Well, the article could've gone into a bit more detail, but I think 'selective laser sintering' was mentioned? I've seen a process like that years back where a metal powder is sintered into a 3D shape using a high-powered laser. Then the 3D part is cleaned of loose powder, cured in an oven and then dipped into molten bronze. Capillary action draws the bronze throughout the entire part. The finished piece is then just as strong as traditional cast bronze. Ever since, I've thought about making boat propellors this way.
I understand the printer shown is just what's used to share plastic prototypes, but without first showing us some of that laser sintering machinery, it's a bit disconcerting at first! I'm just wondering when the term 'rapid prototyping' becomes an outdated expression, where 'rapid manufacturing' is the new buzz and we can all talk about the merits of 'instant prototyping'! By the way, I don't recall the name, but I did see a company specilaizing in 3D printing plastic cores to be used for sand casting. The plastic was designed to burn out just like a 'lost wax' technique, and was intended for applications including engine blocks.
It's true that media coverage of 3D printing has exploded--but so has the industry, along with real-world applications. It may be so hard to believe because it sounds so much like sci-fi. But Contour Crafting's house-building technology is not smoke. NASA is investigating it, and other similar technologies, for use on the Moon: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1392&doc_id=250614 Meanwhile, several other 3D printing and related technologies are being developed for making buildings--not prototypes, not molds--some of them quite large: http://www.ubmfuturecities.com/author.asp?section_id=262&doc_id=523906
Printers and print-materials are getting cheaper. To the point where I am ready to drop the cash one a setup at a moment's notice. I am waiting for that moment, where it becomes a no-brainer on what to get. So far, all the options are not exactly blowing my hair back.
The article mixes some good information and news of Ford's investment/commitment along with similar hype to other articles over the last year or two.
It is unclear from the way things are stated, but it sounds like they are making 3D models, using them to make sand molds, then making 1 part per mold. That is somewhat novel, but far away from printing functional metal parts in 3D.
We used a similar process over a decade ago to make SLAs then use them to make silicone molds where plastic parts, which were functional enough for disk drive covers, bezels, etc., were cast. It is a smart innovation to take that process into making molds for sand casting.
There are limitations, of course; many parts in cars are made from cast metal, but many are not.
There are actual parts being made for the Air bus and the F35. for the Air bus TI brackets are being built that weigh about 65% of a machined TI bracket becaus you put the metal just where it needs to be and as these are low volume parts it save a tremendous amout of cost for stocking, and manufacturing spares.
The F35 has a very complex airduct/control valve being made tht is reducing the paper required compared for tracking the process QC, etc to a fabricated part from 1-1/2 inches thick to one page basiclly
for a good seminar on this there is a seminar on Laser additive manufacturing in a few weeks put on by the Laser Institute of America that has the latest info available in the world.