Ford has pioneered a new manufacturing technology that it believes will slash the development time of new design prototypes to days instead of months. The Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) uses two "stylus-type tools" that work together on opposite sides to transform a thin sheet of metal into a 3D prototype ready for use. If a designer wants to test a new chassis design, F3T is able to "print" a prototype from a CAD file in hours, removing time-intensive die engineering, construction, and machining from the equation.
F3T isn't designed for high-volume stamping; instead it helps Ford get prototypes into the hands of its engineers in the fastest time possible — outputting parts 60 times quicker than traditional processes. The company says it will reduce costs, improve vehicle research and development, and has the potential in the future to provide customers with a greater choice of car customizations — which could see consumers order sheet-printed parts for their new car. Ford believes F3T could also be put to work outside the automotive industry, helping companies in the aerospace, defense, and transportation industries develop concepts in a speedier manner.