Metal stamping is the quickest, most efficient way to bang millions of parts out of sheet metal. It also requires expensive dies and a big-ass press to sandwich and stamp the metal. This means that if an auto designer wants to evaluate, say, a radical new fender design, they've got to dig into the budget for new dies and wait weeks or months for those dies to be manufactured.
Unless, that is, they work for Ford. The Dearborn-based auto giant has commissioned a new type of rapid prototyping, which they're calling F3T (Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology). With F3T the sheet metal is suspended in space and lubricated while robot arms, one above and one mirrored below, simultaneously press and yield at their extremities to manipulate the sheet. This obviates the need for dies and can crank a new part out in just hours. Check it out:
Wicked, no? It's obviously not a production solution, but will clearly be a huge boon to designers, who no longer need to wait for new dies to be cut during the design phase. And while the three-axis nature of the arms means you still can't do crazy things like undercuts, it's hard not to be impressed by the complexity of the shapes that F3T is able to achieve.
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