Car wheel theft is a real thing. It is particularly alarming when the wheels are made of expensive alloys. The problem has caught the attention of car manufacturers and they are now trying to come up with solutions involving 3D printing.
The idea is based on the development of locking nuts for the wheel using 3D printing which requires a special adapter to loosen. This is a solution that is already in application but even these can be cracked for those willing to go to greater lengths such as cloning them.
Ford’s improved idea is to 3D-print the locking nut and key (in stainless steel) with a design unique to each vehicle. That will make cloning or copying of the locks pointless as it can only be used for one car.
Engineers at the automaker have designed locking nuts with unique contours based on the driver’s voice. A special Software converts soundwaves taken from the driver saying something like “I drive a Ford Fiesta” into a physical, printable pattern. Algorithms turn the result into a circle and used as the design for the locking nut’s indentation and key. It’s essentially biometric identification for your wheels.
Further security measures to prevent cloning include unevenly spaced ribs within the nut, along with indentations that get wider (further into the nut), and these moves ensure a thief can’t make a wax imprint of the unique pattern – because the wax won’t be able to survive being pulled out of the nut in one piece.
The car manufacturer further notes that the voice of the driver doesn’t have to be used to create the pattern for the locking nut, but something simpler could be employed which is still unique to the individual – such as an outline of their favorite racetrack.
Ford will be collaborating with EOS, a leading outfit in industrial metal 3D printing to make its next-generation locking wheel nuts.
Ford cars already contain parts created by 3D printers – including the Ford GT, Focus and Mustang GT500 – and will increasingly make use of these components going forward.
Wheel security with 3D printing
Raphael Koch, advanced materials and processes research engineer at Ford, commented: “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 personalization is further proof that 3D printing is a game-changer for car production.”
Alastair Jennings, our resident 3D printer expert, had the following thoughts on Ford’s innovation: “3D printing opens up a wealth of personalized opportunities for manufacturers and promotes iterative design and development across the automotive industry.
“Ford’s use of the technology to create bespoke biometric wheel locks is just one application, with other manufacturers such as BMW rapidly increasing the use of additive manufacturing to enable the development of the likes of the i8.
“3D printing enables an iterative design process. Prototypes can be created and tested in days rather than weeks and months – this creates efficiencies and advances the development of car tech in a way that has never previously been possible.”