Ford became the first automotive manufacturer to test a new 3 D printer that can build parts of unlimited size. The company is also exploring the possibility of using the printer to make prototypes of one-piece auto parts that might possibly used for production in future models. The use of this 3D printer that can make bigger auto parts could herald a breakthrough in vehicle manufacturing.
Ford is testing the innovative technology using Stratasys Infinite-Build 3D printer, a printer that also has the capability to make objects from materials like carbon fiber for lighter weight and stronger parts. One example is the case of a 3D-printed spoiler that could weight about 50 per cent of its metal-cast equivalent.
Ford said in a press release that use of 3D printing would make it increasingly affordable and efficient to make large car parts, like car spoilers, thus benefiting both Ford and consumers. Parts which can be made using this technology will be lighter than components which are conventionally manufactured and this can help improve fuel efficiency.
3D printing technology, according to Ford, can make tooling, production of prototype parts, or components at low volumes, more efficient and affordable as in the case of Ford Performance vehicles, or for personalized car parts.
The new 3D print system is located at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich.
The Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer was designed specifically to carter to the needs of the aerospace and automotive industries so that it can be used to make components with repeatable mechanical properties. Another company that is testing the use of this printer for the production of low volume and lightweight parts is Boeing.
The printer uses a “screw” or “worm” drive filament extruder, and this makes it possible for the machine to print with composite materials, like carbon fiber, which doesn’t shrink or warp as thermoplastics do. Generally, 3D printers press a polymer filament through a pair of wheels or gears and out of a heated extruder head, layer by layer. A screw extruder winds the filament through the head, and this increases the flow pressure needed tor extruding composite materials. The Infinite-Build 3D printer uses a horizontal build platform instead of a traditional vertical platform to create printed objects. As the platform is positioned horizontally, the machine can build parts sideways, and it can build really big parts.
“This gives us the capacity for making much larger parts and to gain much lighter assembly,” said Ellen Lee, technical leader at Ford’s additive manufacturing research facility.
Manju Mathew, an MBA in marketing, completed publisher training courses from the Oxford Brookes University and New York University. She started with marketing and PR roles before moving on to her current position as a full time writer. Currently living in Dubai, her life as an expat has sharpened her observation skills and flair for writing. She enjoys writing about luxury cars like Ferrari, Lamborghini, etc even if she can only dream of owning them.
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