Just when you thought that sheet metal forming technology couldn’t progress much further Ford Motor Company has managed to almost re-invent the wheel. The machine shown in their video below is called ‘Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology’ (F3T) and is a cross between a sheet metal press tool and a 3D printer.
The machine uses a pair of opposed delta robots where the upper robot carries a stylus and the lower robot carries what I will suggest is a conical die. The component design is developed into a path for the stylus similar to the way a CNC cutter path is created although I assume the process is much more complex as stretching the material needs to be accounted for through computational analysis. The robots work in unison to track the program’s path and stretch the material to achieve the final design.
At the moment the speed of the process lends itself to prototype parts but Ford claim that low volume production parts could also be made. I hope that this technology moves beyond the four walls of Ford and used in other applications from low volume aerospace components to customisable consumer goods.