Ford becomes first European car maker to implement Formlabs’ Form 3L 3D printer

The Spanish branch of car manufacturer Ford Motor Company has become the first in Europe to add the Form 3L, a large format 3D printer from 3D printer manufacturer Formlabs, to its fleet of machines.

Ford will use the Form 3L to develop and manufacture plastic caps used in vacuum tests to test for engine leaks. The car maker already uses 3D printing to prototype new tools and to produce selected parts quicker and cheaper than it can via traditional manufacturing methods.

“We are proud to support such a renowned car manufacturer as Ford,” said Stefan Hollaender, Managing Director EMEA at Formlabs. “With the help of 3D printing, prototypes can be developed much faster, but also finished, fully operational parts can be produced within a very short time.

“Especially in this day and age, it is even better not to have to rely on extensive supply chains, but to have the autonomy to produce such parts quickly in your own facility.”

3D printed plug to perform the engine leak test. Image via Formlabs.
3D printed plug to perform the engine leak test. Image via Formlabs.

Ford’s use of 3D printing

Ford has implemented 3D printing into its operations for several years, having filed an patent application for a method of 3D printing lightweight brake discs in 2018. A few months later, Ford opened its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Detroit which brought together 3D printing, collaborative robots, digital manufacturing, and augmented reality (AR). The company also started 3D printing parts for its Ford Shelby Mustang GT500 sports car in order to save costs.

In 2019, Carbon, the firm behind Digital Light Synthesis (DLS) technology, produced the first 3D printed parts in production for Ford at Detroit’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS), including HVAC Lever arm surface parts, auxiliary plugs, and electric parking brake brackets. Meanwhile, Ford’s performance division announced it had 3D printed what it claimed was the ‘largest 3D metal-printed part for a working vehicle in automotive history”.

Most recently, Ford teamed up with leading 3D printer manufacturer EOS to combat wheel theft with a novel 3D printed locking wheel nut designed using a driver’s voice.

3D printed Battery plant connector prototype. Image via Formlabs.
3D printed Battery plant connector prototype. Image via Formlabs.

The Form 3L

Formlabs launched its large-format 3D printer, the Form 3L, in April 2019, which was powered by the firm’s new Low Force Stereolithography (LFS) technology. Last year, Formlabs released the latest version of the Form 3L which saw it optimized for applications within the footwear, industrial, and medical sectors as a result of an upgraded build volume. Ford’s Body and Assembly plant in Valencia has already been using Formlabs’ Form 3 desktop 3D printer for the development of prototypes with high surface quality which highly resemble the final product.

The Form 3L has a print volume of 33.5x20x30cm, and is being used by Ford’s body and assembly plant in Valencia to produce the plastic caps used in its engine vacuum tests. 3D printing was used within all stages of the production process, from design to prototyping to manufacturing the final product. The plastic caps needed to have the ability to seal tightly around the tool during in the motor vacuum test, but also withstand the low pressured environment. 3D printing was chosen as the best manufacturing method for the task as Ford only required 1,000 caps.

“For us, it was the first time to use 3D printing for this purpose, but we are very happy with the result,” said Carlos Cambralla, Reliability and Maintenance Engineer at Ford Motor Company in Valencia. “Sometimes we needed the caps the next day, so it was crucial to produce them as quickly as possible.”

Bringing the production of the caps in-house instead of relying on external providers also made the process more cost effective, while enabling Ford to maintain assembly of the caps throughout. 

Elsewhere, Ford has also used SLA 3D printing to replace broken push buttons from electronic devices by means of Formlabs’ transparent Clear Resin, which allows operators to see the internal LEDs. The Valencia plant has produced nearly 100 different parts via 3D printing, and has become a useful addition to Ford’s manufacturing operations.

Repair of keypads with translucent material. Image via Formlabs.

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Featured image shows 3D printed plug to perform the engine leak test. Image via Formlabs.