Oct 15, 2015 | By Benedict

American motor giant Ford is putting 3D printing technology to a variety of uses, resulting in vehicles—real and replica—of the highest quality. The legendary car company actually bought the third 3D printing machine ever produced, way back in 1988, and has since produced over 500,000 3D printed parts - the 500,000th being an engine cover for the latest Ford Mustang.

One of the most important uses of 3D printing technology for the company is in the production of prototype parts. 3D printed components can be produced in just a few hours, for as little as €1,000. This allows designers and engineers to experiment with a whole range of different designs in a short space of time, and with minimal expenditure. This process ensures that the perfect part can be identified amongst all possible options, quickly and efficiently. 

Advanced 3D printing technology has been used in the development of the new Ford GT Supercar, whose steering wheel, paddle shifts and door controls were all 3D printed as prototypes prior to production. In addition to the GT, the Mondeo Vignale also benefitted from additive manufacturing, with the prototype for its specially designed grille also being 3D printed.

Ford GT

“3D computer printing technology has totally changed the way we design and develop new vehicles. We can be more creative in trying to find potential solutions, and for the customer this means that our cars are better able to incorporate the latest thinking in design and technology,” said Rapid Technology supervisor Sandro Piroddi, part of Ford’s European team.

“Incredible as it is to realise that 3D printing has now been around for more than 25 years, it is a technology that is moving more quickly than ever before, opening up new ways of manufacturing the cars of the future,” he added.

So how exactly does the prototyping process work? Firstly, a design is made in sketch form by a member of the Ford Design team. Then, two simultaneous building processes occur: Clay modellers make a scale model of the vehicle, followed by a full-size one, to assess proportions and further develop the design. At the same time, a digital model is created using CAD software. The more detailed and complex parts are primarily the responsibility of the CAD sculptors. Once these parallel models have been made, the Rapid Prototype team, based in Cologne, Germany, evaluate the design and work on building the prototype parts, sometimes using 3D printing, sometimes via other means. The part may be 3D printed in plastic, metal, or sand, depending on its use. Once printed, the part is sanded and painted, to be sent on to a design studio or test facility.

Whilst 3D printing plays a role in the development of Ford’s real cars, it has also been used to develop something altogether different. Ford have opened the first automaker-licensed online 3D model shop, which contains over 1,000 accurate models which customers can buy, download, then 3D print at home. We reported on the opening of Ford’s 3D model webstore back in June. Customers can purchase models, pre-printed or in .stl format, of the Ford GT, Ford Mustang, and Focus RS—cars which were all developed using 3D printing prototype techniques!

Whilst 3D printing is currently only used to print prototype parts, rather than components for production, this could change in the future. Ford, in collaboration with Carbon3D, are looking into further potential uses for 3D printing in both prototyping and manufacturing. The duo are developing 3D print resins which will be capable of supporting heavy loads, high temperates and severe vibrations, making them suitable for vehicle testing. To make these resins, Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology (CLIP) is used, which can grow parts from resins 25 to 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing techniques. Ford have already used the technology to make small interior parts for the Ford Focus Electric and Transit Connect cars.



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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