Ford’s interest in 3D printing dates back to 1988, when the company purchased the third 3D printer ever created and has since then produced more than 500,000 parts using additive manufacturing.
Among the recent projects where 3D printing has played a key role are the new Ford GT and the Mondeo Vignale.
For the GT, 3D printing was used during the development of the intake manifold on the EcoBoost race engine, for the F1-style steering wheel with integrated driver controls and the transmission paddle-shift controls and for producing key lightweight structural components for the upward-swinging doors.
For the Mondeo Vignale, 3D printing has been extensively adopted to try hundreds of different designs. Among prototype parts manufactured using 3D printing processes were the unique hexagonal Vignale design in the upper front grille, Vignale badges and exterior ornamentation, cut from nylon, the 19-inch Vignale lustre nickel alloy wheels, and dual chrome exhausts with polished aluminium surround.
Traditional prototyping methods require special tools and can be time‑consuming. Ford can print a 3D part in a few hours and, for as little as £750, open up the opportunity for more experimentation and more radical, innovative design.
For customers with their own 3D printer Ford has recently opened a dedicated store that offers the first automaker‑authorized 3D-printable files.
Below we report additional details about the integration of the 3D printing technologies into the design and development workflow.
From the official Press Release:
3D printing in the car design process
The first step in bringing a vehicle design to life is a sketch produced by the Ford Design team. Clay modellers then make a scale model and later a full-size version of the vehicle to assess proportions and develop the design. In parallel, digital sculptors create a model using computer-aided design (CAD). The two models are developed together, leveraging the strengths of both disciplines.
While some parts are worked in clay, more complex or detailed items are mostly developed digitally and often 3D printed – which is where Rapid Prototype teams at Ford’s Dunton Technical Centre, in Essex and at its European headquarters in Germany come into play.
Rapid Prototyping helps to evaluate the design and uses one of a number of techniques to create the piece they are working on, including 3D printing. The latter requires CAD software that “slices” parts into paper‑thin layers that can be built up into a 3D printed prototype. How robust the prototype part needs to be determines the material used. It can be plastic, sand, or metal. Layer by layer, the materials are fused together into the desired shape using a laser.
After printing, excess material is dissolved away and the part can be finished by sanding or painting. The completed part is then available to the design studio or test facility.
From prototypes to manufacturing
Ford is collaborating with Carbon3D in the U.S. to research future rapid prototyping and small manufacturing programme capabilities. The partnership is leading the development of future 3D print resins capable of supporting the loads, high temperatures and severe vibrations associated with vehicle testing.
Continuous Liquid Interface Production technology (CLIP), a 3D printing technology used in the movie industry to create special effects, grows parts from UV curable resins at speeds as much as 25 to 100 times faster than conventional 3D printing processes. The resulting parts boast mechanical properties that are applicable for a range of needs for Ford vehicles. Ford vehicle designers in the U.S. have used the technology to create small interior parts for the Ford Focus Electric and Transit Connect.
“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 Sandro Piroddi, Ford of Europe’s Rapid Technology supervisor.
“Incredible as it is that 3D printing has 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,” Piroddi said.