Reposted from Written by  June 5, 2014

Ford Motor Co. has said it is dependent on 3D printing.

The company has being using additive manufacturing for the production of prototypes for around thirty years, but recent advances in the technology have enabled the company to incorporate it much more.

Ten years ago, Ford 3D printed around 4,000 prototype parts for its vehicles. Today, the company owns five 3D prototyping centers (three in the US and two in Europe) that each print more than 20,000 parts annually.

“Companies like 3D Systems and Stratasys are spending huge amounts of money on development. So not only are machines and materials getting better, but the process is getting faster and it’s helping drive the overall cost down,” said Harold Sears, a technical specialist in additive manufacturing technology for Ford.

Due to the increased speed with which parts can now be produced, Ford has established quicker deadlines for its vehicle model builds. Sears says that without 3D printing, they would not be able to come even close to meeting these deadlines.

Saving millions of dollars

Before the company started using 3D printing, blueprints of parts would have to be sent to a machine shop . These parts would take weeks to produce, and if modifications were needed, they would have to be reshipped and remade until the part was perfect. This entire procedure took weeks and lots of money.

Today, Ford uses CAD software to design parts on a computer. The design is then printed within a matter of hours. If modifications are needed, a quick alteration of the design on the CAD software is done and the part is ready to be printed again. Nothing ever needs to be sent offsite.

“Everybody wants to know how much 3D printing has saved in dollars, but when you’re talking prototypes, it’s time,” Sears said. “What would bringing a product to market a month early do for you? That’s millions of dollars. It’s not something that’s easily measured.”

Watch Ford’s video below:

Ford Motor Co. Dependent on 3D Printing