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Ford Unveils New Advanced Manufacturing Center

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media
Harold Sears, additive manufacturing technical leader at Ford’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, studies 3D printed parts. (Ford Motor Co. photo)

REDFORD, MI — Ford Motor Co. unveiled the interior of its new Advanced Manufacturing Center on Tuesday, demonstrating how it’s looking to technology to improve its manufacturing.

The $45 million complex in Redford, MI, a Detroit suburb, includes 3D printers, collaborate robots and virtual and augmented reality simulators. The Dearborn, MI-based automaker wants to improve its manufacturing using such technology. The center has about 100 employees. Ford conducted media tours of the facility on Tuesday.

The center is testing 3D printers from Stratasys, HP, EOS and other vendors to adapt for vehicle manufacturing. The number and types of machines vary over time. The center currently has 23 printers and is working with 10 additive manufacturing companies.

“If you came back in six months, this may look different,” said Harold Sears, additive manufacturing technical leader at the center.

Ford has used 3D printers to make small tools, jigs and fixtures for factories. The company said its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, MI, which assembles the Ranger pickup, has five 3D printed tools.

“We can take the cost out of tooling,” Sears said. The company also uses 3D printing for prototype parts.

Ford is now branching into 3D print small production parts for models. For example, the company is printing brackets and instrument panel parts. Ford said the Shelby Mustang GT500, to be introduced next month, will have two 3D printed brake parts. The F-150 Raptor built for China will have a printed interior part.

Ford-Stratasys Connection

Ford and Boeing Co. have been involved in developing a Stratasys prototype 3D printer designed to print larger thermoplastic parts. Stratasys unveiled the machine in 2016 and Ford said last year it planned to test it.

3D printing involves parts being made layer by layer from a digital design. Additive manufacturing enables new designs with fewer parts. Aerospace is looking to 3D printing to more efficiently use high-cost materials. The auto industry also is exploring additive. However, production volumes are higher compared with aerospace companies.

The automaker said it has 90 3D printers worldwide.

With virtual reality and augmented reality simulators, Ford is using the technology so employees can work together globally to design production lines and work stations.

The center also has collaborative robots, or cobots, which can be deployed in close proximity to human operators. The automaker said has more than 100 cobots in 24 plants. The cobots at the manufacturing center, made by Kuka, Univeral Robots and FANUC are studied for new applications at factories.

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