Manufacturing typically bears with it high capital costs, and try as 3D printing might to reduce them, there are limits to what the typical 3D printer can produce.
But now, Ford is pilot-testing a gargantuan 3D printer – Stratasys’ Infinite Build 3D-printing machine – to see if it might represent an effective means to produce low-volume car parts for race cars, custom orders, prototyping, and the like. The machine can be fed a software design for a car part – a spoiler, for instance – and left alone to do its thing for days unattended, thanks to a robotic arm that can automatically replace its print-material canister whenever it’s depleted.
“With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” says Ford Additive Manufacturing Research Technical Leader Ellen Lee. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”
There’s more. According to Ford, without the constraints of typical mass-production processes, 3D-printed parts can be designed to perform more efficiently than their volume-production counterparts, and can even help cut down on weight. And, while parts prototyping has heretofore relied upon costly, slow-to-materialize tooling, 3D printing can reduce Ford’s wait-time, and cut costs significantly.