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Ford invents agile, low-cost solution for prototyping, customization and limited production [w/video]

Wed, 03 Jul 2013 00:00:00 -0700

A new metal forming technique pioneered by Ford that drastically reduces the time and cost of producing low-volume and one-off body parts may lead to cost-effective customization, redesigns, one-offs and limited production runs.

Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) forms sheets of metal by two stylus-like tools, one on each side of the surface. Using CAD data they form the part to the exacting strength and finish tolerances usually associated with stamping dies.

Initially F3T will be used to build prototypes and concept cars, which currently require months and hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce trial parts. The new technique takes just three days and effectively costs nothing bar the man-hours needed to create the CAD data and the cost of raw materials.

It doesn't take a huge leap of imagination to see how this technique could give carmakers the freedom to offer a variety of alternative variants or even offer customization within a standard production run. The cost of redesigning and updating cars would also be drastically reduced without the need to invest in new tooling.

This technology is the result of three-year project backed by the US Department of Energy to the tune of over $7million in order to investigate new, energy-efficient processes including 3D printing, virtual reality and robotics.

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By Owen Ready