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Pre-release 3D Printing Technology is Said to Speed Innovation in Materials, Product Design

3D Printing

Ford is testing the technology as part of its new additive manufacturing research program

REDWOOD CITY, Calif.—Early access to a pre-release 3D printing technology has reportedly enabled Ford Motor Company to demonstrate the ability to unlock mechanical properties not previously attainable through other 3D printing technologies. Ford, which has been using conventional 3D printing technologies to prototype new product designs for more than twenty years, began testing a pre-release version of Carbon3D’s first Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP)-based device in December 2014. The testing is part of a new additive manufacturing research program recently established by Ford to explore the potential of new technologies to manufacture vehicle-ready parts.

According to a press release from Ford, Carbon3D’s CLIP technology is allowing Ford to move more quickly from ideas to production. The automaker has already successfully applied the technology to current and future vehicle model designs, and is using CLIP to research new automotive relevant materials.

“Carbon3D’s CLIP technology has allowed us to realize our need for high-speed, high-quality printing of actual automotive-grade parts,” said Raj Nair, group vice president of global product development and chief technology officer. “We are excited to further our relationship and look forward to innovating together to make 3D manufacturing a reality.”

Carbon3D’s CLIP technology uses a tunable photochemical process instead of the traditional mechanical approach, reportedly eliminating the shortcomings of conventional layer-by-layer 3D printing technology to rapidly transform 3D models into physical objects. The CLIP technology carefully balances the interaction of UV light, which triggers photo polymerization, and oxygen, which inhibits the reaction, allowing for continuously grown objects from a pool of resin. The resulting parts are said to exhibit predictable mechanical properties that are applicable for a range of industries, including aerospace, industrial goods, medical, dental, and automotive. The properties are also suited to a range of needs for Ford vehicles, including under the hood, interiors, and high strength-to-weight ratio parts.

“Working with Ford offers a great opportunity to further prove our technology’s ability to produce the wide range of material and mechanical properties that are needed across the automotive industry to truly achieve 3D manufacturing,” said Joseph DeSimone, CEO and co-founder of Carbon3D.

The array of materials and mechanical properties needed for automotive applications has relegated conventional 3D printing to conceptual prototyping. With only a handful of available materials and printed parts that are shale-like and weak, the resulting mechanical properties of conventionally 3D printed parts are unsuitable for in-vehicle use. And the speed at which parts have been created with conventional technology has left designers and engineers stagnated in slow prototyping.

Ford worked to produce elastomer grommets for the Focus Electric and tested them against those made by traditional 3D printing methods. Not only were the grommets made in less than a third of the time with the CLIP-based device, the material properties were said to be much closer to the final desired properties for the part. The grommets are used in a space in the door of the vehicle, between the door and the body side. They allow wiring to be protected from being cut and damaged by sheet metal inside the vehicle. In a similar study, several alternative designs were evaluated for a damping bumper part on the Ford Transit Connect using CLIP technology. The reduced manufacturing time allowed engineers to make design iterations much more quickly than with traditional methods, according to the release.

Most recently, Ford needed to address a major engineering issue that arose after placing a V8 engine into a new vehicle body design. The vehicle’s design created an unreachable oil filler cap because the engine sat lower and farther back under the hood. The product engineering team realized the opportunity to quickly address the issue using Carbon3D’s CLIP-based device. The team was able to rapidly design, prototype, and manufacture an oil connector using rigid polyurethane and elastomer materials to access the oil fill tube without needing major redesigns to several components of the vehicle.

Beyond the current vehicle applications, Ford has also been able to expand its own materials research because of CLIP’s gentle process and dedication to high quality polymeric materials. To date, the team has tested several materials, including resins reinforced with nano-sized particles. The automaker is eager to further investigate resin modifications for improved mechanical properties and consider the creation of thermally and electrically conductive materials for future vehicle applications.

“We’re thrilled. The parts we’ve produced are mechanically strong, just like injection molded parts. That’s the target we’ve set for an automotive grade part,” said Ellen Lee, team leader, additive manufacturing research at Ford. “The chemistry that Carbon3D has based their resins on has significant potential to yield functional, durable materials. We’re excited to be able to tap into their technology to create new automotive relevant materials and applications for digital manufacturing. It’s revolutionary.”

More information on how Ford is Using CLIP is available here:

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