When developing new cars, the typical method is to first build a handful of prototypes and then extensively test them. Unfortunately, the process of building all the parts required to make the prototypes, usually through stamping of sheet metal, can often be just as difficult as that of building them for production vehicles.
In fact, it can take from two to six months for some of the parts to be developed, which understandably causes friction when it comes to cost and development time. Ford now looks to have developed a new technology that could potentially reduce the time it takes to build prototype parts from months to just hours.
The technology is called Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) and relies on two stylus-type tools guided by CAD software and working in unison on opposite sides of a piece of sheet metal. Similar to a digital printer, after the CAD data for a part is received, computer-generated tool paths control the F3T machine to form the sheet metal into its final shape to the required dimensional tolerances and surface finish.
Just some of the applications include the building of prototypes, concept vehicles and vehicle personalization parts. That’s right, Ford Motor Company [NYSE:F] says the technology could potentially enable owners to customize their vehicle’s sheet metal.
Ford is still developing the technology so isn’t using it outside of the lab just yet, but it should only be a matter of time until it does. Other collaborators for the project include Boeing and MIT as well as the Department of Energy, which provided a $7.04 million to help fund the development.