DEARBORN, Mich. – Ford Motor Co. is developing a new manufacturing technology that is expected to reduce costs and delivery times for sheet metal parts needed in smaller quantities.
The project is part of a three-year, $7.04 million US Department of Energy grant to advance next-generation, energy-efficient manufacturing processes. Led by Ford, other collaborators include Northwestern University, The Boeing Company, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn State Erie. Five manufacturing projects were awarded a total of $23.5 million by the Department of Energy in March to advance clean manufacturing.
The development is based on Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T), a manufacturing process developed at the Ford Research and Innovation Centre. The process involves a piece of sheet metal that is clamped around its edges and formed into a 3D shape by two stylus-type tools working in unison on opposite sides of the sheet metal blank.
Similar to a digital printer, after the CAD data of a part are received, computer-generated tool paths control the F3T machine to form the sheet metal part into its final shape to the required dimensional tolerances and surface finish.
Current stamping processes are energy-intensive, and it often takes several months for the first part to move from concept to production. While traditional processes remain the most efficient method for high-volume stamping, efficiencies for low-volume production can be achieved with the flexibility F3T provides.
Ford says benefits of F3T include:
- Low cost: Geometric-specific forming dies are eliminated to cut the high costs and long lead times associated with die engineering, construction and machining
- Fast delivery time: The automaker says the technology will deliver a sheet metal part within three business days from the time the CAD model of the part is received. Current technology wait times can be up to six months.
- More flexibility: Ford is also hopeful the technology will improve the vehicle R&D process by allowing more flexibility in quickly creating parts for prototypes and concept cars.
F3T will also allow for greater personalization options, adding the ability for buyers to customize vehicle bodywork. The technology is also expected to have applications in the aerospace, defense, transportation and appliance industries.
Check out the video below to see how Ford’s new process works.