Ford develops 3D-printed wheel nut as thief deterrent


Have you been a victim of wheel theft? Well, Ford has come up with an impressive solution to stop these unrelenting thieves dead in their tracks, and it involves 3D-printing. The technology behind it is rather interesting, so here’s how.

Ford has teamed up with EOS, a leading supplier for high-end solutions in additive manufacturing, to create locking nuts with contours based on a driver’s voice. Yes, voice, which Ford claims can be used as a unique biometric identification.

Engineers do this by recording the driver’s voice for a minimum of one second (an admittedly simpler process compared to smartphone voice assistants), using regular phrases such as “I drive a Ford Mustang.” A special software then converts that sound wave into a physical, printable pattern, which is then turned into a circle and used as a geometric design for the locking nut’s indentation and key.

With that in place, the nut and key are designed as a single piece, then 3D-printed using acid- and corrosion-resistant stainless steel. There’s also a secondary security feature that prevents the nut from being cloned or copied by thieves. There are unevenly spaced ribs and indentations on the inside which widens towards the bottom. That way, thieves won’t be able to make a wax imprint of the pattern, because the wax will break when it is pulled from the nut.

The nut design isn’t just limited to the driver’s voice. A person can choose, for example, specific designs such as the Mustang logo or his/her initials to design the geometric pattern. In fact, if the Sepang Circuit is your favourite racetrack, its layout could be used to design the nut as well.

Ford Advanced Materials and Processes research engineer, Raphael Koch said: “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.”

Ford 3D-Printed Wheel Nut
Ford 3D-Printed Wheel Nut

Ford is doubling down on 3D printing technology, a manufacturing process which helps reduce development time for new vehicles, and at the same time is more environmentally friendly because it produces less CO2. Ford is already 3D-printing parts found in the Ford GT, Focus, and Mustang GT500.

On its production line, Ford uses the technology to create assembly line tools that are up to 50% lighter, which makes repetitive tasks less physically stressful and helps improve manufacturing quality. Many of these tools are made of nylon, so Ford introduced a recycling programme that turns old 3D-printed pieces and plastics into 100% recycled nylon. It also creates 3D-printed safety equipment such as protection sleeves for use on the production line, which prevent operators from incurring finger and arm injuries.

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