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3D-printed locking wheel nuts to thwart thieves

3D-printed locking wheel nuts to thwart thieves

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 vulnerable, leading Ford engineers to harness 3D printing technology to develop next-generation locking wheel nuts.

Together with EOS, a supplier for high-end solutions in additive manufacturing, Ford has created locking nuts with contours based on the driver's voice.

Like an iris scan or a fingerprint, a person's voice can be used as a unique biometric identification. Engineers record the driver's voice for a minimum of one second, saying something like "I drive a Ford Mustang", and use software to convert that singular soundwave into a physical, printable pattern. This pattern is then turned into a circle and used as the design for the locking nut's indentation and key.

With the geometry in place, the nut and key are designed as one piece, then 3D-printed using acid and corrosion resistant stainless steel. When finished, the nut and key are separated, with a small amount of grinding required to make them ready for use.

The design also includes second-level security features that prevent the nut from being cloned or copied. The 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, as the wax breaks when it is pulled from the nut.

If not using the driver's voice to create the contours, the nuts could feature designs specific to a vehicle, such as with the Mustang logo, or use the driver's initials. The design could also take inspiration from a driver's interest, for example, by using the outline of a famous racetrack.

Raphael Koch, Ford advanced materials and processes research engineer, 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."

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Jan/Feb 2020
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