Ford Motor Co.
Larger 3D printers mean larger parts can be made Ford notes and those parts could offer lighter weight or more efficient designs

Next potential use of 3D printing in trucking: Lightweighting

March 7, 2017
Ford says it's testing large-scale 3D printing; parts can reduce weight, increase vehicle efficiency

Just when we thought we'd seen all that was going on with 3D printing that could affect trucking and automotive, Ford Motor Co. — an OEM that's been pioneering the use of this technology for some years now — says it's looking into large-scale 3D printing and another potential benefit fleets will readily recognize: lightweighting.

Ford is testing out large-scale 3D printing with Infinite Build printers from Stratasys, noting it's the first manufacturer of its kind to do so. Trucking execs can read between the lines a bit and consider the possibilities watching a new video Ford has put out to showcase the technology. "Imagine a 3D printer as big as a room, capable of printing auto parts of practically any size — even something as big as a 6-ft. spoiler," the video notes.

Ford says it's experimenting with larger 3D-printed automotive parts like these for lower-volume uses. Click to enlarge. (Photo courtesy Ford Motor Co.)

"It fabricates 3D-printed plastic parts that are lighter than cast metal parts, [which is] designed to lead to more fuel-efficient vehicles," it continues. "It's perfect for low-volume vehicles like race cars, making them more cost-efficient." Also in terms of low-volume parts, Ford also says it's exploring 3D printing up custom parts its clients want.

These large Stratasys 3D printers can keep working when everyone goes home. Ford points out that when the printers run out of material, the machines can robotically reload and continue printing "for hours — days, even."

The OEM notes in a release yesterday 3D printing's potential to make equivalent parts that are just as strong but reduce weight considerably vs. metal parts. The vehicle spoiler mentioned above, for example, "may weigh less than half its metal counterpart."

Ford spells out the benefits 3D printing offers in making up production tooling much faster and at much lower cost, speeding ideas and production to market. Other manufacturers have begun 3D printing some slower-moving inventory parts like certain maintenance parts for trucks. But Ford also points out the current limitations of the technology even in describing its further potential.

"3D printing is not yet fast enough for high-volume manufacturing, but it is more cost-efficient for low-volume production," the OEM states. "Additionally, minus the constraints of mass-production processes, 3D-printed parts can be designed to function more efficiently."

Watch more from Ford below:

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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