As additive manufacturing continues to make its way into a variety of industrial sectors, the Ford Motor Company has announced that it will be using the concept to press sheet metal into three-dimensional car parts.
According to Gizmag, the automobile manufacturer has developed an innovative way of using 3D printing and rapid prototyping to create what it calls "Freeform Fabrication Technology," or F3T. With car design often limited by the amount of time it takes to build a metal part or product, the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, has taken a page out of the 3D printing playbook and built a CAD-controlled robot that can produce a prototype in hours instead of weeks.
While additive manufacturing relies upon a building of layers to create an item, F3T takes a flat sheet of metal and molds it into the required shape. It does this by using the information contained in the CAD file provided by the designers and, with the aid of specially-designed styluses, presses the metal into the specified dimensions. The entire operation is controlled by a robot, which interprets the instructions contained in the CAD and directs the styluses along repeating groove paths.
Engineers at Ford have revealed that while it may take weeks to build one prototype part, building an entire car takes months and can be financially prohibitive. In comparison, the relatively short period of time that F3T takes to create a part is believed to be around 60 times faster than the traditional die-casting methods employed by the majority of the motor industry, according to Tech News Daily, with analysts confident that it will allow the company to improve vehicle research and development processes.
Benefiting from a three-year $7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, Ford also believe that this energy-efficient CAD-centric technology could be used in other metal manufacturing sectors such as aerospace, transportation, appliances and even defense.