Ford adopts 3D printing for quicker design iterations
The automaker is part of pilot project that uses a Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.
3D printing is becoming more commonplace in the manufacturing environment. And although the technology is not yet fast enough for high-volume manufacturing, it is ideal for low-volume production environments.
Ford is exploring how large-scale one-piece auto parts, like spoilers, can be 3D printed for prototyping and future production vehicles. The automaker is part of pilot project that uses a Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.
This project will demonstrate the technology’s ability to print practically any shape or length, making it perfect for automotive parts manufacturing. The 3D printer will be located at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan and will be used to develop more efficient, affordable ways to create tooling, prototype part and components for low-volume vehicles. Additionally, Ford could use 3D printing to make larger tooling and fixtures, along with personalized components.
With traditional methods, engineers would create a computer model of a part, then wait months for prototype tooling to be produced. With this new 3D printer, Ford is able to print the part from scratch without the tooling in a matter of days.
Further, with 3D printing, specifications for a part are transferred from the computer-aided design program to the printer’s computer, which analyzes the design. The device then goes to work, printing one layer of material at a time, then gradually stacking layers into a finished 3D object. When the system detects the raw material or supply material canister is empty, a robotic arm automatically replaces it with a full canister. This allows the printer to operate unattended for hours.
3D printing may soon provide benefits for the entire automotive industry, including the ability to produce lighter-weight parts that could lead to greater fuel efficiency. A 3D-printed spoiler, for instance, may weigh less than half its cast metal counterpart.
“With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” said Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader, additive manufacturing research. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”