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Ford encourages customers to build own cars

Licensed website allows people to purchase files for 3D printing

Published: November 21, 2015, 7:00 PM
Updated: May 15, 2018, 8:44 PM

Ford Prototype Engineer Bruno Alves with the many parts the company has printed in 3D.

If you’re looking at the new Ford GT and thinking you might like to have one except for the exorbitant cost, Ford might have a solution for you – print one yourself.

Okay, it’s not as easy as that, because you need all the right equipment and materials to print out a full-sized version and even then there’s the problem with working parts such as extreme-heat tolerant engine components, but you can print out a scale replica of the GT and other popular Ford models from Ford’s 3D printing website at 3d.ford.com.

3D-printed Ford GT steering wheel

Ford has used 3D printing extensively in the development of its new models, including the GT supercar that will be taking to the track at Le Mans in summer 2016. The printing method has allowed Ford to lower its development times and evaluation costs as it brings news models to market.

Primarily used in the production of parts that can be quickly generated and tested, 3D printing allowed designers and engineers to move away from traditional development methods of designing a part and then rendering it in clay before testing. The process was not only time-consuming but also not very precise due to the transfer of information, and cost intensive due to materials and human resources. And if the part didn’t test well, the process would have to be repeated … often several times.

Clay modelling is still used for bulkier items such as bodywork, but intricate parts such as vents are better computer generated and printed. As such, Ford uses both methods of design and prototype production in parallel as it renders and tests new models prior to production. Depending on the complexity of the part being printed out, the output can be plastic, sand or metal, and the finished product can be sanded and/or painted as needed.

With 3D printing, a prototype part can be computer designed, printed out and tested in a matter of hours, usually for as little as £750 (roughly $1,525 Canadian), depending on the part, and the process can be repeated quickly if fine-tuning is required. Among the parts that have been developed in this way are the steering wheel with paddle shifters, and door-lifting components for the Ford GT, and the grille and wheels for the new Ford Mondeo Vignale (Fusion, in North America).

“3D computer printing technology has totally changed the way we design and develop new vehicles,” said Sandro Piroddi, Ford of Europe’s Rapid Technology supervisor. “We can be more creative in trying to find potential solutions, and for the customer this means that our cars are better able to incorporate the latest thinking in design and technology.”

Ford started experimenting with 3D printing in 1988 and has recently printed out its 500,000th part – an engine cover for the new Mustang.

The company has now created a licensed online parts shop for customers with their own 3D printers, where they can find plans to print out 1000s of models, including scale models of the GT, Shelby GT 350R, Focus ST and F-150 Raptor, for as little as $4.99 US for an STL file. Pre-printed ABS plastic models can also be ordered for as little as $39.