Page 23 - 3D Metal Printing Winter 2019
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 3D Printing: Ford Is on Board 3D
   Ford’s very first production part, shown by Harold Sears, additive manufacturing technical leader for manufacturing at Ford Motor Co.’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, is a near-automotive-grade-plastic plug that inserts into the instrument panel for Ford Raptors destined for China. A dedicated machine at Ford prints 12 plugs in 1.5 hr., which works well now given the low current volumes.
Ford performs AM development work—including tools, jigs and fixtures; robotic end-of-arm tooling; and production parts—on 23 metal and resin machines at the center. Metal printers include this Desktop Metal extrusion system running 17-4 stainless steel as well as two selective laser melting units, one running AlSi10Mg aluminum alloy and the other 316L stainless. These represent the first metal-AM machines in Ford’s North American arsenal.
metal tool with a $900 machining price tag, and printed a new lighter tool for only $70. Sears recalls another case where an engineer needed to mount a laptop on an automatically guided vehicle. Using software, Ford employees designed a bracket within a half hour, and printed and installed it by the next day—impos- sible with conventional processes, Sears notes.
Success with AM Production
Significantly, AM parts have entered Ford’s production arena. Ford’s very first AM production part: a near-automotive- grade-plastic plug that inserts into the instrument panel of Ford Raptors destined for China. A dedicated machine at Ford prints 12 plugs in 1.5 hr., which works well now given the low current volumes.
The Ford Ranger program also benefits from the company’s AM efforts. Besides the transmission-case gripper mentioned
above, four other AM applications support Ranger production, according to Sears. One, a rubberized tool used on the assem- bly line to set a gap between the Ranger cab and the box, was created and imple- mented on a Friday after the AM team received a request on the previous Mon- day—an extremely rapid turnaround.
Another AM production part: a brake bracket that replaces two left- and right- hand brackets for the Ford Mustang Shel- by GT 500, unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this past January.
“Via AM, we redesigned the brackets as a single bracket, which means a lot to us,” Sears says. “We achieved significant time and cost savings while proving the process- es, the machines and the part as viable.”
Ford also employs AM for replacement parts in older vehicles, including a heater- control lever Sears displayed.
“We worked directly with our engineers to qualify it, and with very low inventory
on that part, we can print it as needed,” he says.
Aggressive 3D Printing Roadmap
As these examples show, manufactur- ing-center staff employ the resin and metal printers to develop and produce tools, fixtures and jigs to support Ford’s manufacturing environment, and are making inroads into production parts.
“We additively produce tens of thou- sands of parts per year, primarily to sup- port prototype operations, and now focus a lot more on integrating this technology into the manufacturing space,” says Sears.
In doing so, Ford’s efforts revolve around the following three responsibili- ties, Sears explains:
1. “How do we use these technologies to make our manufacturing operations more efficient? Can we take costs out of tooling; can we take time out of making the tooling; can we make it more

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