Published on July 9th, 2013 | by Jo Borrás1
I Went To Detroit To Play With Ford (Part 2.1)
July 9th, 2013 by Jo Borrás
Back in June, I spent three days in Detroit at the 2013 “Further With Ford” conference talking about trends in technology with Ford execs and a crew of invited bigwigs. One of the things we talked about was 3d printing and its impact on the rapid-prototyping/concept-car process. What they showed us was this …
… which, in addition to being almost impossibly boring, is nothing new.
I feel totally qualified in claiming that the use of these plastic-extruding 3d printers in prototypes and concept cars is nothing new, because we used almost every technique shown off as “cutting edge” by the Further With Ford on RENNtech’s 2008 SEMA project — an as-yet unreleased Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 SUV that, in addition to a custom exhaust, modified suspension and brake PKG, custom intakes, and an in-house developed hybrid/electric drivetrain, featured wild custom bodywork that was entirely “grown” in an identical process to that shown above. You can check that project out in this SEMA photo gallery, below.
That RENNtech/SEMA project stands out in my mind for a few reasons:
Andrea, it’s what got me into writing, and it happened five (5) years ago.
Now, on the off chance that you’re new to this whole “technology” thing and you found your way to CleanTechnica entirely by accident, let me assure you that five years, in this context, is a very. Long. Time.
To say that the 3d printing tech that I saw at Ford was a letdown is an understatement. I wasn’t let down, I was straight-up, Mr. T body slammed …
… and it sucked. For all the exciting stuff I’d expected to see in Ford’s prototyping, strictly “no photography” zone, what I got was not it. Imagine my surprise, then — my pleasant surprise! — when I caught this video of Ford’s cutting-edge 3d prototype “printer” for sheet-metal on SlashGear last night.
That’s the good s***, right there! What you’re looking at is a new (and thoroughly patented) technology for “rapid prototyping” of honest-to-goodness metal parts for low-volume production projects and concept cars. Called Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology, or “F3T,” the Detroit automaker will be able to bring ultra-limited, and even one-off, designs to a showroom, display stand, or racetrack in less time and at a lower cost than anyone else. According to Ford, F3T is a game-changer that will allow Ford to produce ready-for-use sheet metal parts “in just days, for essentially no cost.”
It’s awesome, in other words.
Still, F3T might not be the most exciting example of 3d printing technology at Ford’s Michigan campus. I think that title might go to an exotic piece of machinery on display at the Henry Ford Museum, which Gas 2 writer Susanna Shick and I got to experience first-hand when we took a little stroll to Weinerville …
… oh, yes.
The short version of all this is that making low-volume parts, like those for EVs and racecars, just got über-cheap, and that means that prices should come down — or, at least, that profits will go up enough to entice Ford to start building the cars we want to buy instead of the cars they want to sell us.
Here’s hoping. Until then, enjoy more weiner pics!
Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.