One of these days, as many of us may own and use 3D printer technology as commonly as we employ computers and mobile phones today. The practice has emerged as a sustainable, cost-effective way to produce complicated parts in very small volumes, while adhering to perfect reproduction. 3D printers are used to create everything from detail parts for model railroaders to pieces of the human body for use in reconstructive surgery. The printers will link to any home computer and are rapidly becoming affordable for ordinary people. The use of 3D parts has been unfolding in the global auto industry for a while now. An American-Israeli partnership, Stratasys, has prototyped an electric car called the Urbee that uses all-3D body panels. Swedish supercar producer Koenigsegg Automotive AB has more extensively used 3D components, first in its One:1 that debuted in 2015. I have a feature in the inaugural issue of Crankshaft magazine that describes, in considerable detail, how a Tucker 48 was restored using 3D printing to prototype unobtainable trim pieces and other obscure parts. The same technology is now hitting the big-volume global industry.
This next news is really cool. Ford is joining forces with HP, the computing giant, to reuse discarded polymer powders and moldings from the prototyping process to create new components for vehicles, starting with what you see above, which are injection-molded fuel-line clips destined for use in assembling Ford’s F-250 Super Duty truck line. This creates a closed-loop system for eliminating waste. The process, as Ford describes, has resin producer Lavergne, a longtime recycling partner of HP, convert molds and discarded powder from Ford’s HP 3D printers into high-quality recycled plastic pellets. Those pellets, suitable for injection molding, are then molded into fuel-line clips by Ford supplier ARaymond. Ford’s corporate objective is 100 percent use of sustainable materials in its manufacturing processes.