Automotive giant Ford has developed a novel way to combine driver biometrics with 3D printing to deter car thieves. The innovative new product—bespoke 3D printed locking nuts—can be used to keep alloy wheels safe from theft.
Though cars are being built with increasingly high-tech security systems, they still haven’t stopped car thieves from going after valuable car parts, such as alloy wheels. To combat this type of theft, automakers have started placing locking nuts on each wheel, which can only be loosened using a special key. However, even these specific security measures have their weaknesses.
Ford has now taken traditional locking nuts to the next level using vocal biometrics and 3D printing. Specifically, the automaker has designed locking nuts whose contours are based on the voice pattern of the driver.
We’ve seen vocal patterns be translated into 3D models before—most often for custom jewelry. In Ford’s case, it captures a recording (minimum one second) of the driver’s voice. The sound-waves from the recording are converted into a printable pattern using a special software, and the pattern is then modeled into a circle to form the locking nut’s indentation and key.
The locking nut and its key are then 3D printed as a single piece using EOS metal AM technology and stainless steel powder. Once printed, the nut and key are separated and finished with a small amount of grinding.
“It’s one of the worst experiences for a driver, to find their car up on blocks with all four wheels gone,” said Raphael Koch, research engineer at Advanced Materials and Processes, Ford of Europe. “Some alloy wheels can cost thousands to replace, but these unique rim nuts will stop thieves in their tracks. Making wheels more secure and offering more product personalisation are further proof that 3D printing is a game-changer for car production.”
According to Ford, the custom locking nut and key also come with backup security features, which make it impossible to reproduce. For instance, the uneven indentations and ribs inside the nut cannot be copied using a wax imprint, as the wax breaks apart when it is removed from the nut.
The metal 3D printed security device doesn’t necessarily have to be customized using the driver’s voice. Ford is reportedly exploring the use of the vehicle’s logo or the driver’s initials to design the locking nut and key. Using 3D printing gives Ford engineers the flexibility to try out different devices and come up with innovative new solutions, like the custom locking nut for alloy wheels.
“Having our very own plug-and-play printer enables us to make tools and parts exactly when we need them, and to replace them faster than ever before,” added Lars Bognar, research engineer, Advanced Materials and Processes, Ford of Europe. “For some tools, the delivery time was up to eight weeks, but with 3D printing, the turn-around has been reduced to just five days. Best of all, anyone can sit down, create the part they need and start printing it using recycled plastic.”