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Ford tests 3D printing

Ford Motor Company is exploring how to print oversized automotive parts and components for use in prototypes and future mass-produced models. The new 3D printing system is located at Ford's Research and Development Center in Dearborn.

As 3D printing becomes more efficient and affordable, companies are using this emerging technology to manufacture applications in all kinds of fields, from aerospace to education to medicine.

The increasing popularization of 3D printing has come about thanks to recent technological advances, new areas of application and government support, according to data from Global Industry Analysts Inc. By 2020, the global market for the 3D printing industry is expected to reaches 9.000 million euros, according to this organization.

In the future, 3D printing could offer immense benefits to the automotive industry, including the ability to make lighter parts that can help improve fuel efficiency. For example, a 3D printed spoiler can weigh less than half that of its molten metal equivalent.

Furthermore, 3D printing is a more efficient method of producing parts in small quantities, such as prototypes or specialized components for competition models. Ford could also use this technology for stamping and custom parts for its customers.

Specifications for the part are transferred from the computer design program to the printer computer, which analyzes the design. The device then goes into operation, printing one layer of material at a time, in this case plastic, and gradually stacking the layers into a complete 3D object.

When the system detects that the raw material container is empty, a robotic arm automatically replaces it with a full one. This allows the printer to run for hours or even days without supervision.

Although 3D printing is still not fast enough for high production volumes, it is a more efficient method of producing low volumes of components, such as prototypes and specialized car parts. Additionally, when subjected to the limitations of mass production processes, parts can be designed to perform more efficiently.

Using traditional methods, an engineer could create a one-piece computer mockup and then have to wait months for a prototype to be created. With 3D printing, Ford can print that same part in a matter of days and at significantly less cost. For example, a prototype of a new intake manifold could be made in a couple of days compared to several months with the traditional method, and at a much lower price.


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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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