Ford Begins 3D Printing Pilot Tests
Ford Motor Co. has become the first carmaker to use the Infinite Build 3D printer it developed with Stratasys Ltd.’s to make large-scale test parts.
Developed last year by Stratasys in partnership with Ford and aerospace giant Boeing Inc., the Infinite Build machine is capable of making large, one-piece plastic parts of almost any shape or length, according to the partners. Such parts are said to be lighter and less expensive than those that are machined.
Ford envisions using the printer to create tooling and prototype parts—including fenders, intake manifolds and customized spoilers—for low-volume applications such as special-edition models and race cars.
The carmaker houses the room-sized printer at its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich. Specifications for a part are transferred from a computer-aided-design program to the printer’s computer, which then prints one layer of material at a time until the part is finished.
The system detects if more material is needed and automatically refills itself as needed. Ford says the machine can operate unattended for two or three days at a time.
The Infinite Build system uses a new extrusion technology that is capable of printing on a vertical plane, thereby improving throughput and repeatability of complex designs. Formed in the late 1980s, Stratasys has dual headquarters in Minneapolis, Minn., and Rehovot, Israel.
Ford previously has used 3D printers to make smaller parts, such as buttons, switches and knobs. It also has used 3D parts on some race cars, including the intake manifold of a prototype vehicle that won the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 2015.
Click here to watch a video showing how Ford is using the Stratasys Infinite Build 3-D printer.
Additive manufacturing technology is helping the automaker reduce product development times and costs.
To assure that the company maintains its capabilities, relevance and leading-edge know-how in manufacturing, Ford has spent $45-million on its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford Township, Michigan, just west of Detroit.
A new software suite for 3D printing analyzes, repairs, and prepares 3D models using the native file formats of a variety of CAD systems, saving the conversion to STL for last.