This article was discussed in our Next Byte podcast.
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Ford has set out to utilize 100% sustainable materials in all its vehicles and Dr. Deborah Mielewski is spearheading the efforts. Additive manufacturing is a great way to minimize waste during production but Ford's Sustainability division now aims to recycle any 3D printed waste to make fuel caps therefore creating a zero-waste production cycle.
3D printers already do a pretty good job at minimizing waste but what little material is left over typically finds its way into a landfill. Hewlett Packard (HP) produces many of the industrial 3D printers used by companies like Ford so finding a way to reuse the waste material is a no-brainer for two sustainability focused industry giants.
Volume is key if the goal is to use the waste material in production parts for mass produced vehicles; essentially, Ford needs to know that they'll have enough consistent waste to make their fuel-line clips. That's where SmileDirectClub comes in.
SmileDirectClub employs the largest 3D printing manufacturing operation in the United States and their fleet of 60 HP printers produces over 40,000 dental aligners every day. Excess powder and used parts from their systems make up a large portion of the waste material that Ford depends on for reusing.
Lavergne - a resin producer and longtime HP recycling partner - plays the critical role of taking the waste material from companies like SmileDirectClub and transforming them into high quality plastic pellets suitable for injection molding.
The recycled pellets make one last pit-stop before assembly with Ford supplier, ARaymond, so that they can be manufactured into the desired product.
So, what does all this effort and engineering lead to? A very impressive fuel-line clip that is 7% lighter and 10% cheaper than current models while being composed of 100% sustainable materials. Ford has already started incorporating the recycled fuel-line clip into the F-250 trucks I wouldn't be surprised to see similar sustainable products across their vehicle offerings in the near future.
Most consumers will most likely never notice the importance of their humble fuel-line clip; however, this collaboration is an important win on the journey to sustainability and hopefully will set a precedent for others to follow or be inspired by.