Ford is using 3D printing to stop thieves from stealing your fancy alloys

Ford 3D printed wheel nuts
(Image credit: Ford)

Expensive alloy wheels can be a target for thieves, but Ford intends to use 3D printing as a weapon to defeat those aiming to make off with your fancy alloys.

The battle against wheel thieves has led car manufacturers to develop locking nuts for the wheel which require a special adapter to loosen, but even these can be cracked for those willing to go to greater lengths such as cloning them.

Ford’s idea is to 3D-print the locking nut and key (in stainless steel) with a design unique to each vehicle, ensuring cloning or copying methods aren’t possible.

And in a nifty touch, that unique pattern can be created from the driver’s voice. Ford engineers will record the driver saying a short sentence, and then use software to convert that sound wave into a printable circular pattern, which is used for the indentation of the locking nut and matching key.

Ford 3D printed wheel nuts

(Image credit: Ford)

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’s next-generation locking wheel nuts will be produced in conjunction with EOS, a leading outfit in industrial metal 3D printing.

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. And evidently these nifty wheel nuts will be part of that plan.

Wheel security

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 are 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.”

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).