Ford Considers Large-Scale 3D Printing

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Your next Ford could be printed and glued instead of stamped and welded, thanks to hi-tech advances in parts manufacturing.

Ford is already making some incredible strides with forward-thinking technologies to lighten, strengthen, and reduce the cost of their cars and trucks. The first big step was the move to aluminum with the F-150. Now, Ford is testing out what could be the next big thing in automotive production: large-scale 3D printers.

Just a few weeks ago, Ford became the first automaker to begin pilot-testing the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer. With 3D printing, Ford is hoping to create large single cast pieces like spoilers and side skirts that are stronger and lighter. If you are new to 3D printing, the idea is pretty simple. A machine takes a base material, usually a roll of reinforced plastic wire, and it uses that to make parts.

The machine heats the plastic up until it starts to melt, and then lays it down into whatever shape the user asks it to. Then the plastic hardens almost immediately after coming out of the machine, so the shape holds. Then simply add a layer, on top of layer, on top of layer, until the finished product is completed. Because it doesn’t require a mold, it can make incredibly complicated shapes, and fill them with a lattice mesh. That lattice mesh adds immense strength, and makes the part weigh a lot less than a solid piece would.

3d printers

Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader said, “With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations.” That means quicker prototyping, for increased speed in model changes. That also means more complex and interesting design ideas can be explored, making for cooler and more aerodynamic cars. 3D printing could also make it a lot cheaper for Ford to offer more customized parts from the factory, and we can’t wait to see what the performance division could do with this kind of future-tech.

3D printing is already paving the way forward in many industries, so it’s nice to see Ford once again stepping up to show the automotive industry the way. Oddly enough, the people at Chevy and Ram can’t figure out why the F-150 has been the best-selling truck decade after decade. Maybe being on the cutting-edge of design, technology, production, and style have something to do with it.

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Christian Moe contributes to many of Internet Brands' Auto blogs, including Corvette Forum, Club Lexus and Rennlist, among other auto sites.

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