3D Printing ProcessesAdditive ManufacturingAutomotive

How major automakers use AM for production today, part 4: Ford additive manufacturing

During this month’s AM Focus Automotive, we are going to map the most accurate and up to date scenario for automotive additive manufacturing in final part production. We present an analysis of the latest progress made by each major automaker group and some of the key activities—either publicly disclosed or confirmed by reliable sources. This episode is dedicated to Ford additive manufacturing. In this previous episodes, we took a look at VolkswagenGeneral Motors, and Daimler Benz. Still upcoming BWM, PSA, FCA and JLR.

Ford is the North American company that has conducted the most practical research in AM industrialization, focusing primarily on polymer and composites. Ford’s AM activities are centered in its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Detroit.

The new facility, reportedly worth $45 million, houses all types of new technologies—from additive manufacturing to virtual reality, to collaborative robots—all aimed at bringing car manufacturing into the future. Altogether, the center now houses nearly 30 industrial-grade 3D printers from Stratasys, HP, Carbon, EOS, Desktop Metal and SLM Solutions. At this Center, Ford is 3D printing parts for the upcoming Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 sports car.

Ford additive manufacturing
Metal 3D printing at Ford’s new advanced manufacturing center.

Carbon’s digital light synthesis technology is used to produce several new digitally manufactured, end-use parts, including Ford Focus heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) lever arm service parts, Ford F-150 Raptor auxiliary plugs, and Ford Mustang GT500 electric parking brake brackets. Carbon’s EPX (epoxy) 82 material proved ideal for these parts and passed Ford’s rigorous performance standards, withstanding critical requirements such as interior weathering, short- and long-term heat exposures, UV stability, fluid and chemical resistance, flammability (ISO 3795) and fogging (SAEJ1756) for the selected applications.

Aside from 3D printing production parts, in-house technology is also used to produce tools. For instance, Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant utilizes five different 3D printed tools to build the Ranger pickup. Notably, the 3D printed tools enabled Ford to reduce the car’s time-to-market drastically, cutting weeks from the timeline without sacrificing quality.

Outside of the Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Ford operates many more 3D printers—a total of nearly 100 globally—which it has invested in over the decades. Interesting fact: Ford actually purchased one of the first 3D printers ever made back in 1988.

More recently, Ford became one of the first adopters of Desktop Metal’s Studio System and Production System in its Research and Advanced Engineering Organization in Michigan. The automaker led a $65 million investment round for Desktop Metal.

Overall, Ford has 3D printing capabilities in over 30 plants around the world active in final parts and tools production. In 2016, Ford began working with Stratasys and Siemens on the Infinity Build and Robotic Composite 3D Demonstrator projects to serially produce very large parts and composite parts using an extrusion system mounted on a multi-axis robotic arm.

Ford additive manufacturing
David Jacek, additive manufacturing technician, 3D prints a part on one of the 3D printing machines at Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center.

Ford Performance, the high-performance division of Ford Motor Company, 3D printed the largest metal automotive part for a working vehicle in automotive history. The metal part was installed in the Hoonitruck, a 1977 Ford F-150 with a twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 EcoBoost engine owned by Ken Block, star of popular YouTube series, Gymkhana. The 6kg aluminum manifold inlet took five days to print using the Concept Laser X LINE 2000R from GE Additive.

Ford is also now currently researching the use of Impossible Objects’ composite 3D printing technology and has installed at least two systems to assess the system’s feasibility for final part production.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, I have built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, I spent 12 years in the United States, where I received my Bachelor of Arts undergraduate degree. As a journalist covering the tech industry - especially the videogame industry - for over 10 years, I began covering the AM industry specifically in 2013, as blogger. In 2016 I co-founded London-based 3D Printing Business Media Ltd. (now 3dpbm) which operates in marketing, editorial, and market analysis & consultancy services for the additive manufacturing industry. 3dpbm publishes 3D Printing Business Directory, the largest global directory of companies related to 3DP, and leading news and insights websites 3D Printing Media Network and Replicatore. I am also a Senior Analyst for leading US-based firm SmarTech Analysis focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets.

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