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Ford has teamed up with Hewlett-Packard (HP) to turn spent 3D-printed powder and parts into stronger, lighter, and more cost-effective vehicle parts. The recycled, injection-molded parts will first be used on Ford’s Super Duty F-250 trucks and have better chemical and moisture resistance than conventional versions. As 3D printing becomes more common in many industries, Ford and HP hope that this partnership can create something good from something that could have been harmful. “Many companies are finding great uses for 3D printing technologies, but, together with HP, we’re the first to find a high-value application for waste powder that likely would have gone to landfill, transforming it into functional and durable auto parts,” said Debbie Mielewski, a Ford technical fellow.
Why This Matters: 3D printing makes use of plastic and metal powders that, when disposed of in landfills, can contaminate groundwater and end up in the air, harming human health. To combat this, HP has already implemented practices that minimize waste, but by working with Ford, the company says its 3D printing operations will be zero-waste. The unlikely partnership is also a step toward new industry and old industry working together toward sustainability. Much like green energy companies working with oil and coal companies to transition communities, economic partnerships like these will be key to achieving a strong, net-zero economy in the future.
Teamwork Breeds Innovation
The partnership isn’t just solving pollution problems, it’s also accelerating new sustainable technology. The world is running out of time to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and halt catastrophic temperature rise, but Mielewski says anything is possible when companies pool resources toward the common good. “A key to achieving our sustainability goals and solving the broader problems of society is working with other like-minded companies – we can’t do it alone,” she said. “With HP, we defined the waste problem, solved technical challenges, and found a solution in less than one year, which is something in which we all take pride.”
It’s not just Ford and HP putting in the work. SmileDirectClub, which operates the largest facility of HP 3D printing systems in the U.S., produces more than 40,000 dental aligners a day. The resulting used 3D printed parts are collected and sent to resin producer Lavergne, where the plastic molds are transformed into recycled plastic pellets for injection molding. Through this team effort, the same dental mold that straightened a teen’s teeth may very well end up in their first car.
Several automakers have come forward with plans to make their fleets 100% electric in the next 15 years, but Ford has taken it one step further, pledging to also achieve 100% sustainable materials in all of its vehicles.
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