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Ford is turning 3D printer waste into production-quality auto parts

Ford turns 3D printer waste into production-quality auto elements

DETROIT – Instead of dumping garbage powder from its 3D printers in a landfill, Ford Motor Co. is using it in F-250 trucks.

The automaker discovered last year that the discarded by-product of 3D printed plastic parts can be recycled and used to make production-quality fuel line clips. Ford converted the F-250 in November and has since built more than 120,000 super-duty trucks with the new part.

According to Ford, the recycled clips have better chemical and moisture resistance than the version they buy from suppliers. They also weigh 7 percent less and are 10 percent cheaper.

“This stuff is like gold. People look at it and say it’s rubbish, but it’s better than what we buy, ”Debbie Mielewski, Ford’s sustainability technical officer, told Automotive News. “It shows what to do when you really freak out about trash.”

The automaker uses 100 percent of the waste generated by the 3D printers at its advanced manufacturing center in Redford, Michigan, but the amount of 3D printed parts it makes is still relatively small. To ensure Ford has enough waste to consistently turn it into recycled clips, the automaker has signed a deal with oral care company SmileDirectClub to provide additional supplies. Ford is also working with 3D printing company HP to increase the volume of waste as the recycled clips will be placed on additional nameplates.

Ford will take the waste and ship it to Canadian supplier Lavergne, who will then clean it, add some modifications and turn the powder into pellets. It is then shipped to another supplier, ARaymond, who will turn the pellets into automotive fuel line clips.

“It really helps everyone,” said Mielewski. “We are very proud to find this application.”

Mielewski has helped develop auto parts out of everything in recent years, from soybeans to pulp, coffee beans and agave plant fibers. In most cases, your team will spend years testing a product before it’s just right.

Waste powder applications came together in just a year after Mielewski traveled to Palo Alto, California to meet with HP executives to discuss 3D printing possibilities.

While HP tries to avoid as much unnecessary waste as possible, Mielewski realized that in most automotive applications, 3D printers can produce up to 50 percent waste, based on the size of certain parts and the number of machine failures.

“3D gives you more sustainable manufacturing processes, but we’re always looking to do more to advance our industry and find new ways to reduce, reuse and recycle powders and parts,” said Ellen Jackowski, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer at HP. said in a statement. “Our collaboration with Ford expands the environmental benefits of 3D printing even further and shows how we are bringing together completely different industries to make better use of used manufacturing materials and enable a new circular economy.”

The latest application is part of Ford’s goal of using 100 percent sustainable materials in its vehicles. Mielewski said the automaker is open to working with other companies looking to clean up the waste from 3D printers.

“These closed economies cannot be done on their own,” she said. “I would like to use all of the Ford waste in another Ford product, but sometimes you need other companies and we’ve already found some willing partners.”