Ford’s exploration into 3D printing has been evident in its operations over recent years. The Valencia Assembly plant in Spain and the Cologne Assembly plant in Germany stand as prime examples, both boasting 3D printing laboratories. Since introducing 3D printed parts at the Sharonville Transmission plant in Ohio in 2017, Ford reports a savings of over $4 million.
A pivotal application of this technology has been in the Ford Transit’s transmission. The synchronizer sleeve in the transmission undergoes a hardening process, where temperatures can soar up to 1,508 degrees Fahrenheit. To optimize this procedure, Ford engineers crafted a 3D printed copper induction tool. Unlike traditional tools, this specially designed apparatus evenly disperses heat, ensuring a sturdier component, reducing waste, and leveraging solar energy, thus curbing emissions. This tool has been operational for approximately a year.
“This was a unique challenge because copper is not typically used in the 3D-printing process, but the team was determined to find a way to make it work,” said Stefan Zimmermann, manufacturing and plant engineering manager.
“We could see a clear benefit to our customers that will make a real difference to their businesses and to their day-to-day drives.”
The trajectory suggests that Ford’s methods might influence other manufacturers to adopt analogous approaches, hinting at a shift towards heightened production efficiency and eco-friendliness in the automotive sector. It also highlights a move away from typical AM tooling used in automotive production, and into more functional tooling components.
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