Ford Spain is the first car manufacturer in Europe to use the Form 3L, a larger format 3D printer from photopolymerization 3D printer OEM Formlabs. Ford Body and Assembly in Valencia uses the Form 3L to produce plastic caps that are used in a vacuum test to check engines for leakages. 3D printing helps Ford to prototype new tools and produce specific parts in less time and for a lower cost than with traditional manufacturing.
The Ford Body and Assembly Plant has been using a Form 3 desktop 3D printer for some time before adding the Form 3L, which boasts a significant print volume of 33.5 × 20 × 30 cm, into their manufacturing processes. Stereolithography 3D printing helps Ford develop prototypes with a high surface quality that resembles the final product. However, 3D printing proved especially valuable when Ford needed to produce a specific part for a tool to do quality checks on motors. The whole production cycle from design and prototyping to the final product was completed onsite at the plant in Valencia.
“For us, it was the first time to use 3D printing for this purpose, but we are very happy with the result”, comments Carlos Cambralla, Reliability and Maintenance Engineer at Ford Motor Company in Valencia. The company needed specific caps for a tool that controls if a motor is tight and does not leak. The plastic caps that Ford developed are used in a vacuum test on a motor. Therefore, they need to be flexible in order to seal tightly but they must also be able to withstand the low pressure during testing. After designing the specific plastic caps for this tool, the team developed prototypes before eventually 3D printing the final items. Since Ford only needed around 1,000 of these plastic caps, 3D printing was their best choice. “Sometimes we needed the caps the next day, so it was crucial to producing them as quickly as possible”, says Carlos Cambralla. For a comparatively small batch of these items, it was also more cost-effective to produce them on site. By moving the production of this part in-house, Ford did not have to rely on external providers and was, therefore, able to maintain their assembly throughout.
“We are proud to support such a renowned car manufacturer as Ford. With the help of 3D printing, prototypes can be developed much faster, but also finished, fully operational parts can be produced within a very short time. Especially in this day and age, it is even better not to have to rely on extensive supply chains, but to have the autonomy to produce such parts quickly in your own facility”, says Stefan Hollaender, Managing Director EMEA at Formlabs.
With its large print volume, the Form 3L can print many of these caps in one print job. Ford has also used SLA 3D printing to replace broken push buttons from electronic devices using the transparent Clear Resin, in order to be able to see the internal LEDs. So far, Ford Body and Assembly Valencia has printed almost 100 different parts. 3D printing has become a useful addition to their manufacturing process.