Ford saves mil­lions by print­ing pro­to­types

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - 3D TECHNOLOGY -

One day, mil­lions of car parts could be printed as quickly as news­pa­pers and as eas­ily as push­ing a but­ton on the of­fice copy ma­chine, sav­ing months of de­vel­op­ment time and mil­lions of dol­lars.

3D print­ing tech­nol­ogy is mak­ing that day come sooner at the Ford Mo­tor Com­pany. The de­vel­op­ment of the en­gine cover for the all-new Ford Mus­tang is the most re­cent ex­am­ple of the use of this tech­nol­ogy.

The car­maker uses 3D print­ing to quickly pro­duce pro­to­type parts, shav­ing months off the de­vel­op­ment time for in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents used in all its ve­hi­cles, such as cylin­der heads, in­take man­i­folds and air vents.

With tra­di­tional meth­ods, an en­gi­neer would create a com­puter model of an in­take man­i­fold – the most com­pli­cated en­gine part – and wait about four months for one pro­to­type at a cost of $ 500,000. With 3D print­ing, the firm can print the same part in four days, in­clud­ing mul­ti­ple it­er­a­tions and with no tool­ing lim­its – at a cost of US$ 3000.

“For the cus­tomer, this means bet­ter qual­ity prod­ucts that also can be weight-op­ti­mised to help im­prove fuel ef­fi­ciency,” says Paul Susalla, Ford sec­tion su­per­vi­sor of rapid man­u­fac­tur­ing.

3D print­ing saves mil­lions of dol­lars in the prod­uct de­vel­op­ment process by elim­i­nat­ing the need for spe­cial tool­ing, or ded­i­cated moulds, for parts likely to change. The tech­nol­ogy also al­lows en­gi­neers to ex­per­i­ment with more rad­i­cal, in­no­va­tive part de­signs in­ex­pen­sively and quickly.

Ford is now look­ing to what’s next in its 3D print­ing strategy, in­clud­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to print pro­duc­tion parts in metal, rather than just plas­tic, for pro­to­types.

“This tech­nol­ogy pro­vides im­mense re­turn for Ford and the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try,” says Bill Russo, global di­rec­tor, Ford pow­er­train man­u­fac­tur­ing and en­gi­neer­ing.

Harold Sears, Ford ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing tech­ni­cal spe­cial­ist, says: “Today, 3D print­ing is not fast enough for the high-vol­ume di­rect pro­duc­tion man­u­fac­tur­ing we do. But it is ideal for test parts, or niche pro­duc­tion ap­pli­ca­tions, that go through fre­quent de­vel­op­ment changes.”

Ford has been at the fore­front of 3D print­ing for 25 years and was in­volved with the in­ven­tion of 3D print­ing in the 1980s. In 1988, the firm bought the third 3D prin­ter ever made. Today, it uses se­lec­tive laser sin­ter­ing, fused de­po­si­tion mod­el­ling and stere­olithog­ra­phy 3D print­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. The firm also works with sup­pli­ers to bring more tech­nolo­gies to mar­ket, in­clud­ing 3D sand print­ing.

Re­cent ex­am­ples of Ford’s use of 3D sand print­ing in­clude:

• En­gine cover for all-new Ford Mus­tang Ro­tor sup­ports, trans­mis­sion cases, damper hous­ings and end cov­ers for new HF35 hy­brid trans­mis­sion for Ford C-MAX Hy­brid, Fu­sion Hy­brid.

• Four-cylin­der EcoBoost engines for new Ford Fu­sion.

• Brake ro­tors for Ford Ex­plorer; the ro­tors were mod­i­fied us­ing 3D print­ing late in de­vel­op­ment to fix a brake noise dis­cov­ered in dura­bil­ity testing, which could have de­layed ini­tial launch.

• Ex­haust man­i­folds for 3.5-litre

EcoBoost in Ford F-150. Sears says: “Many have ref­er­enced this tech­nol­ogy as ush­er­ing in a third in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion. While that is yet to be de­ter­mined, what we do know is man­u­fac­tur­ing is con­tin­u­ing to go dig­i­tal, the speed of these tech­nolo­gies is in­creas­ing and the va­ri­ety of ma­te­ri­als is ex­pand­ing – all of which leads us to be­lieve 3D print­ing presents a great op­por­tu­nity for over­all man­u­fac­tur­ing.”

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