It’s no secret that Ford Motor Company has been interested in examining the myriad benefits additive manufacturing technology has to offer. The company sees 3D printing involved in the future of the automotive industry, and is putting its money where its mouth is through ongoing use of the technology.
While key uses for additive manufacturing at Ford are certainly in the designing and prototyping stages–along with some end-use component production already emerging–the technology goes beyond the obvious.
Technicians at Ford’s Beech Daly Technical Center in Dearborn Heights, Michigan are extending their use of 3D printing to not only improve the products rolling off the production line, but also the process to get them there. A major benefit of additive technology in industrial use is the streamlining of the entire production process, and as techs like Kevin Sowles at Beech Daly are proving, the use of this technology can also improve the process for employees.
When the tools available aren’t just the right fit for a job, techs at Beech Daly have taken to creating their own using their own awareness of what a job needs, combined with the tools at hand–like their 3D printers. The machines at Beech Daly use laser sintering technology, and among the tools Sowles has created is a large sifter that can swiftly separate created parts from the loose nylon powder. This particular tool allows for a faster removal process from the powder, particularly for small parts, and then allows for the loose powder to be recycled, at a 50/50 mix, with fresh powder.
“Designing these tools is kind of fun,” says Sowles, “plus it makes the work here a lot easier.”
Among the other tools Sowles has designed and 3D printed to enhance the work experience at Ford are:
- A long-handled scoop, to reach into a sand-printing machine in order to fill in any small imperfections
- Vacuum attachment enhancements, used to clean sand/powder from printed parts, allowing for faster removal than the original brush attachment and for limiting erosion of metal parts by using nylon components
- A material leveler to spread nylon powder evenly to ensure maximum usage
- A plug to cover a laser lens, ensuring resin doesn’t drip onto it during part extraction
- Clips for vacuum lines and waste bin bags
- Recycling bag clamp
- Tools to easily place used nylon powder into sample bags for testing
Sowles is expanding on his knowledge in this arena, attending Henry Ford Community College to pursue an associate’s degree in computer-aided design. He will certainly be able to continue fine-tuning and coming up with more tools for use at Beech Daly.
He has also noted that the rapid prototyping for which 3D printing is famed, also comes into play for the tools he crafts for the work area.
“When I design a tool for them, there may be many different iterations of the tool before it’s finalized,” Sowles says. “Some features don’t work, so you take those out and add the ones you need. You’re always looking for ways of doing things easier and faster, more efficiently, so that’s always in the back of your mind: how can I do this better?”
Ford’s use of 3D printing seems certain to continue, both in front of and behind the scenes. Have you used 3D printing on the job to help with the performance? Join the discussion in the 3D Printing on the Job at Ford forum thread over at 3DPB.com. Check out a video below from Ford laying out some of the uses at Beech Daly Technical Center.