For several years now, the Ford Motor Company has been using 3D printing to help make its vehicles, even getting recognized by the Automotive Innovation Awards Competition in 2018 for its work with additive manufacturing. Earlier this year, the company purchased Desktop Metal’s P-1 system, and has now announced that Ford Spain will be the first automotive manufacturer in Europe to use the large-format Form 3L printer, which Formlabs introduced in 2019.
The Ford Body and Assembly Plant in Valencia has been using the desktop Form 3 printer, which was launched at the same time as the Form 3L. Both the Form 3 and the Form 3L are professional Low Force Stereolithography (LFS) systems, though the Form 3L features a much larger 33.5 × 20 × 30 cm build volume compared to the Form 3. The plant has used Formlabs’ SLA technology to print nearly 100 different parts, such as transparent electronic devices and replacement push buttons.
The plant uses SLA 3D printing to fabricate prototypes that feature a high surface quality and look very similar to the final product. However, the technology was moved from merely prototyping to making functional parts when Ford needed to develop a specific part for a tool in order to complete important quality checks on its motors.
“We are proud to support such a renowned car manufacturer as Ford. With the help of 3D printing, prototypes can be developed much faster, but also finished, fully operational parts can be produced within a very short time,” said Stefan Hollaender, Managing Director EMEA at Formlabs. “Especially in this day and age, it is even better not to have to rely on extensive supply chains, but to have the autonomy to produce such parts quickly in your own facility.”
Ford was in need of very specific plastic caps for the tool that’s used in vacuum tests to make sure the engine isn’t leaking. The tool itself controls if the motor is tight enough and not leaking. The team at the Valencia plant uses its new Form 3L 3D printer to fabricate these plastic caps, which are pretty important for the testing process. From design and prototyping all the way to producing the final product, the entire production cycle took place onsite at the Spanish plant.
Carlos Cambralla, the Reliability and Maintenance Engineer at Ford Motor Company in Valencia, said, “For us, it was the first time to use 3D printing for this purpose, but we are very happy with the result.
“Sometimes we needed the caps the next day, so it was crucial to produce them as quickly as possible.”
The plastic caps for the vacuum test have to be able to hold up under low pressures during motor testing, but must also have flexibility so they can seal tightly enough. The Ford team at the plant in Valencia designed the caps needed for the tests, and developed prototype versions until they decided to use 3D printing to make the final end-use parts. This was largely due to the fact that only about 1,000 of the caps were needed.
Because the Form 3L has a larger build volume, it’s able to print many of the needed caps in one job, and for such a small batch, it was definitely less expensive to make them onsite at the plant. Additionally, Ford Spain did not need to use external providers for the job, which allowed engineers to continue the assembly and production processes throughout, which also saves on time.
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