The Ford Motor Company tests 3D printing technology – Infinite Build from Stratasys in its research and innovation center in the US. Ford is the first automobile manufacturer to use Stratasys’ large-scale printing technology. McLaren-Honda also works with Stratasys, but the team uses the PolyJet technology. Audi , on the other hand, has entered into a partnership with EOS.
Ford expects additive manufacturing to increase efficiency while reducing costs, especially in the production of prototype parts or small-scale components with low production volumes, such as spoiler elements for Ford Performance vehicles. “With Infinite Build, we are now able to easily print larger parts and components on the computer. This accelerates the development of vehicle design,” says Ellen Lee, Ford’s Technical Leader for Additive Manufacturing Research. “We are delighted to have access to this new technology from Stratasys, which will enable us to test the potential of 3D large-print processes for the first time in the automotive industry.”
So the component comes out of the printer
The digital data for Ford vehicle parts are transferred from the computer to the printer. The pressure of the component is layered in a suitable material, usually plastic. At the end is the finished 3D object. When the 3D printing system detects that the stock of materials is finished, a robot ensures timely replacement. This allows an automatic and unattended operation - on request even around the clock and with no time limit.
Advantages of 3D printing: fast and cheap
According to Ford, 3D printing is a cost-effective way to produce parts that are needed only in small quantities, such as prototype parts or special parts for racing cars. Up to now it can take weeks to produce a prototype part like an intake manifold made of gray cast iron. With 3D printing, Ford now has the same component made of heat-resistant plastic within the shortest possible time. At the same time, product development can be significantly accelerated at a lower cost.
With 3D printing fuel saving
Additionally, the fuel-efficiency of vehicles can be improved in principle as a result of the weight advantages of the 3D products. For example, spoiler components from the 3D printer weigh less than half their equivalent of metal. In addition, this technology can also be used to tailor special tools and customized vehicle parts according to customer requirements. Currently, however, 3D printing is not yet fast enough for large-scale production.