Dec.27, 2012 | 12:27am

The Ford Motor Company is using personal 3D printers for next generation research and development and it plans to provide every engineer a Makerbot replicator 3D printer in the coming months. In Ford's Silicon Valley Lab, Dave Evans creates a custom vehicle gauge and emails the 3D design to Zac Nelson in Dearborn. Nelson uses the MakerBot Thing-O-Matic at his workstation and prints up a physical prototype.

(Image Copyright: Ford Motor Company)

Just like laser printers commonly used in offices and homes today, expect 3D printers to be commonplace tomorrow. Engineers throughout the industry will have the ability to visualize a design on a computer screen and have the physical prototype show up at a colleague's desk on the other side of the country in minutes, according to Ford. With this capability, the most qualified experts in each domain can make changes that feed into a tangible model. They can then share a 3D CAD design with the improvements.

"We've been shifting from the tangible world to the computer world, and the reality is that a hybrid model works best," says K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Open Innovation, and a member of Ford's Technology Advisory Board, Research and Innovation. "There is nothing like having a tangible prototype, but it has always been time consuming and expensive to create.

"Now, at the press of a button, you can have the product or component at your fingertips," he adds. "With a model in one hand, you can then input your changes back into the computer model. The best decisions are made from the highest quality engineer and at the best pace."

Ford is using 3D printer for small developments as well as in the manufacturing world.

Low-cost 3D printer such as Makerbots are used for small developments like shift knobs, gauges and display modules. "We encourage our engineers to have the same entrepreneurial and creative spirit that started this movement," says Prasad. "When we first got the machine, we made a scaled-down replica Model T and engineers have even made superheroes. We like that people are having fun with it and experimenting for it is that type of creativity that will lead to great uses and discoveries."

Ford has also invested in large industrial rapid prototyping machines. Recently, many of the components for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost® engine in the all-new Transit Van were developed with the aid of 3D rapid manufacturing. Cast aluminum oil filtration adaptors, exhaust manifolds, differential carrier, brake rotors, oil pan, differential case casting and even rear axles were prototyped with the technology, specifically utilizing selective laser sintering, stereolithography and 3D sand casting.

Additionally, Ford is a leader in a new variation on this technology: 3D printing with sand allows for the creation of casting patterns and cores with multiple printers in-house. This results in improved efficiency and time to market, reduced time spent waiting on iterations and increased cost savings.

Examples of 3D sand printing include:

  • C-MAX, Fusion Hybrid: Rotor supports, transmission cases, damper housings and end covers for the new HF35 hybrid transmission built at Van Dyke Transmission Plant in suburban Detroit
  • Escape: EcoBoost four-cylinder engines in the 2013 Escape built at Louisville Assembly Plant
  • Explorer: Brake rotors for the 2011 Explorer built in Chicago. The rotors were modified late in development to address a brake noise issue discovered in durability testing
  • F-150: Exhaust manifolds for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost built in Cleveland and used in F-150


"Many have referenced this technology as ushering in a third industrial revolution," says Harold Sears, Ford additive manufacturing technical specialist. "While that is yet to be determined, we do know manufacturing is continuing to go digital, the speed of these technologies is increasing, and the variety of materials is expanding. This all leads us to believe the potential of micro-manufacturing presents great opportunity for the manufacturing industry overall."

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Applications

 

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