What's Trending: Ford's Advanced Prototyping; Lawsuit Over Meat Labeling Rule

Here's a deeper look into the top trending stories in manufacturing today based on reader feedback. Fiat to buy more Chrysler stock; Ford's new advanced prototyping facility; concerns over Smithfield's takeover by a Chinese firm; lawsuit filed over U.S. meat labeling rule; and how the Senate's immigration bill would remake the economy.

Here's a deeper look into the top trending stories in manufacturing today based on reader feedback. Fiat to buy more Chrysler stock; Ford's new advanced prototyping facility; concerns over Smithfield's takeover by a Chinese firm; lawsuit filed over U.S. meat labeling rule; and how the Senate's immigration bill would remake the economy. 

Fiat Exercises Option To Buy More Chrysler Stock

DETROIT (AP) –- Italian automaker Fiat has exercised a third option to buy a small amount of Chrysler stock. But the sale won't go through until a price dispute is settled by a judge. Fiat says it offered $254.7 million on Monday for another 3.3 percent of Chrysler's outstanding equity. Read more here.

According to a USA Today article, merging the companies would give Fiat access to Chrysler's cash. Currently, Fiat shares in Chrysler's profits but can't use the Detroit automaker's funds for its own operations.

Fiat is struggling to restructure its European operations as it continues to deal with a recession that has driven new car sales to their lowest level in about 30 years. The gist of the restructuring calls for development of new cars that can be sold in Europe and exported to other parts of the world, including the U.S.

Ford Creates Advanced Prototyping Facility

DEARBORN, Mich. – Continuing to lead the way in technology and advanced manufacturing, Ford Motor Company is developing a new form of manufacturing technology that has the potential to reduce costs and delivery time for sheet metal parts needed in smaller quantities.

The development is based on Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T), a unique, patented manufacturing process developed at the Ford Research and Innovation Center. Through this process, a piece of sheet metal is clamped around its edges and formed into a 3D shape by two stylus-type tools working in unison on opposite sides of the sheet metal blank. Similar to a digital printer, after the CAD data of a part are received, computer-generated tool paths control the F3T machine to form the sheet metal part into its final shape to the required dimensional tolerances and surface finish.

“The technology behind F3T is yet another example of Ford leading in the advanced manufacturing space,” said John Fleming, executive vice president, global manufacturing and labor affairs. “As we forge ahead with cutting-edge technologies in manufacturing like flexible body shops, robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality and others, we want to push the envelope with new innovations like F3T to make ourselves more efficient and build even better products.”

Currently, traditional stamping processes are energy-intensive, and it often takes several months for the first part to move from concept to production. While traditional processes remain the most efficient method for high-volume stamping, efficiencies for low-volume production can be achieved with the flexibility F3T provides. Benefits of F3T include:

  • Low cost: Geometric-specific forming dies are completely eliminated, along with the high cost and long lead time associated with die engineering, construction and machining 
  • Fast delivery time: The technology aims to enable the delivery of a sheet metal part within three business days from the time the CAD model of the part is received. With the current technology, parts are delivered anywhere from two to six months using conventional methods – up to approximately 60 times longer than the potential turnaround time for F3T 
  • More flexibility: Once fully developed, F3T will help to improve the vehicle research and development process, allowing for more flexibility in quickly creating parts for prototypes and concept cars. Currently, creating a prototype die can take six to eight weeks, and developing a full prototype vehicle usually takes several months and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. F3T could produce sheet metal parts for prototypes in just days for essentially no cost

F3T has the potential to allow for greater personalization options, adding the ability for buyers to customize vehicle bodywork. F3T is also expected to have broad applications outside of the automotive industry, including use in the aerospace, defense, transportation and appliance industries.

The project is part of a three-year, $7.04 million U.S. Department of Energy grant to advance next-generation, energy-efficient manufacturing processes. Led by Ford, other collaborators include Northwestern University, The Boeing Company, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn State Erie. Five innovative manufacturing projects were awarded a total of $23.5 million by the Department of Energy in March to advance clean manufacturing and help U.S. companies increase their competitiveness.

“The F3T sheet metal forming process is one of many advanced manufacturing technologies under development at Ford,” said Randy Visintainer, director of Ford Research and Innovation. “We developed this process during the past four years for small-scale applications in a laboratory setting, and the DOE award enables us to scale the process for larger applications and a full prove-out for manufacturing feasibility.”

You can check out a video of the new Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology (F3T) here

RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) -- The head of Smithfield Foods Inc. is trying to ease concerns that the proposed takeover of the world's largest pork producer by a Chinese company would pose risks to the U.S. food supply.

CEO Larry Pope testified Wednesday at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on the pending deal struck in May with Shuanghui International, China's largest meat producer. The plan, which is subject to federal and shareholder approvals, is expected to close later this year. It would be the largest takeover of a U.S. company by a Chinese firm, valued at about $7.1 billion including debt. Read more here.

In a recent WSJ article, Starboard Value LP, the activist hedge fund that owns a big stake in Smithfield Foods Inc., indicated it is hiring advisers to help press its case for a different deal for the pork producer than one already agreed to with China's Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd., according to people familiar with the matter.

Starboard argued then that Smithfield, based in the Virginia town of the same name, would be worth more if it were broken up into three parts—U.S. pork production, hog farming and international sales of fresh and packaged meats—and then sold.

Meat Groups Sue USDA Over Meat Labeling Rule

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) -- Requiring meat labels to have more details about a product's origins is too costly and serves no public health or safety benefit, industry groups said in announcing a lawsuit against U.S. Department of Agriculture over new labeling rules. Read more here.

Manufacturing Business Technology reader David commented by saying: "It's called consumer democracy. We have a right to know what we eat and where it comes from. Pretty simple."  

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Landmark immigration legislation passed by the Senate would remake America's workforce from the highest rungs to the lowest, bringing more immigrants into numerous sectors of the economy, from elite technology companies to restaurant kitchens and rural fields. Read more here.

But the Senate's bill may be stalled. In a recent POLITICO aritcle Rep. Dave Camp, the influential House Ways and Means Committee chairman, said Thursday the Senate immigration bill is unconstitutional because it raises revenue.

“The Senate bill is unconstitutional, as it includes a number of revenue-related measures such as fees, penalties, surcharges and the non-payment of taxes,” Camp (R-Mich.) said in a statement. “As such, any consideration of the Senate bill in the House would also be unconstitutional. The House will have to consider its own legislation.”

If you'd like to weigh-in about What's Trending In Manufacturing, leave a comment below or Email me at Jon.Minnick@advantagemedia.com.