Ford Motor Company is exploring how large-scale one-piece auto parts, like spoilers, could be 3D printed for prototyping and future production vehicles.

The automaker involved in a pilot using the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer which is capable of printing automotive parts of practically any shape or length. The new 3D printer system is housed at Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan.

“With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations,” said Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader, additive manufacturing research. “We’re excited to have early access to Stratasys’ new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements.”

3D printing could bring immense benefits for automotive production, including the ability to produce lighter-weight parts that could lead to greater fuel efficiency. A 3D-printed spoiler, for instance, may weigh less than half its cast metal counterpart.

The technology is more cost efficient for production of low-volume parts for prototypes and specialised race car components. Additionally, Ford could use 3D printing to make larger tooling and fixtures, along with personalised components.

However, the company noted 3D printing is not yet fast enough for high-volume manufacturing, but it is more cost efficient for low-volume production. Additionally, minus the constraints of mass-production processes, 3D-printed parts can be designed to function more efficiently.

According the Worldwide Semiannual 3D Printing Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC), global spending on 3D printing will experience a five-year compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.3 per cent with revenues reaching $28.9 billion in 2020.

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