Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Ford explores large-part 3D printing

Ford is exploring how large one-piece car parts could be printed for prototyping and future production vehicles. It claims it is the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.
Capable of printing car parts of practically any shape or length, the Stratasys Infinite Build system could be a breakthrough for vehicle manufacturing. It could provide a more efficient and affordable way to produce tooling, prototype parts, or components at lower volumes, such as might be used as personalised car parts or specialised parts for high performance racing cars.
Parts made by 3D printing has been used for many years. It will be recalled that Chuck Hull invented stereolithography just 30 years ago leading to the formation of 3D Systems Inc. in California. Even when Rover Group was in being, the company’s engineers employed  the technology to produce prototype engine parts. The main issue then was size. Part size was governed by the capability of the 3D printing machine. In general, the technology was employed for complex engine components.
The 'breakthrough' in this latest development comes with the increased size of part that can be produced, including by Ford, see below.

3D printing could have immense benefits for automotive production, including the ability to produce lighter-weight parts, which may help improve fuel efficiency. A 3D-printed spoiler, for instance, may have half the weight of its metal-cast equivalent.
With the Infinite Build technology, we are now able to print large tools, fixtures, and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,said Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader for additive manufacturing research. Were excited to have early access to Stratasysnew technology in order to help steer the development of large scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.
The new 3D print system is located at Fords Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
                                   An emerging technology
According to Ford, as 3D printing becomes increasingly efficient and affordable, companies are employing this emerging technology for manufacturing applications in everything from aerospace, to education, to medicine. However, it should be pointed out that the technology is already used for many of these applications already.
Wider adoption in 3D printing has been driven by recent technology advances and new areas of application and government support, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc. By 2020, the global market for 3D printing is expected to reach $9.6 billion, the organization reported.
In Ford’s case, below, specifications for the part to be made are transferred from the computer-aided design program to the printers computer, which analyzes the design. Then, the device goes to work, printing one layer of material at a time in this case, plastic and then gradually stacking the layers into a finished 3D object.

When the system detects that the raw material or supply material canister is empty, a robotic arm automatically replaces it with a full canister. This allows the printer to operate for hours or days while unattended.
Although 3D printing is not yet fast enough for high-volume production manufacturing, it is a more cost-efficient way to produce parts only needed at low volumes. In addition, when not limited by the constraints of mass production processes, components can be designed to function more efficiently.
Using traditional methods, an engineer would create a computer model of the part and wait for months for prototype tooling to be produced. With 3D printing, Ford claims it can print the same part in days at a significantly reduced cost. For example, a prototype for a new inlet manifold could be produced over a couple of days as opposed to several months, at an order of magnitude lower cost
In the UK, Stratasys is based in Foston, Derby..

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