Ford recently turned to Ultimaker to streamline processes at its pilot plant in Germany.

Since its foundation in 1914, Ford has driven innovation in automotive manufacturing. Ford is constantly thinking ahead to accelerate vehicle manufacture through increased productivity, ergonomics, and quality control.

Ford’s pilot plant in Cologne pioneers the creation of each new vehicle design before it goes into mass production. They have a complete small-scale manufacturing line, which develops cars up to several years before they go into production. Lars Bognar, Research Engineer at Ford’s Research & Advanced Engineering team, has been working on creating an optimised workflow to create jigs, tools, and fixtures for Ford’s manufacturing process.

Ford’s employees use many custom tools during their vehicles’ production. These are often designed for one specific task and model. Creating these tools externally takes a lot of time and is very expensive. To get tools faster, the team at Ford decided to pilot 3D printing as a possible solution.

A dedicated additive manufacturing team was founded, and started using fused filament fabrication (FFF) technology from Ultimaker. It provided a faster, affordable solution with less hassle compared to other 3D printing technologies.

By having a dedicated 3D workshop in the pilot plant, Ford can produce all the right designs before a new car goes into mass production. This gives the engineers at Ford more time to iterate the designs of all the custom tools. Ford wants to create tools which not only speed up the manufacturing time of the vehicles but also often have ergonomic benefits for the workforce.

By using Ultimaker 3D printers, local workforces can also 3D print the tools they need. Ford is placing Ultimaker 3D printers in factories all over Europe, such as in Spain, Italy, and Romania. The design team in Germany will supply the designs electronically, and the tools can be used the next day thanks to 3D printing.

So far, the pilot has already been very beneficial to Ford. Per custom tool, they save a considerable amount of money compared to traditional manufacturing or outsourcing. The Ford Focus alone is manufactured using over 50 custom-designed tools, jigs, and fixtures. Ford is also looking at spare parts for production machines from the manufacturing line.

But 3D printing isn’t just financially beneficial. Many of these tools have great ergonomic benefits for Ford’s workforce. After prolonged use, traditional metal tools can start to feel extremely heavy, and can impact workers’ health over time. Ultimaker’s range of materials are often strong enough to replace metal tools, which makes life a lot easier for assembly personnel.

Ford is expanding its 3D printing capabilities rapidly. While optimising the workflow to create tools, jigs, and fixtures, they’re learning more about the possibilities of 3D printing. Bognar is not only looking to create tools and fixtures, but also exploring possibilities to create spare parts and final parts using 3D printing.

Imaginables Pty Ltd will be showcasing the latest 3D printing technology from Ultimaker at Austech 2019, at Stand AM65.