Motor Company aims to become the world’s first automaker to use 3-D printing technology to make large-scale one-piece auto parts, like spoilers, for prototyping and future production vehicles. As part of this exercise, it is working on a pilot project using the Stratasys
Infinite Build 3D printer.
Capable of printing automotive
parts of practically any shape or length, the Stratasys
Infinite Build system could be a breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing - providing a more efficient, affordable way to create tooling, prototype parts and components for low-volume vehicles such as Ford
Performance products, as well as personalised car parts. The new 3D printer system is housed at Ford
Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn.
“With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations. We are excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive
applications and requirements,” said Ellen Lee, Ford
technical leader, additive manufacturing research.
Wider adoption of 3D printing
has been driven by recent technology advances, new areas of application and government support, according to Global Industry Analysts. By 2020, the global market for this emerging technology is expected to reach $ 9.6 billion, the organisation reports. As 3D printing
becomes increasingly efficient and affordable, companies are employing it for manufacturing applications in everything from aerospace to education to medicine.
could bring immense benefits for automotive
production, 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.
The technology is more cost efficient for production of low-volume parts for prototypes and specialised race car components. Additionally, Ford
could use 3D printing
to make larger tooling and fixtures, along with personalised components.
With 3D printing, specifications for a part are transferred from the computer-aided design program to the printer’s computer, which analyses 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 – days, even.
“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
can print the intake manifold in a couple of days, at a significant cost reduction,” said Ford
Motor highlighting the benefits of 3D printing
in a press release.
The 3D printing
is not yet fast enough for high-volume manufacturing, but it is more cost efficient for low-volume production. Additionally, minus the constraints of mass-production processes, 3D-printed parts can be designed to function more efficiently.