When it comes to prototyping, customization and low-volume production, the current benefits of 3D-printed auto parts are clear. Faster and more efficient production. Lighter parts that could improve weight distribution and fuel efficiency. And more cost effective than traditional production processes.

While 3D printing is not yet fast or efficient enough for high-volume manufacturing, the ability to develop prototype parts more quickly, create custom parts for drivers, or make crucial parts for smaller run performance vehicles, is nothing short of a smart idea. The Ford engineering team agrees, which is why Ford became the first automaker to pilot the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer.

3D printers take computer-aided design specs and print one layer at a time, stacking layers to create a complete and viable three-dimensional part. It’s already a valuable tool for designing and modeling new vehicles, but the future may hold tremendous potential. The current system is virtually unlimited in its ability to create prototype parts of any size or shape, and doing so at a lower cost.

Designing a complicated new part, like an intake manifold, and then waiting months for prototype tooling to be produced could become a thing of the past, as 3D printing creates fast, efficient and cost effective new options for engineers.

In the realm of performance vehicles, the applications of 3D printing mean saving weight and saving time. Large parts such as spoilers might offer 50% weight savings right off the top, while printing lower-volume parts rather than waiting for the availability of specific machine tools could help speed up production.

3D printing is smart technology as well – once programmed, unmanned machines can continue printing parts long after technicians have gone home for the night. Internal systems also let the Stratasys Infinite Build 3D printer know when it is nearly out of material, prompting a robotic arm to swap out an empty canister for a full one.

The future of 3D printing auto parts could be very exciting, if the technology can get to a point where it is viable for mass production, but the present is pretty exciting in its own right. The Stratasys Infinite 3D printer is just one of many new revolutionary tools helping automotive designers go further, changing the way we think about automotive production.

Would you be willing to put a 3D-printed part in your next Ford? Let us know on the Ford Canada Facebook page or in the comment section below!