The old adage goes that time is money, and it rings true for fleet managers who have had their vehicles off the road for any period. Whether it's routine servicing or unscheduled repairs, downtime can quickly get expensive for the wider business.
What if repair work could be kept simple, with the majority carried out in-house?
Ford produces 12 vehicles every single minute across the globe.
3-D printing vehicle components
While it may sound too good to be true, 3-D printing holds the potential to make speedier repairs a reality. The technology has had some use for automotive manufacturers, but fleet companies that utilise it on-site could produce parts and fit them to vehicles incredibly quickly, with only a computer file needed to get the process underway.
Unfortunately, 3-D printing technology is still relatively expensive, which puts it out of reach of the average fleet manager.
However, could entire vehicles be produced using the technology in the future?
Ford pushes the boundaries
Automotive giant Ford certainly thinks so and has been tentatively making its 3-D printed endeavours available to the public. Any type of rapid manufacturing will likely prove invaluable for the Detroit-based company, as it currently produces 12 vehicles around the globe every single minute, according to Automotive News.
While it is producing parts and large-scale prototypes in-house, as things stand, Ford is only offering small 3-D models of its vehicles to the public. Users can either order a pre-printed miniature, or download the application file for a fraction of the cost.
While this is relatively rudimentary, the company could soon be doing similar with actual parts for its existing catalogue of cars, vans and trucks.
This tweet from Digital Trends has more on what the finished articles look like:
— Digital Trends (@DigitalTrends) June 13, 2015
"3D printing at home is a growing trend and it makes sense for us to offer our customers a chance to make their own 3-D Ford models," explained Mark Bentley, licensing manager of Ford global brand licensing.
Investment from the automotive sector
It may still be some time before a 3-D printed fleet vehicle becomes a reality, but the automotive sector is heavily investing in the technology.
Research from SmarTech pointed out that the revenues from 3-D printing equipment, materials and services sold to the automotive industry will hit US$870 million by the end of the decade, before going on to exceed $1.8 billion by 2023.
Saving both time and money can be difficult. While fleet managers can manage it if they implement a set of business fuel cards, finding ways to keep vehicles in the best of health and out on the road is just as important.
While 3-D printing parts for fleet vehicles may seem like a futuristic concept, the technology could prove invaluable once it's perfected and widespread.