Here’s some interesting new technology that has huge potential all across the automotive specialty industry: rapid prototyping for sheet metal components.
Rapid prototyping is a decades-long trend in manufacturing, but it’s gotten special attention in the media lately, what with the news reports about 3D printers that can manufacture firearm components on the spot, seemingly from thin air. There’s nothing like hysteria to generate attention for nascent technologies.
However, rapid prototyping and production techniques are now used to form not only plastic laminates (such as sketchy gun receivers) but also castings, machinings, and other formed parts. And tomorrow, once the technology is mastered, sheet metal components could be manufactured—say, fenders and other body panels. One at a time, to any design, in hours instead of days or weeks, without expensive tooling or years of training.
There are multiple approaches currently in development, but the process shown here, which the automaker calls Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) works the metal sheet between a pair of processor-controlled syli. As the video suggests, so far the capabilities might be limited, but they’re just getting started. When the technology is perfected, imagine the implications for the custom car and auto restoration worlds: This could change everything. Watch.