While I enjoy breaking up all the tech heavy talk about additive manufacturing (AM) here at Rapid Ready with stories about how 3D printing is being used in unexpected ways, I haven’t forgotten that rapid prototyping is still the heart of the AM movement. Yes, on-demand manufacturing is growing by leaps and bounds, but, overall, most AM systems are still chugging away making prototypes.
The devil is in the details. I find snippets, here and there, from companies that mention they’ve begun using AM, but not much in the way of specifics. Until recently, it almost seemed like 3D printing was something businesses were trying to keep behind closed doors. That is beginning to change, and for the better.
Ford has pulled back the curtain on some details of how it is using AM to speed up production in the design and prototype stages. Engineers in separate geographical locations can work on the same design, and, using AM, can see a physical prototype relatively quickly.
“We’ve been shifting from the tangible world to the computer world, and the reality is that a hybrid model works best,” says K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Open Innovation, and a member of Ford’s Technology Advisory Board, Research and Innovation. “There is nothing like having a tangible prototype, but it has always been time consuming and expensive to create.
Now, at the press of a button, you can have the product or component at your fingertips. With a model in one hand, you can then input your changes back into the computer model. The best decisions are made from the highest quality engineer and at the best pace. — K. Venkatesh Prasad
Ford says it made extensive use of AM when designing the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine in its new Transit Van. The development of cast aluminum oil filtration adapters, exhaust manifolds, differential carrier, brake rotors, oil pan, differential case casting, and rear axles all benefited from AM. Engineers used selective laser sintering, stereolithography and 3D sand casting.
Sand casting, in particular, has been popular with Ford. The process allows the company to create patterns and cores more quickly (and at lower costs) than through traditional methods, which reduces time to market. So far, the Fusion Hybrid, Escape, Explorer, and F-150 have all had parts created from AM-based sand casting.
Below you’ll find a video of a Ford engineer working with a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic to produce parts prototypes.