By on March 10, 2017

Ford 3D Printed Parts, [Image: Ford Motor Company]

Ford is trying its hand at a new way of manufacturing inexpensive and lightweight car parts: 3D printing.

While 3D printing has existed in the auto manufacturing scene for quite some time, it was largely used for prototypes and molds, not the actual product.

Ford is now looking to use the technology to produce a variety of customizable and low-volume parts.

Manufacturers have used this technology, in some capacity, for years. Local Motors designed and made the Strati, the first 3D printed electric car, and racing teams have used it for specialty parts.

Frank Stephenson, design chief at McLaren, told Forbes that the company’s product development period has shrunk from 36 months to 18 months, all thanks to 3D printing.

Manufacturers’ use of 3D printing used to be limited by the size of the parts able to be produced. In the case of the Blue Oval, that issue no longer exists.

Ford 3D Printed Parts, [Image: Ford Motor Company]

Ford is using the massive Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer to make parts that take up more than a little desk space. Large parts, such as a spoiler or long interior panel, is no problem for this room-sized mammoth.

For now, the destination for these parts remain low-volume performance cars and customizable options ordered by buyers. However, Ford’s Technical Leader for Additive Manufacturing Research, Ellen Lee, said in a media release that the new technology will eventually translate into large-scale 3D printed auto manufacturing.

[Images: Ford Motor Company]

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9 Comments on “Ford Moves a Step Closer to Mass 3D-printed Production Parts...”


  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    I will say in my own experience, 3D printing has substantially helped rapid prototyping efforts all around (promotes fast-to-fail testing, lowers barrier to trying different things out, allows for affordable parts making that was previously rather pricey and outsourced).

    I’m curious to see what constitutes short-run in the context of Ford, and how the cost analysis breaks down compared to making a mold and such.

  • avatar
    facelvega

    Dedicated machining is still far cheaper and better for mass-production parts, and will be for a long time. 3D printing is, however, ideal for replacement parts for older cars where you don’t want expensive dedicated machining because you only need a few at a time. Right now it can’t help much fo parts with multiple moving pieces of different materials like shocks or alternators, but for individual solid plastic or metal pieces we are just 3d scans away from being able to print anything we need to rebuild our Alfa Montreals or Gordon Keebles.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    In my experience, 3D printing materials (plastics) do not behave nearly as well as their ‘real’ counterparts. (I have no experience with metal printed parts, however).

    The plastic models are great for show-and-tell and limited testing. But they can suffer from delamination, brittleness, moisture absorption, discoloration, thermal sensitivities, UV breakdown, and warpage. And although they’re available much more quickly than other prototyping methods, that same timing is very slow for a production environment.

    Additionally, the piece part cost of 3D printed parts is quite high, but the real savings is in eliminating tooling.

    As for Ford, it will be interesting to see what components they select to send into the wild as 3D printings.

    • 0 avatar
      orenwolf

      “In my experience, 3D printing materials (plastics) do not behave nearly as well as their ‘real’ counterparts. (I have no experience with metal printed parts, however).”

      For *plastic* parts, sure. that changes when you use metal parts. SpaceX has flown 3D printed rocket engine components to space already, and intends to do more of that, saying they’re actually superior to traditional forging/machining techniques:

      http://www.spacex.com/news/2014/07/31/spacex-launches-3d-printed-part-space-creates-printed-engine-chamber-crewed

  • avatar

    I have a 3d printer and I’m looking into setting up a small print farm to make parts for my electric harmonica. 3d printing is a very useful tech but it’s not suitable for anything close to mass production because the process is just too slow. Printing at medium quality to keep print time reasonable takes about 24 hrs to make the parts for just one production Harmonicaster. Since my plans are modest and would like to sell 20 a week, I can make do with 5 or 6 printers, but real mass production means injection molding or other forms of molding.

    However, with 3d printing, either FDM or SLA, or powder deposition with laser sintering, you can make some parts better or even that couldn’t be made any other way. Build parts from the inside out or with a FDM printer only make it solid where it has to be solid. My harmonica parts would be much heavier if injection molded.

    So there are advantages with 3d printing but it’s no panacea.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    I was wondering if stamping presses could be made like those art impression things where you press your face or hand into a surface of individual pins. Every press could make a different shape.

    Eventually 3D printing and similar technology should cause all sorts of changes. Old cars kept going by making parts. Less transportation and storage of parts for the continuing proliferation of car models and consumer goods in general. Leading to affordable custom/bespoke models for anyone who wants them.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Actually Ford already using machinery that can custom shape sheet metal. Like 3d printing it is far to slow for production, but very quick for prototyping. This is just that Ford has received one of the first of Stratasys’ latest and greatest, largest ever unit.

  • avatar
    Jeff Zekas

    Classic car parts: this is the obvious use for 3-D printing.

  • avatar
    rustyra24

    I just bought a small 3D printer to make parts for my Toyota and itt seems to work really well. Based on the filament you could make a good product

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