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Just like laser printers are found in most offices and homes, 3D printers will be the new norm within the next 10 years or so, and have already helped Ford Motors complete vehicles more efficiently.
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Engineers will have the ability to visualize a design on a computer screen, and have the physical prototype appear at a colleague's desk within a matter of minutes according to a Ford press release. Designers can make changes to the model and share the design improvements as well.
Click here to read the full Ford press release.
"We've been shifting from the tangible world to the computer world, and the reality is that a hybrid model works best," says K. Venkatesh Prasad, senior technical leader, Open Innovation, and a member of Ford's Technology Advisory Board, Research and Innovation in the press release. "There is nothing like having a tangible prototype, but it has always been time consuming and expensive to create.
Ford is currently using 3D printing for the manufacturing aspect of the company, and recently the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine found in the new Transit Van were designed with help from 3D rapid manufacturing according to Ford.
Other examples of 3D printing can be found in the Ford Escape, which features an EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine built in the company's Louisville Assembly Plant and the F-150 exhaust manifolds for the 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine built in Cleveland.
Ford predicts that this technology will eventually be able to help enhance any product you could think of. For example, if a part broke in your refrigerator, you could be able to just scan the barcode on the fridge, take the information to an in-home manufacturing machine, and print up a replacement piece.
"Many have referenced this technology as ushering in a third industrial revolution," says Harold Sears, Ford additive manufacturing technical specialist in the press release. "While that is yet to be determined, we do know manufacturing is continuing to go digital, the speed of these technologies is increasing, and the variety of materials is expanding. This all leads us to believe the potential of micro-manufacturing presents great opportunity for the manufacturing industry overall."