Ford taps Carbon3D’s CLIP technology

Raj Nair, Group Vice President of Global Product Development and Chief Technology Officer of Ford Motor Company, announced details about the company’s early access to Carbon3D’s Continuous Liquid Interface Production (CLIP) technology. Ford began testing a pre-release version of Carbon3D’s first CLIP-based device in December 2014 and has demonstrated the ability to unlock mechanical properties unattainable with any other 3D printing technology.

Ford has already successfully applied the technology to current and future vehicle model designs, and is leveraging CLIP to research new automotive relevant materials. “Carbon3D’s CLIP technology has allowed us to realize our need for high-speed, high-quality printing of actual automotive-grade parts,” says Raj Nair. “We are excited to further our relationship and look forward to innovating together to make 3D manufacturing a reality.”

The CLIP technology uses a tuneable photochemical process instead of the traditional mechanical approach, eliminating the deficiencies of conventional layer-by-layer 3D printing, to rapidly transform 3D models into physical objects. CLIP carefully balances the interaction of UV light, which triggers photo polymerization, and oxygen, which inhibits the reaction, allowing objects to continuously grow from a pool of resin. The mechanical properties of the resulting parts are applicable in a range of industries, including aerospace, industrial goods, medical, dental and automotive. The predictable mechanical properties allow for part creation across the range of needs for Ford vehicles.

Joseph DeSimone, CEO and Co-founder of Carbon3D: “Working with Ford offers a great opportunity to further prove our technology’s ability to produce the wide range of material and mechanical properties that are needed across the automotive industry to truly achieve 3D manufacturing.”

Ford worked to produce elastomer grommets, which are used in the door of the vehicle between the door and the body side, for the Focus Electric and tested them against those made by traditional 3D printing methods. The grommets were made in less than a third of the time with the CLIP-based device and the material properties were much closer to the final desired properties for the part. The grommets allows wiring to be protected from being cut and damaged by sheet metal inside the vehicle. In a similar study, several alternative designs were evaluated for a damping bumper part on the Ford Transit Connect using CLIP technology. The game-changing manufacturing time allowed engineers to make design iterations much more quickly than with traditional methods.

Most recently, while placing a V8 engine into a new vehicle body design, which has created an unreachable oil filler cap because the engine sat lower and farther back under the hood, Ford’s product engineering team has rapidly designed, prototyped and manufactured an oil connector using rigid polyurethane and elastomer materials to access the oil fill tube, using CLIP.

Beyond the current vehicle applications, Ford has also been able to expand its own materials research because of CLIP’s gentle process and dedication to high quality polymeric materials. To date, the team has tested several materials including resins reinforced with nano-sized particles. The automaker is eager to further investigate resin modifications for improved mechanical properties and consider the creation of thermally and electrically conductive materials for future vehicle applications.

“We’re thrilled. The parts we’ve produced are mechanically strong, just like injection molded parts. That’s the target we’ve set for an automotive grade part,” says Ellen Lee, Team Leader, Additive Manufacturing Research at Ford. “The chemistry that Carbon3D has based their resins on has significant potential to yield functional, durable materials. We’re excited to be able to tap into their technology to create new automotive relevant materials and applications for digital manufacturing. It’s revolutionary.”