At Ford’s RIC – Research & Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, the automotive leader is using intuitive software to automate the design of additive manufactured production tools. The software was created by the Berlin-based company trinckle, whose flagship software “paramate” simplifies the design process for user-specific products, whether that’s consumer goods like eyewear or the mass customisation of copper inductors, which saw the company scoop last year’s TCT Industrial Product Application Award.
While it’s no secret that producing tools and manufacturing aids via traditional methods are expensive, Ford found that up to 50% of its total costs per tool were in fact in the manual design step, “the new bottleneck” as Lars Bognar, a research engineer at Ford Research & Advanced Engineering Europe, calls it.
To overcome that, trinckle has worked with Ford to develop an internal application for the efficient generation of labelling jigs – a hand tool used to accurately place name and model badges on the body of a vehicle.
“For each new line and each special edition, these tools must be specifically designed to position the badges with exact accuracy,” Bognar explained. “This design task is not a trivial one, as the tools have to adapt precisely to the free-form surfaces of the car body sheet. It can easily last between two and four hours to create an appropriate AM-ready design.”
Within the software, the user simply uploads the model data of the car body and paramate’s algorithms then automatically generate the geometry of the tool to fit the contour of the car and form the base of the new jig. Additional elements such as handles, magnet mounts for fixation and edge guides can then be added by simply clicking on where the engineer wishes to place them. This particular application has reduced the design process from 2-4 hours down to just 10 minutes without the need for a CAD or AM-trained engineer. Ford believes this has the potential to save thousands of Euros per tool, which, considering its Ford Focus alone is manufactured using over 50 custom designed jigs, tools and fixtures, could account for colossal savings across multiple models.
“The labelling jig itself is not different from the jigs we have seen before. The innovation is that you don’t need a CAD experienced person for the final design. The software application is so intuitive that anyone, with a little bit of technical understanding, can create such a jig,” Dr. Ole Bröker, Head of Business Development & Consulting at trinckle, told TCT. “Ford’s goal is to enable employees on the shop floor to do the design adaptions on their own, within some boundaries of course. This would mean opening the design process for those who work with the tools on a daily basis.”
The designs are sent directly to Ultimaker Cura software and 3D printed on-site using, for example, desktop Ultimaker S5 machines, which Ford has installed inside its shop floors across Europe. Though this application is still in the R&D department, after a successful pilot, trinckle says the possibilities are wide open.
Bröker added: “We just picked the low hanging fruit with these labelling jigs and of course we go further, we are already working on the next application within the field of production and assembly means at Ford. These are a great use cases for our paramate software because these tool geometries are very use case specific. They are not even too complex in many cases, but they still demand a lot of time-consuming manual design work. We try to get rid of that.”