3D printer-like sheet metal prototyping
The Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan is developing a new embossing technique similar to 3D printing to form sheet metal that allows designers to create prototypes in hours instead of weeks.
By eliminating dies, the patented process of Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology uses a sort of embossing similar to a 3D printer and takes a CAD file to form a product. The difference is that where a printer adds layers of materials, the F3T gradually presses the sheet metal into shape.
It does this by clamping a piece of sheet metal in place, after which a pair of computer-controlled styluses press from opposite sides and move about line by line to form the metal into the desired shape. A computer controls the path of the styluses, which also form the metal to specified dimensional tolerances and surface finish.
Ford claims that F3T can not only make design work faster and cheaper, it can also make custom orders much easier, so bespoke car bodies would be much more common. In addition, Ford sees applications in the aerospace, defense, transportation and appliance industries.
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