Ford uses 3D printing for next-generation locking wheel nuts

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As car security systems become increasingly sophisticated and thieves turn to their attention to car parts, Ford engineers are using 3D printing technology to develop next-generation locking wheel nuts.

Together with EOS, a supplier for high-end solutions in additive manufacturing, Ford has created locking nuts with contours based on the driver’s voice.

Like an iris scan or a fingerprint, a person’s voice can be used as a unique biometric identification. Engineers record the driver’s voice for a minimum of one second, saying something like “I drive a Ford Mustang”. Then, rather cleverly, they turn this singular soundwave into a physical, printable pattern. This pattern is then turned into a circle and used as the design for the locking nut’s indentation and key.

With the geometry in place, the nut and key are designed as one piece, then 3D-printed using acid and corrosion resistant stainless steel. When finished, the nut and key are separated, with a small amount of grinding required to make them ready for use.

The design also includes second-level security features that prevent the nut from being cloned or copied. The unevenly spaced ribs inside the nut and indentations that widen the deeper they go prevent a thief from making a wax imprint of the pattern, as the wax breaks when it is pulled from the nut.

Says Raphael Koch, Ford Advanced Materials and Processes research engineer:

“It’s one of the worst experiences for a driver, to find their car up on blocks with all four wheels gone. Some alloy wheels can cost thousands to replace, but these unique rim nuts will stop thieves in their tracks. Making wheels more secure and offering more product personalisation are further proof that 3D printing is a game-changer for car production.”

Already Ford uses 3D printing to make prototype parts which help reduce the development time for new vehicles. The company has also used this technology to create parts that feature in the Ford GT, Focus and Mustang GT500, and will make more 3D-printed parts in the future. Special bespoke car parts are also 3D printed, including the intake manifold in Ken Block’s Hoonitruck and the pair of wind louvres found on the M-Sport Ford Fiesta World Rally Championship car.

Chris Price
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