Mar 6, 2017 | By Tess

American automaker Ford is no stranger to 3D printing technologies, as it has been exploring and using the technology since the late 1980s. Now, another phase in the company’s 3D printing integration is about to begin. According to a recent press release, Ford is testing whether 3D printing can be used for the production of large-scale, one-piece car parts, such as spoilers. The car company will be using the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer, making it the first automaker to pilot the large-scale additive manufacturing system.

The Stratasys Infinite Build System, first unveiled last year, was developed by 3D printing company Stratasys in partnership with Ford and aerospace company Boeing Co. The large-scale additive manufacturing technology is reportedly capable of 3D printing automotive parts of almost any shape or length, making it suitable for creating tooling and prototype parts for low-volume vehicles (Ford Performance products, for instance), as well as personalized car parts, like spoilers.

Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader, additive manufacturing research, said of the pilot project: “With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures, and components, making us more nimble in design iterations. We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”

The Stratasys Infinite Build System is being tested at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan. As mentioned, Ford is the first auto manufacturing company to pilot the 3D printing system, which is expected to help them produce lighter-weight, large-scale prototype parts in a cost efficient manner.

Having lighter parts built into production vehicles could ultimately result in better fuel efficiency, says Ford, and 3D printing can open the doors for this. A 3D printed thermoplastic spoiler, for instance, could weigh less than half of its cast metal counterpart. For now, Ford will use the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer to test parts for low-volume vehicles, as the technology is not yet prepared for mass-production or fast enough for high-volume manufacturing.

Ford is also testing the large-scale 3D printing technology with personalization in mind. This means that Ford clients could perhaps soon be able to customize certain parts for the vehicles they will be purchasing. Of course, we don’t expect Ford to roll this out for their mass-produced vehicles, but again, for the low-volume products.

Stratasys’ Infinite Build System consists of an FDM-style 3D printing process that is capable of printing on a vertical plane, allowing for practically unlimited part size—lengthwise, at least. Ford and Boeing were partners with Stratasys in developing and testing the technology.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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