Ford Motor Company announced on Monday that it has begun testing the 3D printing of large-scale car parts. The automaker has turned to Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer in its quest for new and more affordable ways to create parts and components for its vehicles.
From customized parts to shorter production cycles, many see 3D printing as the future of car manufacturing. It eliminates the supplier, reduces risk and provides endless possibilities when it comes to design flexibility. Ford has been particularly impressed with the weight savings. The company estimates that a 3D-printed spoiler could be under half the weight of the equivalent made from a metal casting. This means the car is not only decreased in weight, but will also have greater fuel efficiency as a result.
“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. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”
The Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer has been installed at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan. But this doesn’t mean Ford is going to be producing full vehicles over the course of a day. No, it doesn’t believe 3D printing is capable of producing car parts in large volumes. However, it is capable of making most large, one-piece car parts and it is proving far more cost effective for low-volume parts.
Ford says the printer could be used on special performance models and race cars, or to create prototype parts or personalized items for customers.
So, how does it work? Designs are uploaded to the Infinite Build from a computer-aided design program, and are printed out one layer at a time. Ford is using it to make parts out of plastic, which are fed into the machine from large canisters. When a canister is empty, a robot arm switches it out for a full one.
Ford is not the only automaker testing the technology. In 2016, Daimler announced plans to use 3D printing to produce spare parts, while French firm Peugeot has also signed a deal with Divergent 3D to develop printing processes for the production of its vehicles. Local Motors has even 3D printed entire bodies for its electric cars.
This is Stratasys’ third partnership within the automotive sector. Since the beginning of 2017, it has signed multi-year deals with McLaren Racing and Team Penske. But this represents a big step for the company, as it’s the first deal with a company that serves the consumer markets.
SmarTech Publishing is forecasting revenues from additive manufacturing in the automotive industry to reach $2.3 billion by 2021. It says a flurry of potentially disruptive activity has taken place over the last two years, setting the stage for the automotive industry to become one of the biggest markets for 3D printing and additive manufacturing technology over the next decade.
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