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Ford Takes the Long View with Large-Scale 3D Printing

One of the big practical challenges of printing larger 3-D printed parts is spatial. To get the dimensions precise, it’s best to perform the process in a temperature controlled chamber or oven. Conventional 3-D printing is done vertically, so there is not a practical way to print very tall parts within that chamber/oven without having an extremely tall printer.

engineers at Ford have been testing a 3D printer that builds objects horizontally using a printer called the Infinite Build, developed by the Israeli additive manufacturing company Stratasys. For prototypes, it can produce objects that fit within the print volume of 30”x 48”x infinite. Boeing is also testing the technology.

(Ford Motor Company)

The industrial-sized printer sets the usual configuration on its side and builds out instead of up. The material is also different than conventional 3D printing: Instead of a continuous filament, the printer uses thermoplastic micropellets, and the refilling process is automated to allow for continuous operation for days.

The technology lends itself well to fixtures and tooling applications in the near term. But don’t look for mass production of parts on Infinite Build anytime soon. It still can’t compete with those mass production processes like injection molding.

Ford’s strategy is to partner with 3D printing innovators early in the technology’s development to modify it specifically for their automotive needs.

>> Read more by Laura Putre, IndustryWeek, March 9, 2017