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With 3D Printing, Ford Brings Products To Market Faster

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Audience wearing special glasses watch a 3D 'stereoscopic film' (UK National Archives)

Audience wearing special glasses watch a 3D 'stereoscopic film' (UK National Archives)

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3D printing is a hot topic these days. Though the technology is still evolving, over the next few years it should become possible for laypeople everywhere to print hardware, jewelry, and other three-dimensional objects right in their own homes.

The technology will also have a huge effect on the way our vehicles are built and maintained.  Last year, we told you that file-sharing site Pirate Bay had created a special sub-section just for auto parts, which should make life for vintage car fans much, much easier.

Automakers are using 3D printers, too. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ford uses the devices to print parts for testing -- parts like axles and brake rotors. It's been using various forms of 3D printing technology since the 1980s, but today's printers are cheaper, faster, and more efficient than they've ever been. 

For example, Ford now uses 3D printers to build prototype cylinder heads for its EcoBoost engines. Not so long ago, that process would've been done largely by hand, and it took up to five months to complete, from the beginning of the project to the cutting of the part from the mold.

With 3D printers, the process is whittled down to three months. Even better, printers can crank out multiple molds, so engineers can compare variants more quickly.

Ford doesn't print parts for its production vehicles just yet, but that day is likely coming soon. We'd also expect Ford to sell 3D plans for replacement parts, which owners could purchase and print themselves or at a local 3D printer.

In-home 3D printers are still on the pricey side -- Staples offers one for just under $1,300 -- and the list of materials they can use remains limited. But new models are rolling out every week, and a company on Kickstarter is offering its 3D printer (now fully funded) for less than $400. We live in interesting times, no?

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