Ford Will Revolutionize the Automobile Industry Again

The Infinite-Build 3D Demonstrator | Stratasys |

More than a century after introducing the assembly line, Ford hopes to be the first to introduce 3D printing on a mass scale. Additive manufacturing could also reduce the negative environmental impact of automobile production.

At first, 3D printing was used by car manufacturers merely to construct prototypes. Now that 3D printed parts are as efficient as conventional parts, companies like Ford are considering using the process on a mass scale. As opposed to conventional manufacturing where the material is removed or modified to achieve the desired shape, in additive manufacturing, 3D parts are manufactured by the addition of successive layers of material under the control of a computer.

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The Assembly Line

On October 7th, 2013, the Ford Motor Company celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first assembly line in the history of the automobile industry. Henry Ford standardized mass production and created a new organizational model for the industrial process where parts would be gathered on the assembly line to come out as finished cars on the other end.

Using a rudimentary conveyor system, the car passed from one workstation to another along the line, while workers were assigned reduced but precise tasks.

Ford Motor Company

The assembly line did have some drawbacks, however, as skilled workers who once had a holistic understanding of a product’s construction now only focused on one specific part of the whole. This change expedited construction and overall efficiency, but at the cost of individual skills.

Ford’s model inspired many other brands in the US and around the world and became the manufacturing standard.

Ford 2.0: Additive Manufacturing

A century later, Ford intends to shake the automotive industry again, using additive manufacturing (3D printing) to gain in energy efficiency. The company is a pioneer in additive manufacturing, having, in 1988, purchased the third ever produced 3D printer. Since then, the company has produced over 500,000 3D printed parts.

Now, Ford is experimenting with the use of a revolutionary 3D printer to manufacture custom parts that will directly fit into its vehicles and could also use it to produce prototype parts for its future models. To do this, Ford chose Stratasys Infinite Build 3D Printer and will be the first automaker to have access to it, having already installed the system at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan.

Stratasys’ printer relies on the same principle as other 3D printers that deposit material in successive layers. Yet, it stands out for its ability to print on a horizontal plane too, making it ideal for manufacturing components and prototypes for limited-edition vehicles, as well as for designing tailor-made parts.

The system also can use materials such as carbon fiber to make parts lighter yet durable. The Infinite Build 3D Printer is maintained by a robotic arm so that it can operate non-stop and without human help.

By integrating Industry 4.0 flexible and fast processes, such as additive manufacturing, automakers will maximize production efficiency and create custom components and parts that were impossible before. Besides the automotive industry, additive manufacturing has many other advanced applications, such as in aeronautics and aerospace.

Regarding the drop in worker’s overall skill after the advent of the assembly line, what affect will additive manufacturing have on a worker’s specialization?

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