Ford to use 3-D printing to produce car components

Ford said on Monday it plans to use large-scale 3-D printing technology for car parts, allowing drivers to customise cars for a lower price.

The US automaker hopes to achieve a ''breakthrough of vehicle manufacturing'' with 3D printing technology. The auto major claims benefits would include efficiency, lower costs, and the ability to test prototype parts and components for low-volume models like race cars.

Making a small batch of car parts is expensive and inefficient at present. The technology could allow Ford to test out new designs, and even personalise parts for individual customers.

According to Ford, 3D printing could help it more efficiently produce components for low-volume models like racecars. Ford added that the 3D printed plastic parts would be lighter than current materials, which could lead to greater fuel efficiency. Ford is using Stratasys' Infinite Build 3D printer in its tests as it becomes the first automaker to pilot the technology.

The technology from the Minnesota-based 3D printing firm is seen as a big future business with spending on the hardware along with associated software, materials and services set to reach $28.9 billion in 2020, as against $13.2 billion last year, according to research from IDC.

If the tests with Stratasys' Infinite Build 3D printer yielded satisfactory results, it could allow unique vehicular upgrades, vehicle lines and more. This would be useful for providing services in various areas of manufacturing.

"With Infinite Build technology, we can print large tools, fixtures and components, making us more nimble in design iterations. We're excited to have early access to Stratasys' new technology to help steer development of large-scale printing for automotive applications and requirements," said Ellen Lee, Ford technical leader for additive manufacturing research, in a statement.