Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3-D printing, has the capability to change how many things are made, including vehicles. In its current state, however, the technology might be best applied with a narrow focus.
Some automakers, such as BMW, have been testing 3-D printers capable of creating metallic parts, in an effort to see if the production method could be used to make high-volume automotive parts. Ford, however, revealed in a press release Monday that it’s the first automaker to test the Stratasys Infinite Build 3-D printer, something which could allow for more-efficient production of parts for low-volume vehicles, such as Ford Performance products.
“With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” Ellen Lee, technical leader of additive manufacturing research for Ford, said in a statement. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”
The printer, which currently is housed at Ford’s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich., could be used to produce large one-piece parts, such as spoilers, more efficiently and affordably.
“3-D printing could bring immense benefits for automotive production, including the ability to produce lighter-weight parts that could lead to greater fuel efficiency,” Ford said in the release. “A 3-D-printed spoiler, for instance, may weigh less than half its cast metal counterpart. The technology is more cost efficient for production of low-volume parts for prototypes and specialized race car components.”
Ford went on to note that, although low-volume production is done more cost effectively with the help of 3-D printing, the technology isn’t yet fast enough to be used for for high-volume manufacturing.
Regardless of speed or cost, perhaps Ford could use its new machine to print a new sign for its headquarters in Dearborn.
All photos courtesy of Ford