Page 24 - 3D Metal Printing Winter 2019
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 3D 3D Printing: Ford Is on Board
  ergonomically friendly for our operators and make their jobs easier?
2. “As we move forward in production, we want to develop AM technology so that we can be manufacturing ready and move it into the volumes needed to sup- port what we do.
3. “We want to be a leader in the industry as far as pushing the technologies to where we want them to go. How do we employ these technologies to benefit our manu- facturing system? We want higher speeds and better material properties.”
Prior to the center’s opening, Ford had been pursuing 3D printing in different pockets of the organization, in different areas of manufacturing and engineering, according to Sears.
“We developed the Advanced Manu- facturing Center to bring all the focus groups and subject-matter experts togeth- er, to benefit from synergies and couple that with robot and machine-vision experts,” he says. “The center brings all of this together to help explore those three responsibilities I mentioned, and help Ford function more efficiently.”
Technology Partners Needed to Reach Goals
“We call our AM machine and technol- ogy suppliers ‘partners,’” says Sears, noting that some machines are at the center on consignment and that the company con- tinuously evaluates the technology. “We need the flexibility to do what we need to do, when we need to do it. We work with engineers all over the world, and want a suite of solutions that allows us to zero in and solve some of their problems.”
Toward that end, Sears does not expect Ford to invest in materials and machines and then have providers walk away.
“As we develop relationships, it is important that we understand the tech- nology roadmap of the technology sup- pliers just as they should understand ours,” he says. “If I think a part could be a great high-volume-production oppor- tunity but I know that the technology is not there today, can the supplier say that in three years or so the challenge will be addressed based on the supplier’s tech-
Fitted on a robot arm, a lift-assist transmission-case gripper proved unwieldy for assembly personnel and couldn’t adjust to handle larger transmissions. A redesign for AM made it much more functional and also delivered almost a tree-branch appearance. The prototype, shown here, has been printed in plastic and currently is under testing to validate its fit on the line. Once validated, the gripper will be produced in four or five pieces via a metal printer, as opposed to perhaps 30-plus parts welded together using traditional manufacturing. Officials estimate that the new gripper design will save Ford as much as $2 million.
nology growth curves? A prototype appli- cation today may not become a produc- tion application for three or four years. To reach that point, we need to under- stand the technology curve. That’s true for machines and materials.
“We want to say that we need build sizes that are about X by X by X, and are looking at this kind of material, and we need production rates of X number of parts per day,” Sears continues. “If a sup- plier can get there, then we have appli- cations to work on together. This helps suppliers as well. Now they understand the space that we occupy, and where we both need to go. To me, a little information sharing helps both sides.”
The same holds true for Ford’s tier sup- pliers, and the automaker works closely with part and systems suppliers on appli- cations where 3D printing might work. In fact, the transmission lift-assist gripper described above resulted from a project with a Tier-One supplier.
“Right now we are reaching out to key suppliers on a few programs, considering
tool redesigns with 3D printing in mind,” Sears offers. “We want to open their eyes to this, and work with them if they’ll work with us.”
Inhouse Buy-In Progressing
Just like technology partners, Ford needs inhouse buy-in to ensure a path to AM success.
“The momentum has started,” Sears says, “and this includes our UAW work- force.”
Ford installed a polymer printer in its UAW training center, and all new UAW skilled trade apprentices take a 3D-print- ing course where they learn basic CAD and printer operations. At the same time, the same printer model and technology from the training center has been installed in more than 25 Ford manufacturing facil- ities globally. These printers are a shared resource for both the salaried and UAW workforces. To help increase awareness and excitement, Ford recently held an internal AM-design and-build competi- tion, with the winner receiving free

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