Stratasys, FordUS – The OEM is exploring how substantial, one-piece components such as spoilers could be printed for the prototyping and future production of vehicles, with resultant decreases in weight and fuel consumption. Ford is using a Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer at its research centre in Dearborn, Michigan.

“With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” explained Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader, additive manufacturing. The machine is capable of tackling a wide range of shapes and lengths and could provide an affordable, efficient means of creating tools and parts for low-volume vehicles such as Ford Performance products, plus personalised components.

The 3D printing technique involves transferring specifications for a part from the computer-aided design programme to the printer’s computer, which analyses the design. The machine then prints one layer at a time to create a 3D part, with a robotic arm replacing the material canister when empty. A component such as an intake manifold could be produced in a matter of days, at significantly lower cost, than by the traditional process, in which an engineer creates a computer model and there is a long lead time for prototyping.

The technology is not yet fast enough for high-volume manufacturing but is cost-efficient for low-volume production. An additional benefit is that parts can be designed to function more efficiently if printed instead of constrained by conventional mass-production processes.