Ford Motor Company is exploring how large one-piece automotive parts, like car spoilers, can be printed for prototyping and future production vehicles.
Ford is the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build three-dimensional (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, or prototype parts or components at low volumes, for Ford Performance vehicles, or for personalised car parts.
“With the Infinite Build technology, we are now able to print large tools, fixtures and components, making us nimbler in design iterations,” says Ford technical leader for additive manufacturing research Ellen Lee.
The new 3D print system is located at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center, in Dearborn, Michigan, in the US.
In future, 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 weigh less than half of its metal-cast equivalent.
Additionally, 3D printing is a more cost-efficient way to produce parts only needed at low volumes, like prototypes and specialised parts for race cars.
“Ford also may use the technology to make larger printed tooling and fixtures, as well as personalised components for customers.”
Specifications for the part are transferred from the computer-aided design programme to the printer’s computer, which analyses the design. The device then 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,” Lee said.