At Ford Racing, 3-D printing offers speed edge

In the recent story about the evolution of 3D printing from prototyping to production manufacturing, we didn't have room to talk about Ford Racing's use of the technology to help build NASCAR engine parts. It uses a 3D printing process called selective laser sintering (SLS), rather than machine tooling, to build the sand-cast molds used to form aluminum intake manifolds for the NASCAR engines it manufactures.

Today, For Racing mostly uses 3D printed parts for prototyping because, with 500 engine builds a year, tooled parts are usually faster to manufacture. Because there's no tooling time involved, its faster to prepare a job for 3D printing. But once the tooling is set up, production using traditional manufacturing techniques is much faster. “For an intake manifold, by the time you’ve 3D printed 10 of them you could have tooled it,” says Dave Simon, race engine engineer.  On the other hand, he adds, if the foundry Ford is using is in another country experiences delays in processing the order, that issue, combined with longer overseas shipping times, may make in-house 3D printing preferable.

Also, the materials used in 3D printing have improved to the point where they can be considered for production work. “A few years ago they were brittle and heavy and not very good to put on running racing engines.  The materials have gotten better and the processes are faster,” he says. But so far, cost and speed issues have relegated most 3D printing to functional prototypes.

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Ford uses a 3D printing process to create a sand-cast mold used to produce cast metal parts, including this one for ford’s 2.7-liter EcoBoost V6 cylinder block core for the 2015 Ford F-150.

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