Three-dimensional (3D) printing has many applications, including prosthetic limbs, working guns, household trinkets, and scientific instruments. In the past few years, the use of 3D printers has been on the rise, and their price has dropped substantially, making it an accessible and affordable technology for an increasing number of industrial applications.
Until recently, most additive manufacturing systems were limited in the size of the parts that could be produced. Ford Motor Company, however, announced that it’s now testing 3D printing of larger car parts, which could eventually lead to more fuel-efficient vehicles since the 3D-printed parts could weigh less than half their cast metal counterparts. (RELATED: in 2015 Natural News launched a 3D print farm to produce functional parts for revolutionary inventions. You can find more information here.)
A new breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing
At its research facility in Dearborn, Michigan, Ford Motor Company is experimenting with the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D Printer to make large one-piece auto parts, becoming the first automaker to pilot the technology. Stratasys is one of the leading producers of additive manufacturing systems. They developed a new technology to build parts that have no size limit.
After the design specifications are transferred to a computer, the massive machine then gradually stacks layers of plastic using an industrial robot in combination with the 3D laser technology. The smart 3D printer can even detect when it is out of material, ordering a robot arm to automatically provide a canister of new material. This allows the machine to operate unattended for hours or even days.
Watch the video below to see the Infinite Build 3D printer in action.
This new technology could be a huge breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing of prototypes and specialized race car components, which currently come with a high production cost. As Ford explained, traditional methods to develop a new, customized part involves an engineer to create a computer model of the particular part, which then takes months to be produced. With 3D printing, however, Ford said a new part could be made in a matter of days.
If the pilot program turns out to be a success, future Ford cars might allow drivers to customize their own car for a lower price. Since the 3D printed car parts are also lighter than the current materials, the new technology could lead to greater fuel efficiency.
New design niche for high-performance cars
Thanks to its reduced weight, greater fuel economy, and improved manufacturing time, a new market has opened for high-performance race cars. Frank Stephenson, McLaren’s design chief, stated that the automaker is using it for “everything now.” In fact, the McLaren Racing team recently announced that it is now partnering with Stratasys to use 3D printing for its McLaren-Honda Formula 1 team.
“Where new product development cycles were 36 months at best when I started, those cycles are now down to 18 months,” Stephenson said.
While the current Infinite Build technology isn’t fast enough to handle large orders, Ford is curious to see how the new technology will play out as it has the potential to transform the whole car manufacturing industry.
Ford and the McLaren team are not the only ones to experiment with 3D-printed car parts. According to CNBC, Germany’s Daimler announced plans to use 3-D printing to manufacture spare parts. The French firm Peugeot signed a deal with Divergent 3D to develop a metal printing process for its vehicles as well.
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