Friday, 26 June 2015

Ford set to make greater use of 3D printing

Ford Motor Company could be on the point of making greater use of 3D printing to gain an edge in the manufacture of prototype parts.
Ford has been using numerous 3D-printing laboratories to quickly create prototype parts for its street cars, ranging from buttons to knobs and intakes to engine covers.

But it is not just rapid prototyping with 3D-printed parts that is benefiting the American automaker’s production models, the company is using it on its race cars as well. In

Ford won the 2015 24 Hours of Daytona with a 3D-printed intake manifold with carbon-fibre plenums on its race car.

Also, a Ford EcoBoost-powered race car hit the track at the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix in the last weekend of May using 3D-printed parts, much like the intake manifold used on the Daytona Prototype.

According to Ford, computer-aided design mock-ups are sent to the company’s rapid prototype laboratory where they are analysed and the data input into one of many 3D printers.

In one week’s time, Ford has a finished product ready to be cleaned, painted and used.

Victor Martinez, 3.5-litre EcoBoost race engine engineer, shared that Ford began testing a number of revisions to its intake manifold toward the end of the 2014 TUDOR United SportsCar Championship season.

During the offseason, the company 3D-printed several intake manifolds and tested them on the dyno and verified performance on the track.

“The prototype manifold exceeded our expectations in testing, so in the essence of time we decided to use it for the race,” said Martinez. “We modified our intake with carbon fibre components, painted it, and then it was ready to go to the track.”

Moving faster means everything to us too,” said Jeremy Godin, vice president of product for Mishimoto Automotive of New Castle, Delaware (and Stourbridge in the UK). Ford is one of a number of OEMs which Mishimoto could be working with in future.

The products that Mishimoto makes — radiators, racing thermostats, intercoolers — enhance the performance of car engines, so their customers move faster. For car and racing enthusiasts, Mishimoto is almost like a pit crew, replacing their stock parts with improved, higher performing products.

But, like a pit crew, the leading manufacturer in aftermarket performance cooling products is always pushing to make their process faster and more efficient.

“It’s all about speed to market,” noted Godin, who compares the market to a “pie that nobody has had a slice of yet. First person there gets the whole pie.”

Godin joined Mishimoto four years ago and some products then took as much as two years to come to market.

“Now development timeline is a fraction of that,” said Godin. “A lot of that is through the tools that we’ve brought on site,” from coordinate measuring machines (CMMs) to 3D printers.

Mishimoto first acquired a Stratasys Dimension uPrint, which allowed the company to rely less on cardboard and sheet metal for prototypes.

“A lot of the times that fell short, because you can’t simulate complex geometry with basic sheet metal parts,” says product engineer Steve Wiley.

He also saves time, because he can work on other projects while the 3D printer is making a model. However, materials were costly — more than $700 for five spools of ABS — such that the engineering team had to consider carefully whether it made sense to 3D print a component.

Then, earlier this year, Mishimoto bought a MakerBot Replicator Z18. It has a much larger build volume which means Mishimoto can 3D print larger parts in a single piece. AT the same time, MakerBot PLA Filament, which costs only a few cents per gram, means they could prototypes more freely.

“Given how much Mishimoto relies on 3D printing for its business the machine will pay for itself,” says engineering manager Kevin McCardle.

When MakerBot staff visited Mishimoto’s offices in New Castle, Mishimoto engineers talked through the development of Mishimoto’s Mustang Ecoboost Intercooler. Tests have showed that Mishimoto’s Ecoboost intercooler lower air intake temperature by 35°F (19°C) more than to the Mustang’s stock intercooler.

Once Mishimoto receives a new Mustang, it removes the part in question and creates a more efficient part that has the same shape.

For the intercooler prototype, Mishimoto made 3D printed end tanks and attached them to a core made from wooden two-by-fours. Once Mishimoto confirmed the fit of the intercooler with a 3D printed prototype, it went straight into production of the end tanks without having to wait to review a sample part.

This process saves Mishimoto about six weeks of development time.

That’s six weeks of getting the whole pie on a $475 intercooler. And Mishimoto makes about 150 new products a year, 30% of which involve 3D printing. That’s a lot of pies — and hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales each year that could never have happened without tightening their process.

“At Mishimoto, five years from now I could see us having a wall of 3D printers,” Godin says. “It will continue to allow us to get to market faster.”

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