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Ford tests 3D printing system

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Ford has begun to test 3D printing of large scale car parts – the first automotive manufacturer to trial the system.

The company has joined forces with Stratasys Infinite Build to print affordable and efficient one-piece parts – such as aero spoilers – that are lighter than traditionally manufactured items.

Capable of printing practically any shape or length, the Stratasys Infinite Build system has been heralded as a breakthrough in vehicle manufacturing. It is said to provide an efficient and affordable way of producing prototype parts, components or tooling.

“The technology makes us more nimble in design iterations,” says Ellen Lee, Ford’s 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, Michigan where it will be used initially to produce cost-efficient, low volume parts such as those used for prototypes or race cars. Further, Ford also may use the technology to make larger printed tooling and fixtures as well as personalised components for customers.

The system works by transferring specifications for parts from a computer-aided design programme to the printer’s computer. Then the device prints one layer of material at a time, gradually stacking the layers into a finished 3D object.

The system is fully autonomous, allowing the printer to operate for hours or days while unattended. Though not yet fast enough for high-volume production manufacturing, the technology offers advantages in terms of development benefits, producing in days what traditional parts manufacturing processes take months to complete.

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