BOURBONNAIS, IL – Ford Motor Company has developed a new technology that will significantly reduce the time and cost of developing prototypes. The ne w process called Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology or F3T for short will allow for prototypes to be developed within three business days as opposed to the conventional method that took two weeks up to six months!
What exactly does this mean? Well, to start a piece of sheet metal will be clamped around the edges and formed into a 3D shape. Then two stylus-type tools will work in unison on opposite sides of the sheet metal tip-to-tip. This process will shape the metal and make sure that it fits strength tolerances and surface finish requirements. 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.
Current stamping processes are energy intensive and take quite a bit of time to get to the end result. Currently, it is still the most efficient process for high volume stamping. However, the flexibility that F3T is capable of is a great fit for low-volume production such as personalizing and concept vehicles.
According to media.ford.com other benefits of the F3T technology include: cost, delivery time and flexibility.
- Low cost: Geometric-specific forming dies are completely eliminated, along with the high cost and long lead time associated with die engineering, construction and machining
- Fast delivery time: The technology aims to enable the delivery of a sheet metal part within three business days from the time the CAD model of the part is received. With the current technology, parts are delivered anywhere from two to six months using conventional methods – up to approximately 60 times longer than the potential turnaround time for F3T
- More flexibility: Once fully developed, F3T will help to improve the vehicle research and development process, allowing for more flexibility in quickly creating parts for prototypes and concept cars. Currently, creating a prototype die can take six to eight weeks, and developing a full prototype vehicle usually takes several months and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. F3T could produce sheet metal parts for prototypes in just days for essentially no cost
Ford is participating in a three year project funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The $7.04 million grant is to be used to develop next-generation, energy-efficient manufacturing processes. Collaborators on the project include Northwestern University, The Boeing Company, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn State Erie. By enabling these companies with funding the DOE hopes to advance clean manufacturing as well as allow U.S. companies to increase their competitiveness.
For more information visit: media.ford.com
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