The specialized printer is able to create parts of virtually any size or shape.
Ford Motor Company is looking to the world of 3D printing as a potential outlet for producing large one-piece auto parts. Before all you do-it-yourselfers start conjuring visions of printing your own custom bumpers and body kits, such things likely won’t be the domain of your typical 3D printer. Ford is using something called the Infinite Build 3D printer – a specialized machine designed by printer manufacturer Stratasys specifically for large-scale industrial use. The printer was unveiled last year; Ford is the first auto manufacturer to pilot the system.
According to Stratasys, the specialized printer “turns the traditional 3D printer concept on its side . . . which prints on a vertical place for practically unlimited part size in the build direction.”
We’re not sure what that means, but it sounds expensive. The end-result, however, is the ability to create one-piece parts of pretty much any size or shape. Considering the current manufacturing process requires molds, dies, and other traditional mass-production components, having the ability to digitally store part designs and print as-needed could revolutionize the industry.
“With the Infinite Build technology, we are now able to print large tools, fixtures, and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” said Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader for additive manufacturing research, in a press release. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology in order to help steer the development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”
At this stage, 3D printing isn’t fast enough to accommodate high-volume parts needs. On low-volume parts, however, foregoing the traditional manufacturing process via 3D printer could be a cost-effective solution to creating hard-to-find components. Similarly, obsolete items could be recreated for specialty applications without incurring typical manufacturing costs and roadblocks. The system could also benefit the development process for new automobiles, printing prototype parts in a matter of days for pennies on the dollar versus waiting months for traditional manufacturing processes.
In any case, expect 3D printing to assume a larger role in the automotive realm. Several auto-based companies already offer 3D printed products, and the technology is rapidly growing. According to Global Industry Analysts Inc., 3D printing should be a $9.6 billion industry by 2020.
Source: Ford Motor Company
FORD TESTS LARGE SCALE 3D PRINTING WITH THE POTENTIAL TO IMPROVE FUEL EFFICIENCY & OFFER GREATER VEHICLE PERSONALISATION
- Ford is testing 3D printing of large scale car parts using the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer
- Ford is the first automotive company to trial this technology with Stratasys, and is currently exploring potential applications for future production vehicles
- Increasingly affordable and efficient, 3D printing large car parts, like car spoilers, could offer customers greater vehicle personalisation opportunities
- Parts that are 3D printed can be lighter in weight than their traditionally manufactured counterparts, and may help improve fuel efficiency
BRENTWOOD, Essex, Mar. 6, 2017 – Ford Motor Company is exploring how large one-piece car parts could be printed for prototyping and future production vehicles, as the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.
Capable of printing car parts of practically any shape or length, the Stratasys Infinite Build system could be a breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing, providing a more efficient and affordable way to produce tooling, prototype parts, or components at lower volumes, like personalised car parts or specialised parts for racecars.
3D printing could have immense benefits for automotive production, including the ability to produce lighter-weight parts, which may help improve fuel efficiency. A 3D-printed spoiler, for instance, may have half the weight of its metal-cast equivalent.
“With the Infinite Build technology, we are now able to print large tools, fixtures, and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” said Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader for additive manufacturing research. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology in order to help steer the development of large scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”
The new 3D print system is located at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn.
An emerging technology for manufacturing
As 3D printing becomes increasingly efficient and affordable, companies are employing this emerging technology for manufacturing applications in everything from aerospace, to education, to medicine. Wider adoption in 3D printing has been driven by recent technology advances and new areas of application and government support, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc. By 2020, the global market for 3D printing is expected to reach $9.6 billion, the organization reported.
How it works
Specifications for the part are transferred from the computer-aided design program to the printer’s computer, which analyzes the design. Then, the device goes to work, printing one layer of material at a time – in this case, plastic – and then gradually stacking the layers into a finished 3D object.
When the system detects that 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 for hours or days while unattended.
Benefits of 3D printing
Though 3D printing isn’t yet fast enough for high-volume production manufacturing, it is a more cost-efficient way to produce parts only needed at low volumes. In addition, when not limited by the constraints of mass production processes, components can be designed to function more efficiently.
Using traditional methods, an engineer would create a computer model of the part and wait for months for prototype tooling to be produced. With 3D printing, Ford can print the same part in days at a significantly reduced cost. For example, a prototype for a new inlet manifold could be produced over a couple of days as opposed to several months, at an order of magnitude lower cost.