Ever since its introduction as a novel concept in 1984, three-dimensional printing has been something of a wonder manufacturing process in the production industry and beyond; medical science has even created 3D-print blood vessels. Over the years various industrial sectors have begun bringing in 3D Printing into mass-production processes to create fast, sturdy yet lightweight constructs from any necessary material. Leading American auto-maker Ford is no exception to this. Going off in a new direction to introduce car parts that can save on raw materials and weight, the company has started experiments in the creation and use of 3D-printed automobile components, a practical extension from the use of 3D-printers to build single prototypes in record time.

Massive savings

The new approach by Ford to rely on car parts crafted through 3D printing comes from their objective of efficiency. In a way, 3D-printed components use a comparably lesser amount of material while retaining structural toughness. At the same time, these parts are lighter, resulting in a car that has a lesser weight than that made out of traditional metal construction. With a lighter automobile, the engine ends up using less gas to make the vehicle go, therefore becoming more Fuel Efficient which is a major bonus for cars these days.

To begin with this new design philosophy, Ford will start using 3D printing to make spoilers, the aerodynamic surfaces attached to cars for improved aerodynamics.

This means that the first use of 3D-printed car parts will be with the company’s Ford Performance race car division. Should results prove very promising, Ford can see 3D printing eventually expanding its use to their mass-market automobiles and trucks. They have already released photos of sample car components that can be applied to Ford vehicles, initially simple parts such as interior molding.

Eventually, however, more complex creations can be achieved like 3D-print intake manifolds.

Starting small

For the moment, all 3D printing of car parts are being tested at Ford’s factory in Dearborn, Michigan. It should be recalled that a deal made with President Donald Trump would have Ford start another plant in Flat Rock also in Michigan.

Their 3D printer of choice is an industrial model created by American firm Stratasys. According to a statement from Ford, the Stratasys 3D printer has the potential capability of printing practically any imaginable automotive component of varying sizes and lengths. Stratasys marketing director Jim Vurpillat has noted that before Ford’s initiative, 3D-printed car parts were only used on a limited scale for automobile customizations, not regular vehicles. Aside from Ford, aircraft manufacturer Boeing has also made inroads with the use of 3D printing plane parts, also with the help of Stratasys printers.