Ford employs 'Javier' the robot to operate its 3D printers

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Ford reveals that it is now operating its 3D printers — used to manufacture low-volume, custom parts, such as a brake line bracket for the Performance Package-equipped Mustang Shelby GT500 — autonomously. As a result, the process increases production efficiency and helps lower the cost to make such products.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • What parts does Ford manufacture using 3D printing?

    Ford uses 3D printers for low-volume, custom parts, such as a brake line bracket for the Performance Package-equipped Mustang Shelby GT500.
  • How does Ford operate its 3D printers autonomously?

    Ford operates its 3D printers with Javier, a robot from from supplier Kuka.
  • ford-autonomous-3d-printer-robot-2

    "Javier," an innovative robot on wheels, operates the Blue Oval brand’s 3D printers at the Ford Advanced Manufacturing Center. The automaton, said Ford, works on his own and is always on time, very precise in his movements, and works most of the day — taking only a short break to charge up.

    Javier enables Ford to operate its 3D printers all night long, even after employees have left for the day. Not only does this increases throughput, but it also reduces the cost of custom-printed products.

    That said, Javier has become integral to the company’s development of an industry-first process to operate 3D carbon printers with an autonomous mobile robot rather than a fixed, stationary unit.

    “This new process has the ability to change the way we use robotics in our manufacturing facilities. Not only does it enable Ford to scale its 3D printer operations, it extends into other aspects of our manufacturing processes — this technology will allow us to simplify equipment and be even more flexible on the assembly line,” said Ford Director of Global Manufacturing Technology Development Jason Ryska.

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    Using 3D printers is not new to the automotive industry. In fact, Bentley has announced earlier this year that it has invested three million pounds in its manufacturing factory to double its 3D printing capacity. What Ford is doing with Javier, however, is revolutionary.

    Ford has achieved great accuracy with Javier, using his feedback to significantly reduce margins of error. In addition to 3D printers, the method can be applied to a vast array of robots already working at the company to achieve a similar result in terms of efficiency and reduced cost. In its drive to innovate, Ford has filed several patents related to the overall process, communication interfaces, and precise positioning of the robot, which does not require the use of a camera vision system to “see.”

    While the process itself is autonomous, Ford operators are still responsible for uploading 3D designs to the printer and maintaining the machinery, and for engineering new ways to use the technology.

    Photos from Ford

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