Car part 3D printed in nylon

Behind the scenes of Ford’s 3D Printing facilities

Car part 3D printed in nylon

Earlier this week I had the chance to get a behind the scenes tour of the Ford Motor Company’s 3D printing facilities at the Beech Daly Technical Center in Dearborn, Michigan. This facility is normally closed to visitors (I was only allowed to take photos in certain areas) so this was a pretty rare opportunity to see how this company uses 3D printing in their manufacturing processes.

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They bought the third 3D printer ever sold and have created over 500,000 3D printed parts with the latest parts being used in the development of the engine for the 2015 Mustang.

We got to see a number of different types of 3D printing technologies, including powder, resin and sand based printers. The facility has giant rooms full of printers, each room being a different type of printer.

The first room was filled with powder printers making nylon parts for various vehicle applications including air vents, ducts, etc. There was boxes of finished parts as well as a number of stations for cleaning and finishing the parts once they come out of the printers.

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We also got to see a complete vehicle which had a number of printed parts installed under the hood (the white parts in the above photo). This was a fully functioning car that could be driven using the 3D printed parts.

Another room contained the resin based printers.

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parts

They also had a table of smartphone stands that had been printed in resin for us to take with us. It was interesting to see that the folding stands were printed popped open and had support materials in place that was easily removed.

stands

The final area contained the metal and sand printers. These machines create complex, multi-part molds that are then used to cast or directly print metal parts like the ones on the table. This process alone takes what used to take weeks or months of machining a metal to the point where they can iterate a design, print out a part or mold and have the part in a matter of hours or days.

These printer were massive. Here’s a short video of it printing one layer:

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which I also attended (more on that in this post), Ford had a large area dedicated to showcasing the various methods used to make their vehicles. In one corner of the room, they had large bins of powder printed parts, including what looked like a truck grill.

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I was a little surprised (because it’s an older printer) to see a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic (my first 3D printer) also on display, printing shifter knobs on the show floor. But perhaps they don’t have too many consumer printers themselves.

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The next step for Ford is to use printers capable of multiple mixed materials, continuous sand printing and direct metal printing of parts.

It was truly a fascinating look inside this automotive giant and how they are using 3D printing technology to rapidly design and iterate their vehicles. I only wish I had more time to poke around the center!

Disclosure: The Ford Motor Company paid for my travel and accommodations at the three-day NAIAS Digital Summit in Detroit. I was not compensated in any other manner for my time. My opinions posted here are my own.

4 Comments

  1. Great recap of the behind the scenes of Ford’s 3D printing facilities. Love the photos too!

  2. Casey Palmer says:

    John,

    You covered WAY more on 3D printing than I would ever written — I knew you were passionate about it, but this is magnificent :) I use my stand a bit — it would’ve been better for me with a hole to allow for a plug, but it’s still pretty cool. Did you email your blog to the management at the facility? They’d likely be interested to see this.

    I’m going to link here rather than write a long diatribe on the 3D printing demo, myself — I can’t beat this!

    Appreciate the post :)

    –Case

  3. Seriously, John, this is a great post. I’m with Casey. You know this stuff, A lot of what they said went over my head but it was a great experience. Great post – I’ll be linking it too! ;)

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