Ford has led the way for innovation in the motoring industry since 1914. Their pilot plant in Cologne, Germany, develops new cars years before they go into production. With a small manufacturing line all their own, they develop models and the tools, jigs and fixtures that build them.
Outsourcing the manufacture of custom tools, jigs and fixtures – or manufacturing them externally – is very expensive. Often, tools are only required for a single production run or one purpose. Ford’s employees also found a time limitation to external manufacturing, with tools often taking days or weeks to manufacture which would keep setting production back.
3D printing tools, jigs, and fixtures
Following successful application elsewhere in the automotive industry, Ford decided to look into 3D printing as a possible solution. They first tried SLS (Selective Laser Sintering) technology but found the final product required a high level of post-processing. Frustrated, they approached Ultimaker whose FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) 3D printers fabricate parts without the need for much post-processing – if any at all.
Lars Bognar, Research Engineer at Ford’s Research & Advanced Engineering team in Aachen, has been working on creating an optimised workflow to create jigs, tools, and fixtures for Ford’s manufacturing process. 3D printing has come in and solved the challenge. Ultimaker’s 3D printers proved to be faster and more affordable than the SLS equivalent. The team can now create the tools they need at speed without supplier limitation.
Ford have set up a dedicated 3D workshop in the pilot plant to manufacture tools, jigs, and fixtures. The team can create new design iterations in CAD, slice them, and send them to print in a matter of hours. This gives the engineers at Ford more time to iterate designs of all custom tools and speed up the manufacturing line. Not only that, but it also has ergonomic benefits for the workforce. They have more time to focus on the important stuff.
Genuinely useful application
The all-new Ford Focus alone has over 50 custom 3D printed tools which were developed using the Ultimaker S5. These are used directly in the manufacturing process. All Ford’s key models in the future will use 3D printed tools to some degree. “We want to make the next step, we also want to 3D print spare parts.” says Ford, “We want to design for additive manufacturing and be able to print production parts for production vehicles”.
Ford is also going a step further than just opening up 3D printing for qualified engineers. They are placing Ultimaker 3D printers in their factories across Europe so they too can benefit from this innovative manufacturing process. Plants in Spain, Italy and Romania now have an Ultimaker 3D printer. Using Trinckle’s generative software solution Paramate, workers without 3D printing experience can generate jigs.
The benefits of 3D printing for the pilot have been huge. Per custom tool, they save more than 50% on the manufacturing cost and the manufacturing time has been more than halved. The flexibility it gives designers means new parts can be manufactured and tested very quickly. Ford has also identified ergonomic benefits – the 3D printed parts are much lighter than the metal equivalent. This makes them easier to work with.
Ford started with SLS technology but moved to FFF after seeing for themselves the impressive quality of Ultimaker machines. They started with the Ultimaker 3 before adding the Ultimaker S5. If you would like to find out more about these 3D printers and how 3D printing could benefit you, please contact us.
3D Printer: Ultimaker 3 – Ultimaker S5
Materials: Multiple. Discover Ultimaker filaments.