Building vehicles the tried-and-true way works, sure, but an automaker will never discover new efficiencies if it doesn’t innovate. That’s why Ford plunked down a cool $45 million to build its new Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan.
Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center was built with the express goal of finding new ways to manufacture vehicles. To start, the automaker has highlighted a practice that’s already growing in popularity with both businesses and consumers — 3D printing. The automaker has 23 3D printers at the center, and it’s working with 10 different 3D-manufacturing companies across a variety of mediums, including nylon and carbon.
Ford pointed out that it’s already putting 3D-printed parts to task in production cars. The upcoming Mustang Shelby GT500 will sport two different 3D-printed parts in its brake system. The Chinese-market F-150 Raptor has a 3D-printed interior part, too. It’s also developing 3D-printed parts for use on assembly lines, and they’ve already been used to assemble the 2019 Ranger faster.
Of course, of the 100 employees at the center, not all of them are working on 3D printing. Ford is also using virtual and augmented reality to help design the next generation of assembly lines, which can help experts discover inefficiencies or potential dangers before construction even breaks ground. It also uses AR and VR to help teams communicate better across long distances, since everyone can actually “see” the thing they’re talking about.
The Advanced Manufacturing Center will also help Ford develop more collaborative robots (“cobots”), which work alongside humans on assembly lines without the need for safety cages. This is a huge boon to assembly productivity, which is why Ford’s looking extra hard at ways to implement cobots in more locations.
Ford is hardly the first automotive company to rely on 3D printing. Porsche uses 3D printing tothat would be nearly impossible to find otherwise. GM relies on 3D printers to faster than it could source them from outside vendors. And then there’s wheel company HRE — in what might be the most visually spectacular use of automotive 3D printing, HRE .