The longer I work with Fords, the more I respect the company’s innovation. A recent press release described Ford’s latest technological breakthrough—a patented manufacturing process that has the potential to reduce costs and delivery time for sheet metal parts needed in smaller quantities.
Based on Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T), a process developed at the Ford Research and Innovation Center, a piece of sheet metal is clamped around its edges and formed into a 3D shape by two stylus-type tools working in unison on opposite sides of the sheet metal blank. Similar to a digital printer, after the CAD data of a part are received, computer-generated tool paths control the F3T machine to form the sheet metal part into its final shape to the required dimensional tolerances and surface finish.
The project is part of a three-year, $7.04 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to advance next-generation, energy-efficient manufacturing processes. Led by Ford, other collaborators include Northwestern University, The Boeing Company, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn State Erie. Five innovative manufacturing projects were awarded a total of $23.5 million by the Department of Energy in March to advance clean manufacturing and help U.S. companies increase their competitiveness.
Ford’s latest advance means instead of start to production times taking several months, they will now take several days. It’s cheaper too. While traditional stamping methods are high-cost, for low volume production F3T means significant cost-savings. Finally, the flexibility and efficiency of the process means personalization options become newly affordable. Buyers can customize their bodywork in all kinds of ways that were previously prohibitive.
It’s an exciting time to work with Fords. To me it demonstrates why Ford is more than just a brand—it’s an attitude. These kind of milestones make me, and my clients, lifelong loyalists.