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.”


Ford Infinite Build Printer testing


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



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