Ford Looks to 3D Printing for Specialty Parts

Soon, a fender bender may be repaired by hitting “Print”.

Ford is piloting a room-sized 3D printer from Stratasys at its Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, the company announced yesterday. Designed to print parts of varying sizes and complexity, the initial applications include prototypes for designers and limited-edition runs of panels and parts for performance cars and customization for owners.

For example, Ford will be able to create a rear spoiler from a special polymer that is lighter than a cast metal version. This could be used for racing or as a way for a Mustang owner to create a different look on the road.

3D printing works in conjunction with computer aided design. Once drafted, the design of a component is fed via computer to the 3D printer, which then “builds” the piece by applying layers of polymers (oftentimes plastics reinforced with other materials) in succession until the final shape is formed. This additive process can then be shaped further through milling or polishing the surface layer so that it can be finished with paint or another coating.

Ford cites a recent report by Global Industry Analysts, in which the organization estimates that the global market for 3D printing will be over $9 billion by 2020.

SEE ALSO: What’s The Future For 3D Printed Cars?

Although this is a first for a major manufacturer, 3D printing has been making headway in the automotive industry for a number of years. Local Motors, a “co-creator” of vehicles, designed and built its Strati two-seater EV using a 3D printer, showcasing the process at the 2014 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago.

In addition to the installation at Ford, Stratasys builds 3D printers for a wide range of applications, from its MakerBot subsidiary’s desktop printers, to specialty printers for dentistry and medical devices.


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