Companies are continuing to reap the benefits of 3D printing, a decades-old technology that has increased in popularity over the past few years as the prices of printing machines and materials have come down.
The Wall Street Journal recently took a look at how three major U.S. manufacturers — Ford, GE and Mattel — are using 3D printing to cut costs and production times during the prototyping phase.
Ford uses the technology to print cylinder heads, brake rotors and rear axels for test vehicles. Thanks to 3D printing, production time for one type of cylinder head, used in its fuel-efficient EcoBoost engines, is cut down from four to five months to three, shaving 25% to 40% off production time. Earlier casting methods required that the mold be cut from sand; 3D printing allows Ford to skip the cutting process and pour the metal directly into the molds.
GE, meanwhile, says that 3D printing is helping the company cut production costs of certain parts, including an ultrasound probe, by up to 30%.
In the future, Ford believes its customers will be able to print replacement parts for their vehicles at a local 3D printer in a matter of hours or even minutes. Mattel, for its part, has no such plans to allow customers to print their own Barbie dolls or other toys, citing child safety concerns.