Ford has unveiled a new prototyping method that dramatically reduces production time for sheet metal parts.
The Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich., in collaboration with the U.S. Dept. of Energy, Northwestern University, The Boeing Co, MIT and Penn State Erie, developed Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) to produce sheet metal products in a way similar to 3D printing.
During the F3T process, clamps hold a sheet metal workpiece in place while metal forming styluses bend and shape the metal from either side. The styluses exert pressure on the metal in tandem, as controlled by CAD designs, allowing the machine to form the sheet metal into a three-dimensional part. You can see the F3T process in action in the video below.
According to Ford, the F3T process can produce sheet metal prototypes in a matter of hours, compared to the weeks-long process of traditional sheet metal product prototyping. Additionally, the process is lower cost than traditional stamping processes, because manufacturers do not need to invest money in expensive dies for low-run parts.
According to Gizmag, Ford hopes to roll the process out for use in the aerospace, defense, and transportation industries.