Inside Ford’s new Advanced Manufacturing Center, an engineer stands in front of a 3D printing machine churning out brake parts for Ford’s soon-to-be-introduced Shelby Mustang GT500. Across the room, two team members strap on virtual reality headsets to design and simulate production lines, while another is working alongside a collaborative robot, programming a safer way to install a vehicle part.
These technologies are no longer simply a Hollywood vision of the future. For Ford, which has been breaking new ground in auto production for more than a century, they are critical tools and technologies to improve the complex and demanding task of building cars and trucks. And this is all happening every day under one roof at the company’s new $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford.
“More than 100 years ago, Ford created the moving assembly line, forever changing how vehicles would be mass-produced,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of Global Operations. “Today, we are reinventing tomorrow’s assembly line – tapping technologies once only dreamed of on the big screen – to increase our manufacturing efficiency and quality.”
Approximately 100 experts work at the development hub for cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, digital manufacturing and more.
New Horizons: 3D Printing
Today, Ford is driving the future of 3D printing in the automotive industry. The Advanced Manufacturing Center has 23 3D printing machines and is working with 10 3D manufacturing companies. This allows Ford experts to develop applications with different materials – from sand to nylon powder to carbon. One application currently under development has the potential to save the company more than $2 million.
There are 3D printed parts in the manufacturing and production of Ford vehicles. The soon-to-be-revealed Shelby Mustang GT500, coming at the North American International Auto Show in January, has two 3D printed brake parts, while the F-150 Raptor built for China includes a 3D printed interior part. As 3D printing becomes more affordable, 3D parts will become more prevalent.
Three-dimensional printed parts also help employees improve vehicle quality. Assembly line workers at Michigan Assembly Plant, where Ford builds the Ranger pickup, use five different 3D printed tools. These tools played a critical role in the launch of Ranger, removing weeks from an already tight timeline and ensuring quality is built in – from the first vehicle that rolled off the line.