3D Printing

Ford creates sheet metal prototypes in hours instead of weeks

Ford creates sheet metal proto...
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology produces sheet metal prototypes in hours instead of days or weeks
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology produces sheet metal prototypes in hours instead of days or weeks
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Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses an embossing technique similar to 3D printing
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Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses an embossing technique similar to 3D printing
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses CAD files to control the process
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Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses CAD files to control the process
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology embosses the sheet metal line by line
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Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology embosses the sheet metal line by line
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses a pair of styluses
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Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses a pair of styluses
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology produces sheet metal prototypes in hours instead of days or weeks
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Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology produces sheet metal prototypes in hours instead of days or weeks

Stamping sheet metal is an efficient form of manufacturing, capable of cranking hundreds or thousands of items an hour. The annoying thing is that making new stamping dies is a long, costly process. This is bad enough when it comes to retooling a factory, but creating prototypes for new products can leave designers waiting weeks. The Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan has taken a page from the 3D printing handbook and is developing a new way of forming sheet metal that allows designers to create prototypes in hours instead of weeks.

In design work, making a special die can take months from first design to finished product. The Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) gets around this bottleneck by eliminating dies. Instead, the patented process uses a sort of embossing similar to a 3D printer. Like a printer, F3T takes a CAD file and uses it to form a product. The difference is that where a printer adds layers of materials, the F3T gradually presses the sheet metal into shape.

It does this by clamping a piece of sheet metal in place, after which a pair of computer-controlled styluses press from opposite sides and move about line by line to form the metal into the desired shape. A computer controls the path of the styluses, which also form the metal to specified dimensional tolerances and surface finish.

Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses an embossing technique similar to 3D printing
Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses an embossing technique similar to 3D printing

According to Ford, F3T introduces a high degree of flexibility into what is otherwise a time consuming process with the ability to produce a sheet metal prototype in three days. For some jobs, it can be a matter of hours.

Ford sees a great deal of potential in F3T. The company claims that it can not only make design work faster and cheaper, it can also make custom orders much easier, so bespoke car bodies would be much more common. In addition, Ford sees applications in the aerospace, defense, transportation and appliance industries.

The video below outlines the capabilities of F3T.

Source: Ford

Ford's Advanced Prototyping, Personalization and Low-Volume Production Technology

12 comments
BigGoofyGuy
I think that is really cool. I agree it has a lot of potential.
MBadgero
Great idea! I hope they can make desktop versions:)
Mana Leituala
Imagine custom panels for any vehicle and custom builds.... Amazing.
Slowburn
Very cool. But it might not end up saving money as the engineers chase perfection.
MrGadget
This is great for making metal sculptures.
Siegfried Gust
Great new tool for prototyping and lowest volume production applications. The comment in the video about this potentially replacing stampings is somewhat ridiculous though. Neat stuff none the less.
Jay Finke
Great idea, but I can't grasp how this works on anything but a light gauge steel. It seems it lacks support for the material ?
owlbeyou
The concept of readily producing a light-gauge shape that can be transformed into a stamping mold is quite interesting. I too wondered about how the sheet is stabilized enough to be worked by only two "styluses".
D Scott Standard
Very cool tech!
Mark Szymanski
What's the difference between that and the dieless NC that exist for several years now? http://www.aminonac.ca/product_e_dieless.asp