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Dearborn, MI
3D Printing Lab At Ford

By TJ McCueFriday, August 29, 2014
3D Printing, Engineering, Manufacturing, Scanning

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For many people, 3D printing sounds like magic – pulling a part out of thin air. nd sometimes, it looks like it, too: Here's one of the team members, Eric Kouba, 3D Printing Supervisor, at the Ford 3D Printing Lab pulling a #3dprinted part out of the powder.

Ford employee Eric Kouba pulling a 3D printed part out of the printer.

This method above is called Selective Laser Sintering and my simple explanation is this: two lasers intersect and melt the powder in that precise location, spot by spot, layer by layer, and the remaining non-lasered powder serves as the support material to keep the object stable. Whenever I use the word "lab" I always think crazy, mad scientist. How about you? I don’t think Ford will mind that I think they are a bunch of fun, crazy mad scientists. I did love this visit.

Wandering around the lab, it was filled with printers. They had several of Stratasys’ 3D printers, printing non-stop it seemed, cranking out parts and prototypes for engineers across the company. In another section, the Ford guys showed me three enormous sandcast printers that create a mold out of special sand that binds together in the printing process. Those molds are used to then cast in metal.

The cool people at Ford doing a lot more than you think with 3D technologies, as well as testing the boundaries of what you can do with different materials. The photos you see in this post gallery show different types of foam, more or less. Some are being tested in Popcorn containers! Finally, some of the different materials -- from coconut husks to shredded US Treasury paper (money that doesn't make it into final currency form). They are testing all sorts of items and ideas to create more sustainable parts and components. Pretty wild and forward thinking.

I know that many of the engineers and technicians are using Autodesk software – everything from Inventor to AutoCAD to the VRED (virtual reality software), but after my visit, I wondered if there were engineers out there doing their own thing to scan a Ford vehicle, to modify it or repair it. Sure enough, a visit to the 123Dapp Gallery yielded no shortage of people using the new tools and apps for a smartphone or iPad to “scan” their vehicle or part or engine with a digital camera and create a 3D model. This is what the term "reality computing" means -- you can use a simple and free tool like 123D Catch, an app you download to your smartphone, to take photographs and capture reality, as you see it. You can just keep the digital file or you can keep going for a few more steps and 3D print it. 

You can scroll through the 123D gallery here and remember that when you see an image, you can click the 3D box/button below the photo and rotate, spin the model to see it from all sides. Also, if the person who did the photo/scan did not go all around the object or vehicle, you will get a very limited, “broken” view of it. Just like any digital creation, what you put in, you get out.

When I tell people about my visit to Detroit, people who don't live there, they express concern. A lot of people are worried about Detroit, given the massive changes in manufacturing over the last few decades, but I’m not worried. Sure, I see a city that’s faced tough times, but more so, I see passion and resilience and enthusiasm. I see a city that, frankly, put a good dose of the maker mentality into this nation. Think about it – this is a city, a region, more than almost any other in the USA that makes, that builds, that engineers. They have a lot to be proud of – historically and currently. I see the Ford guys, the makerspaces, the entrepreneurs working to help Detroit prepare for the future and a big part of that is 3D.

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Final note: I wrote about Elizabeth Baron and her team at the FIVE lab -- Ford Immersive Virtual Evaluation lab with an earlier post, if you’re into virtual reality/augmented reality (VR/AR) and its future: Step Inside a Virtual Ford Mustang. That’s why I included the VR/AR image of the Ford Mustang. 

Follow along at 3drv.com! #3DRV

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