Formlabs helps speed up product development at Ford and launches new 3D printing resin

Just four months after commencing shipping of its Form 3L system, 3D printing leader Formlabs has shared how its large-format Low Force Stereolithography platform is being deployed by engineers at Ford Spain.

The Valencia-based Ford Body and Assembly Plant is the first European car manufacturer to bring the technology in house for the rapid production of prototypes and manufacturing tools. According to Formlabs, almost 100 different parts have been printed so far but one particular part has shown how the automotive giant can now go through an entire production cycle from design to end-use part all on site.

“For us, it was the first time to use 3D printing for this purpose, but we are very happy with the result”, comments Carlos Cambralla, Reliability and Maintenance Engineer at the Valencia plant where the Form 3L is being used to manufacture plastic caps used in vacuum testing to check engines for leakages. These specific caps need to be both flexible enough to seal tightly and avoid leakages but durable enough to withstand low pressure during testing. With just 1,000 parts required and a large build volume of 33.5 × 20 × 30 cm to work with on the 3L (slightly larger than a sheet of A4 paper), engineers were able to pack multiple pieces into a single print job and produce end-use parts cost effectively when compared to outsourcing production. Ford is also said to have used the same SLA technology to make replacements for broken LED push buttons on electronic devices using transparent Clear Resin. 

Resonating with popular claims made last year by leading industry voices around additive manufacturing’s (AM) ability to make supply chains more agile and resilient, particularly following the impact of COVID-19 related disruptions, Formlabs EMEA Managing Director Stefan Hollaender, said: “With the help of 3D printing, prototypes can be developed much faster, but also finished, fully operational parts can be produced within a very short time. Especially in this day and age, it is even better not to have to rely on extensive supply chains, but to have the autonomy to produce such parts quickly in your own facility.”

Formlabs unveiled the Form 3L alongside the smaller Form 3 system back in 2019. The machines are the first to feature the company’s Low Force Stereolithography process, a “completely re-engineered” approach to its established SLA technology, and have since been joined by two dental platforms for the manufacture of biocompatible, medical and dental products. 

This week the company has also expanded its 3D printing materials library with the introduction of Castable Wax 40 Resin. The jewellery-oriented material is the company’s 30th to date following recent additions of Rigid 10K, the stiffest material in its entire portfolio, and the Draft Resin. Designed for lost wax casting, Castable Wax 40 Resin is said to produce results similar to that of traditional blue carving wax thanks to a 40 percent wax-filled make up that is said to be capable of supporting traditional casting conditions.

The material was developed with input from world-leading gemstone authority GIA​ and jewellery supplier ​Rio Grande​ to ensure suitability for end-use jewellery. 

Scott Bradford, Jewelry Tech Team at Rio Grande, shared how the material is now making it much easier to cast even larger jeweller items: “Casting thicker pieces in resin always presented unique challenges, whether it’s lettering on a class ring, models with thick cross-sections, or generally dealing with the casting defects from bulky resin models. Formlabs has really outdone themselves with the CW40 resin because now, casting larger models are back on the table. CW40 performed amazingly similar to regular injection wax, the high wax content allows sprues to stick more securely, and the surface finish is top notch. It actually feels like wax in your hands. Many investment breakout issues around lettering and micro-prongs are gone.”

The launch comes with a projection from Formlabs that “the next era of 3D printing won’t be driven by hardware, but by materials,” a trend we’re seeing continue to grow in the AM sector through acquisitions such as Covestro’s 1.61 billion USD takeover of DSM’s Resins & Functional Materials business back in October, and over in metals where major companies like Sandvik are focusing heavily on AM powder development.

Kathy Bui, Formlabs Engineering Vertical Lead, said: “At Formlabs, we’re always working on pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in additive manufacturing and materials are central to that. New materials unlock new applications, from everyday products like a pair of shoes used in a marathon to medical devices and surgical guides that assist in the operating room.”

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