End-Use Parts Using Additive Manufacturing:
The center has 25 printers for making prototypes, casting molds and via the Carbon M2, small end-use parts for the Ford Raptor truck. They do require post-processing in the adjacent washer, so proper scheduling is crucial. They print 12 at a time and it takes about 90 minutes.
Systems such as the Desktop Metal Studio produce sturdy stainless steel alloy prototypes for the new Mustang, but do require separate stations to dissolve the debinder and a furnace for sintering.
"Don't underestimate what you need for post-processing," says Harold Sears, additive manufacturing technical leader. "Seeing it come out is the cool part. They need room. Turning these into 20,000 parts, those needs go up significantly."
Optimizing efficiency is at the core of the new additive strategy, and as such, the engineers always strive to get the most out of every print job. On the EOS P770, which has a 700 mm build size, they can arrange 20 to 70 parts (from possibly four or five different customers) per job in a highly complex game of 3D Tetris. Sears says by doing this, the hub can produce up to 1,400 parts per day.
More Than a Prototype
Engine manifolds like the one seen here are durable enough to survive the extreme heat of testing during the prototype process, although they would not end up in consumer vehicles due to wall thickness.
Speed of Innovation
Accelerating the time to production isn't the only benefit. The cars themselves will be getting faster. The two 3D-printed brake pieces currently in the 2020 Shelby Mustang won't do much for lightweighting or speed, but they are providing education. "It’s a big thing," Sears says. "We learn so much doing this. It really paves the way for bigger and better applications."
Ford currently has about 90 3D printers overall in various factories, though that will most likely expand exponentially as this facility vets more applications.
Rise of the Cobots
Ford has about 100 collaborative robots spread across 24 plants, and this type of human-helping robot is apparently welcomed by the workers. In the Livonia Transmission Plant, for example, a cobot does an application that humans could only safely do for one hour at a time.
This KUKA iiwa does tedious engine inspections and alerts the nearby worker if an electrical connection is not correctly aligned so they can fix it. It also allows the designers to improve how the car is made to prevent new faults. "Automated inspection allows us to get a better sense of how well we're performing a lot of those manual tasks and be able to provide that feedback instantly to the production team," says Harry Kekedjian, advanced controls and digital factory manager. This is so far the most successful cobot application, being used at 16 engine production points.
Checking the Chassis
Ford has also built a way to check the entire chassis using two Universal Robots. The system has a high-powered GPU and machine visioning to inspect things a human wouldn't be able to eyeball, like the precise distance between two electrical connector tabs.
Ready Worker One
The future of all factories seems to be trending to digital, as well as how plant workers interface with them. After the production line was modeled in CATIA, Ford deployed a scalable program made by Theorem Solutions to allow anyone to enter the space, either immersively through the HTC Vive Pro or Magic Leap goggles, for example, or in a passive mode on a desktop. It is all in the name of workstation readiness, and ensuring proper hand clearance and safe ingress and egress, along with dozens of other considerations.
The controls are easier to master if you have some gaming experience, but they are fairly easy even for novices. If you look up, you'll see digital rafters. Look down and you'll see the car skid. You can walk or hover above the plant if you want using "fly" mode. If you look down while in the air, you may feel your stomach drop for a moment. Leaders who join on tablets can enter "producer" mode so as not to get discombobulated by all the twisting and turning.
Trying to figure out how these three suspension parts fit together using paper instructions could take quite a while. With it hard enough to find good workers these days, it is not a best practice to frustrate the workforce in such a way.
By donning the Microsoft HoloLens, Ford workers see a digital step-by-step rendering of how each piece fits in mere seconds. With the more industrialized HoloLens 2 coming out, the center will soon have more augmented applications to test out.