Ford automakers announced that it is exploring 3D printing as a possible outlet for the future production of new car parts and accessories. The Blue Oval partnered with 3D technology company Stratasys back in August 2016 as part of a collaborative effort for mass producing personalized parts and performance products.
Stratasys utilizes the Infinite Build 3D printer that prints on the vertical plane. This printer has been in use for the last several years in the aerospace industry for the manufacturing of large and lightweight thermoplastic parts.
The printer uses what is known as a worm drive filament extruder, which enables the printing of carbon fiber and other composite materials. According to Ford Technical Leader Ellen Lee, the technology helps meet the stringent requirements for large-scale automotive printing.
3D printing is expected to explode, reaching a $9.6 billion industry by 2020. Ford automakers believe this can lead to more affordable production of durable and lightweight material. A 3D-printed spoiler, for example, is estimated to weigh less than half of a traditional cast metal spoiler.
Currently, the technology is in use in the auto industry for the production low-volume components, such as specialized parts for racecars and prototype concept cars.
This isn’t the automaker’s first foray into similar projects. The company also has a history of being rather creative, using carbon dioxide-based foam for its seat cushions and shredded paper currency for its coin trays.
It would certainly be cool to see models like the 2017 Ford Explorer shed a bit of its weight using 3D-printed parts. Our Ford parts near Sacramento, CA don’t contain 3D-printed material, but it may only be a matter of time before that changes.