Like nearly every automaker, Ford is keen to figure out how 3D printing can improve its ability to develop and build new cars. Additive manufacturing holds the promise of shorter lead times, increased customization and lighter weight parts, among other efficiencies. Unsurprisingly, there”s a lot of blue-sky thinking out there, and still not a ton of actionable data. But that”s changing, including at the Ford Motor Company, which has an impressive new tool in its arsenal, the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D Printer.
Still considered to be in beta — or even alpha — stage, this room-sized prototype at Ford”s Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, is the product of lateral thinking. Unlike conventional 3D printers that build upward layer by layer, the Stratasys works sideways, which means it can produce much larger objects, theoretically infinite in size. Since the machine works in this manner, its printing process is totally different, in part because it has to layer in support structures for the object it”s creating first.