Ford takes car parts to a new dimension
Printing large one-piece car parts for prototyping and future production vehicles is being explored by Ford, the first car maker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.
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 racing cars.
Capable of printing car parts of practically any shape or length, 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 halve the weight of its metal-cast equivalent.
Specifications for the part are transferred from the computer-aided design program to the printer’s computer, which analyses the design before printing one layer of material at a time – in this case, plastic – and then gradually stacking the layers into a finished 3D object.
Although 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 vastly lower cost.