Ford Thinks Big: 3D Printing the Future of Transportation

People all around the world are embracing newly accessible technology to help make the things they couldn’t make as easily before. Yet, when thinking of 3D printing (also known as Additive Manufacturing), most people’s realistic ideals of what it can create has undeniable limitations. Can planes, houses, or even cars be created through 3D printing technology? The answer is yes. Sure, people can still buy small 3D printing machines for their homes, but now, leading manufacturers like Ford are attempting to build cars using huge 3D production systems.

Stratasys Technology  

For years, a major drawback of most additive manufacturing systems was the limited size of the parts that could be produced – until now. 3D printing technology utilizes lasers to solidify various materials within a box that’s responsible for the size of the products produced. Stratasys, one of the leading manufacturers of additive manufacturing systems has developed a means to solve this problem by building parts that theoretically have no size limit. Unlike traditional 3D printers that build upon layers, the Stratasys printer works sideways, which means that it can produce much larger objects. Within its system, the 3D printer uses containers of micropellets rather than a continuous filament in a process known as fused deposition modeling (FDM). This process is still traditional in the sense that it continues to build upon layers of material, but because the robot head moves and rotates in 3-dimensions, the layers don’t have to be flat slivers. This allows for the production of more intricate shapes, which can have a potential impact on the product’s strength and weight. Moreover, this process cuts down production time significantly because the printer independently refills material canisters and can operate on big jobs for hours at a time. Although the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D Printer is still a prototype, Ford is currently in the process of testing the most efficient ways for large-scale printing. To completely grasp the printer’s full potential will take many months of trial and error. Regardless, Ellen Lee, Ford’s technical leader for Additive Manufacturing Research is staying optimistic, “I think there’s a lot of flexibility in what we can do, it can apply to manufacturing, prototyping, eventually to production, and touch pretty much every part of the vehicle.” So who’s to say that Ford’s next F-150 model won’t be mass produced through printing technologies? After all, we’ve seen it before with Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s advances in Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) technology made possible with Dassault Systèmes.

Follow in the Footsteps

That’s right – a car has already been successfully printed with the use of Dassault Systèmes’ 3D technology. Through various mechanical contributions to the development of BAAM technology, now businesses can 3D print entire objects – up to 20 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 6 feet tall – instead of just small parts. Likewise, this advanced printing technology was just in-use this week by a San Francisco based company that has begun printing 3D homes. Apis Cor’s 3D printing can produce a house in less than 24 hours, and could virtually dissipate any problems associated with affordable housing. Therefore, as Ford and Apis Cor follow in the same footsteps, we at Dassault Systèmes are looking forward to the future in hope that others follow in the same path towards cheaper, faster, and bigger printing than ever before. To read more about Dassault Systèmes’ involvement and contribution to large-scale 3D printing, check out our previous blog post here.

Rebecca Shpektor

Rebecca is currently a senior at Boston University majoring in public relations and mass communications. She loves creative writing, binge watching episodes of Black Mirror while cuddling with her Pomsky puppy, and eating sushi in excessive amounts. One day, she hopes to explore every country.