Ford tests 3D printing for large parts

Ford tests 3D printing for large parts

Business news |
By Christoph Hammerschmidt

Ford hopes to increase the efficiency and cost reductions in its manufacturing processes, in particular in the production of prototype parts or small-scale components with low production volume such as spoilers for sports cars. “The “infinite Build” technology enables us to print even relatively large parts and components directly off the computer,” explains Ellen Lee, Ford’s Technical Leader for Additive Manufacturing Research. “This helps us to significantly speed up the design process.”


For additive manufacturing, the components in question are designed in the computer. The design data are then forwarded directly from the CAD software to the 3D printer – in the case of Ford the Infinite Build 3D machines from Stratasys. There, the component is built up in layers, using a suitable material, mostly plastics. After the printing process is concluded, the 3D object is ready for use. 3D printing in principle enables automatic and unattended operation – if desired even around the clock without any limitations in terms of time.


In Ford’s view, 3D printing is a cost-effective method to manufacture parts in low quantities, such as those for prototypes or special parts for racing cars, such as intake manifolds made of grey cast iron. At present, it can take weeks until such a made-to-order part is available. Through the 3D printing technology users can produce the same part from heat-resistant synthetic materials almost instantly and at much lower cost.


Another benefit: Parts manufactured by this mehod typically are made of plastics and thus have less weight, resulting in better fuel efficiency for the vehicles. For instance, spoiler components made of 3D-generated plastic typically weigh less than 50 % of their metal-based equivalent. What’s more, the technology can also be used to manufacture custom-built components. 


For high-volume series production the 3D printing technology is not yet fast enough, Ford admits. However, because of its cost and materials efficiency, the carmaker expects that 3D printing will be used increasingly at industrial scale. Market researcher Global Industry Analysts expect worldwide sales in the 3D printing segment of $9.6 billion by 2020.


Related news:

Audi, EOS partner for metal-based additive manufacturing

Software streamlines design, simulation and additive manufacturing

Siemens joins forces with HP to unleash 3D printing potential


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