With Carbon's technology, Ford has been able to design and produce digitally manufactured end-use parts in three production vehicles, including the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500, which was unveiled Jan. 14 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
"Why do we care about additive manufacturing at Ford?" asked Ellen Lee, the automaker's technical leader for additive manufacturing. "Essentially, the attributes of additive manufacturing — mainly that we can make a three-dimensional part without the need of a mold or a tool, in addition to the design freedoms of those parts that we can make — provide use with values in efficiency, agility and performance."
Lee spoke Jan. 16 at an additive manufacturing symposium held at Cobo Center during the Detroit auto show's industry preview. She was joined on stage by Paul DiLaura, vice president of enterprise partnerships at Carbon.
The process allows automakers like Ford to "more nimbly respond to the dynamic changes in the market and our complex supply chain," Lee said.
Lee and DiLaura highlighted three automotive applications using Carbon's technology and epoxy-based EPX 82, a high-strength engineering material with long-term durability and mechanical properties comparable to glass-filled thermoplastics, the company said.
On an older model Ford Focus, the automaker is now 3D printing HVAC lever arms, as needed.
"This part was originally produced with a 30 percent glass-filled PBT [polybutylene terephthalate] material and injection molded," DiLaura said, adding that it would have been time-consuming and expensive for Ford to get a new tool out to produce these parts, which would then take up physical warehouse space.
For the Chinese market only, Ford is 3D printing an auxiliary delete plug on the F-150 Raptor. In China, DiLaura said, there is a regulation that prohibits the use of certain kinds of lights, including spotlights that are on vehicles here in the United States. Ford needed to remove the spotlight and remove the switch on the instrument panel that controlled the spotlight and then cover up the switch opening with a delete plug.
"It's a relatively low-volume scenario for the Chinese market, so it would've been quite expensive and time-consuming to … design that tool and stand it up and produce the parts," he said.
With Carbon's 3D printing process, Ford was able to cycle through more than 14 designs in 19 days to design and test the parts that are now on the F-150 Raptor in the Chinese market.
The third application discussed was the electric parking brake bracket on the Mustang Shelby GT500. In previous models of the vehicle, DiLaura said, the part would have been stamped out of steel and there would be two versions: a left-hand part and a right-hand part.
"Carbon and Ford worked together in order to create this design — a unique design that would've been very difficult to injection mold — that is a mono design," he said. "So, it works on both the left-hand side of the handle and on the right-hand side of the handle, which improves the ease of installation."
The 3D printed part is 60 percent lighter than the stamped steel equivalent.