Ford develops 3D-printed nuts to prevent wheel theft

One of the many technologies that have appeared in recent years that will likely have a profound effect on the future of the automotive industry is 3D printing. The technology, also known as additive manufacturing, offers design flexibility to help reduce weight, improve performance and create parts that wouldn’t be possible using conventional methods.

Case in point is this development from Ford, which says it has harnessed 3D-printing tech to develop next-generation locking wheel nuts.

The company says that as car security systems become increasingly more sophisticated, thieves are targeting car parts instead, including alloy wheels, and together with EOS, a leading supplier for high-end solutions in additive manufacturing, Ford has created locking nuts with contours based on the driver’s voice, making them incredibly difficult nuts for thieves to crack.

So how does this work? Ford says a person’s voice can be used as a unique biometric identification. Engineers record the driver’s voice for a minimum of one second and use software to convert that 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 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.
If not using the driver’s voice, the nuts could feature designs specific to a vehicle, such as with the Mustang logo, or use the driver’s initials. Incredible stuff!

“It’s one of the worst experiences for a driver, to find their car up on blocks with all four wheels gone,” said Raphael Koch, Ford Advanced Materials and Processes research engineer. “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.”

Ford says it has increasingly used 3D printing to make prototype parts and to create assembly line tools that are up to 50 per cent lighter than the norm.

10 Feb 2020

Source: Motor Trader E-Magazine (Feb 2020)