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Ford unveils new CNC prototyping process for metal parts

Ford has introduced a new metal stamping process compared to 3D printing, which will dramatically reduce prototyping costs and times, according to the company.

The patented Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology, or F3T, was four years in the making. It was developed in collaboration with Boeing, MIT and the US Department of Energy, which contributed US$7 million in co-contribution money, reports the Wall Street Journal and others.

“Free form manufacturing is somewhat similar to 3D printing, because it uses computer technology—software and algorithms—to make each part,” said Raj Sohmshetty, the research and advanced engineering project leader at Ford Motor Company in Detroit. “I am not aware of anything else like it.”


The process uses two stylus tools on a computer-controlled robot arm to make low-run sheet metal, reports Manufacturing Digital. It will be used purely for limited-run sheet metal prototypes that do not require paintwork, according to Ford’s statement.

According to Ford, it will provide benefits including greater manufacturing flexibility, as well as reduce production time for low-volume parts from two to six months down to three days, and reduce costs.

“Geometric-specific forming dies are completely eliminated, along with the high cost and long lead time associated with die engineering, construction and machining,” said the company.

Ford has said it may possibly license the technology to others later on, and says it has potential in other industries including aerospace.

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