Jun.13, 2013

Emergence of 3D printing technology goes mainstream faster than most people realize, as companies continue to experiment 3D printing in prototyping and small production run.

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article about how three major U.S. manufacturers, Ford, GE and Mattel are using 3D printing to be more productive, efficient and innovative in designs.

Ford Motor, the auto maker, uses 3D printing to prototype automobile parts such as cylinder heads, brake rotors and rear axels for test vehicles. Using 3D printing, Ford is able to cut the production time for creating a casting for a prototype cylinder head used in its EcoBoost engines, to three month, saving 25% to 40% off production time.

Ford technologist Dennis DuBay removes sand that surrounds sand cast molds for engine components.

Credit: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co.

Usually with the traditional casting method, engineers had to spend four to five months in designing both a sand mold as well as the tool to cut the mold. With 3D printing Ford engineers can skip the time-consuming process of cutting castings out of material molds, and design and print the sand mold and pour the metal in three months. And each time they can easily make changes to a prototype design. "We're getting real-life testing without the millions of dollars in investment in throw-away prototype tooling," said Paul Susalla, section supervisor of rapid manufacturing at Ford. "It's huge."

GE has been using 3D printing to produce jet engine parts as well as a medical device, the ultrasound probe. Its new 3D printed jet engine fuel nozzle is 25 percent lighter and as much as five times more durable than the current nozzle made from 20 different parts.

According to researchers at GE, 3D printing could help cut the costs of manufacturing certain parts of the probe by 30%.

"Ford sees a future where customers will be able to print their own replacement parts. Theoretically, a customer could log onto the Web, scan a barcode or print up an order, take it to a local 3D printer, and have the part in hours or minutes." writes Clint Boulton of WSJ.

Mattel, a toy maker has 30 3D printers in the workshop, and they have been used to create parts for Barbie, Max Steel, Hot Wheels cars and Monster High dolls. But the company has no plan yet to sell software files for customers to print it out themselves, due to toy safety issues for children.

Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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