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Managing Editor  | March 2017

Ford testing large-scale 3-D printing for automobile parts

Ford Motor Company recently announced that it was exploring large-scale, one-piece automobile parts created with the Stratasys Infinite Build 3-D printer in order to test the potential for additive manufacturing in the auto industry for creating prototypes or full-scale productions.



Ford is testing large-scale additive manufacturing for car parts. (YouTube)


The company is seeking alternative production methods to provide a “more efficient, affordable way to create tooling, prototype parts and components for low-volume vehicles such as Ford Performance products, as well as personalized car parts.”


The 3-D printer is located at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich. The printer, provided by Stratasys, takes a design from computer software and turns it into printed objects by layering material. The system is fully automated, according to Ford, with a robotic arm that replaces empty material canisters during the process.


According to the Ford website, “Using traditional methods to develop, say, a new intake manifold, an engineer would create a computer model of the part, then have to wait months for prototype tooling to be produced. With 3D printing technology, Ford can print the intake manifold in a couple of days, at a significant cost reduction.”


“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.”


An article from TechCrunch noted that the pilot program will begin with production of spoilers as a test of the system’s cost-effectiveness.


The article continued, “If these tests with Stratasys’ commercial-grade Infinite Build 3D printer go well, that could open up a whole new world of opportunity for niche vehicle lines, vehicle upgrade options and more. That’s very handy in some of the fields where Ford currently operates, including racer manufacture, and in building prototype and concept vehicles rapidly and with less investment required.


“But for the ordinary consumer, it could mean custom rides off the production line in the future, with made-to-order parts and aesthetic upgrades that are truly unique. Commercial 3D printing is appealing because it doesn’t require use of the kinds of molds built to form plastic body panel parts like spoilers today.”


In addition to cost-savings in production, 3-D printing could also lead to significant weight savings that would make the vehicles more fuel and energy efficient, which is of increasing importance as the auto industry continues its progress towards electric and autonomous vehicles.


Watch the 3-D printer in action in the video below:

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