Ford employees order their own 3D printed tools via app

Ford has opened a European 3D printing center in Cologne. Mainly tools and fixtures will be printed here, but the 3D printers can also be used for 3D printing parts for test and start-up series. What is special is that every Ford employee can order his own tools via an app.


3D printing has been going on at Ford’s development center in Merzenich (near Cologne) since the early 1990s. Ford has also built up a lot of experience with 3D printing in the US. At the factory in Valencia, a special team has now adapted 5,000 parts for 3D printing and placed them in an online catalogue. This tooling is used in several places in the assembly process.

Thousands of parts for new electric model already printed

Conscious choice for start-up mentality

Ford is now taking the next step at the Cologne site with the new print center. What is special is that the car manufacturer is making the technology easily accessible to all Ford employees. Through an app they can submit a sketch of assembly tools they need; or they describe what they need. For example, a door edge protector has already been produced and is currently being tested on the line in final assembly and may be used at other stations in the future. An ergonomically improved mounting aid for airbags is also being tested. Parts are already being 3D printed for the future production of the first e-model “made in Cologne”, with 1,800 crash protectors currently being built for the new door transport system. These ensure that the doors are not damaged during transport to the line. “We aim for a start-up approach with short distances and little bureaucracy,” says Oliver Färber, who, as plant manager of the engine factory, is also responsible for the 3D printing center. “The parts requested by the employees are then specially designed by the 3D printing team and can therefore be produced very quickly.”

The largest of the twelve 3D printers at Ford prints parts up to 2.4 by 1.2 meters, 1 meter high and a weight of 15 kilograms. Ford sees 3D printing as one of the building blocks for digital manufacturing in the Industry 4.0 era.

Sustainability: recycling granulate

In addition to the flexibility of 3D printing personalized tools and fixtures, it can also save time and money in small quantities – up to 80 percent compared to the conventional injection molding process. There is also a sustainability aspect; 3D printing requires significantly less material and the material waste generated during the process can be reused. The Manufacturing and Materials team at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen is currently working on a pilot project to recycle granulate for 3D printing.

Reorganization in Europe

Ford Europe announced a reorganization last week. In total, Ford wants to cut 3,800 jobs in Europe to make the organization leaner. In two years’ time, 2,800 jobs will have been cut, most of them in Germany (2,300) and the United Kingdom (1,300). At the same time, investments are being made in European factories, especially in Cologne, for the production of electric cars.

The largest of the twelve 3D printers at Ford prints parts up to 2.4 by 1.2 meters, 1 meter high and a weight of 15 kilograms. Ford sees 3D printing as one of the building blocks for digital manufacturing in the Industry 4.0 era. The factory in Cologne will continue to focus on the construction of electric cars.



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