Ford Motor Co. is testing additive manufacturing of large, thermoplastic automotive parts with a new 3-D printing system from Stratasys Ltd.
Like many additive manufacturing systems, the Stratasys Infinite-Build 3-D printer extrudes plastic to build a part layer-by-layer — only instead of building a part bottom-up, it builds in a horizontal direction. New material is added to the “front” of the part as it is moved gradually out of the back of the machine, enabling a potentially unlimited part length.
Ford envisions using the technology for prototyping large parts like bumpers, exterior panels and instrument panels.
“To date, most of the commercial [additive manufacturing] technologies are relatively modest in size,” said Ellen Lee, technical leader at Ford's Additive Manufacturing Research division. “With one of these larger parts, we would have to print parts and then glue them together, which for visual aids is not a big deal, but when we start extending the usefulness of these prototype parts and start to do some level of testing on them … being able to access larger and larger sizes is very helpful.”