping capacity, the announcement marks the first time the company has applied the technology for production-focused applications. Today, AM is enabling the company to improve quality and precision as well as to increase chances for first time through (FTT) production of assembly tools and fixtures.

“Volvo Trucks began exploring the use of 3D technology with a prototype approach, identifying opportunities to improve quality in the manufacturing process,” commented Franky Marchand, Vice President and General Manager of NRV. “Several years later, we can now say that 3D printing has become an integral component to our manufacturing processes and culture at NRV.”

Over 500 manufacturing tools and fixtures

To show the extent of the impact that 3D printing is having at Volvo Trucks’ NRV site, the automotive manufacturer revealed that there are currently over 500 manufacturing tools and fixtures in use on the shop floor that were made using 3D printing. Each of these parts was produced at the Volvo Innovative Projects lab at the Dublin-based facility. The lab enables the company to produce components in house using primarily selective laser sintering (SLS) technologies.

Volvo Trucks 3D printing
Volvo Trucks 3D printed a one-piece diffuser used in the paint atomizer cleaning process

The adoption of SLS 3D printing is enabling Volvo Trucks engineers to design parts and print them in a matter of hours—resulting in much faster turnaround times than using traditional tooling methods. AM also promotes a more flexible manufacturing approach and simplifies the supply chain by producing parts directly on site and reducing the need for inventory.

“While the technology has only been in use for a handful of years, it is already proving to be a valuable component of the manufacturing process at NRV, significantly saving production time and parts costs and continually improving quality,” said Adam Crowder, the manager of Advanced Manufacturing Technology at NRV who is leading a global manufacturing network representing 12 Volvo Trucks’ plants around the world with the aim of developing new applications for 3D printing.

What is Volvo Trucks printing?

To date, Volvo Trucks has produced many tooling and fixture components using 3D printing, including roof seal gauges, fuse installation platens, drilling fixtures, brake piston gauges, vacuum drill ducts, brake valve fitting gauges, hood drilling fixtures, power steering adapter holders, luggage door gap gauges and luggage door pins.

In one particular example, Volvo says it was able to save over $1,000 per part for a one-piece diffuser used in the paint atomizer cleaning process. In this case, additive manufacturing also enabled the company to consolidate the traditionally multi-component piece into one part.

“The NRV facility is dedicated to exploring these new technologies to further improve efficiency and quality in our manufacturing and deliver the best products to our customers in a timely manner,” Marchand added. “Thanks to the collaborative effort of the entire team around the globe, we are able to accomplish that goal through 3D printing. We plan to continue to advance this technology to benefit our customers, saving them time and money.”

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