Ford Motor Company

Combining customization and functionality:
Unique AM Locking Wheel Nuts


Engineers at Ford have developed locking wheel nuts that leverage several strengths of the 3D printing technology at once: one-time production, internal functions and customized design.

Expensive alloy wheels are frequently the target of thieves worldwide
Mass-produced nuts offer only one layer of protection due to their accessibility.
Secured by uniqueness and invisible, internal geometric features
Enabled co-creation: driver’s voice pattern defines the shape of the lock
Rapid developments: from sketch to POC in < 1 year.

From production tools to end-parts

Ford Motor Company and trinckle can already look back on a longer partnership: So far, the two companies have worked together in the context of jigs and fixtures - more precisely in their automated design. Now we go one step further by looking at additively manufactured end parts.

The field of activity: Theft protection

As car security systems become increasingly more sophisticated, thieves are targeting car parts instead, including alloy wheels. One method to deter wheel thieves is to use locking nuts, one on each wheel, which require a special adapter, or key, to loosen. But even these are not invulnerable. Even in smaller quantities, these are still available as standard products on the market.

That was the trigger for Lars Bognar and Raphael Koch, responsible engineers at Ford Research & Advanced Engineering Europe, to take a closer look at the topic.

AM offers one-of-a-kind geometries with integrated functionality

The first tests concentrated on creating one-time geometry pairs that could not be scanned or copied due to their special internal geometry structure. 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.

Customization: Integrating the driver into the creation process!

The locking wheel nuts would by definition come in one-time geometries. Therefore, Ford saw the chance to individualize these visible parts for each customer. But how should these designs be created both individually and efficiently at the same time?

“This is where the trinckle team came in and introduced an approach that allows each customer to intuitively create their own geometry: by voice input.”

Lars Bognar, Ford Research & Advanced Engineering Europe

Similar to a fingerprint, the driver’s voice is recorded for a few seconds and the web-based software converts that singular soundwave into a physical, printable pattern. This pattern is used as the circular design for the locking nut’s indentation and key. The intuitive web application is based on trinckle’s design automation platform paramate and can be accessed by any notebook or smartphone.

AM applications will only succeed in partnerships

With an automated co-design workflow in place, the nut and key are additively manufactured using acid and corrosion resistant EOS StainlessSteel 17-4PH. Here, too, Ford is working successfully in partnerships: with the help of EOS and Additive Minds, it was possible to qualify a suitable production process and a matching material within a short time.

In general, the application is a good example of the high speed that additive manufacturing allows for development projects. In significantly less than one year, the first sketches were turned into a functional Prove-of-Concept.

“We believe that in additive manufacturing it is crucial to rely on cooperation with experts of their fields - like EOS or trinckle - in order to be able to work at high speed and at the pulse of time.”

Raphael Koch, Ford Research & Advanced Engineering Europe
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