Ford creates sheet metal prototypes in just a few hours

A new manufacturing process has been unveiled by Ford that allows designers to create prototypes of sheet metal parts in hours instead of weeks.

The development is based on the company's Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T), a patented manufacturing process whereby a piece of sheet metal is clamped around its edges and formed into a 3D shape by two stylus-type tools working in unison.

Similar to a digital printer, after the CAD data of a part are received, computer generated tool paths control the F3T machine to form the sheet metal part into its final shape to the required dimensional tolerances and surface finish.

Currently, traditional stamping processes are energy intensive, and it often takes several months for the first part to move from concept to production. While traditional processes remain the most efficient method for high volume stamping, Ford says efficiencies for low volume production can be achieved with the flexibility F3T provides.

The company claims the process will make design work faster and cheaper, and custom orders much easier. The advantages of F3T are outlined in the video below.

Author
Laura Hopperton

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Fraunhofer Institut Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung developped a similar process "roboshaping.de" in the year 2006.

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