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Ford is 3D printing unique wheel nut locks based on driver voices

Rachel England
Contributing Writer
Ford

If you've got a set of sweet alloys on your car, you've likely got them protected with locking nuts which can only be loosened with a special key. But these aren't invulnerable to thieves, who are increasingly targeting car parts as vehicle security becomes more sophisticated. As such, Ford has come up with a novel way of using 3D printing to keep your alloys safe.

Engineers at the automaker have designed locking nuts with unique contours based on the driver's voice. Software is used to convert soundwaves -- taken from driver saying something like "I drive a Ford Fiesta" -- into a physical, printable pattern. This is then turned into a circle and used as the design for the locking nut's indentation and key. It's essentially biometric identification for your wheels.

The nuts and key are 3D-printed using acid and corrosion resistant stainless steel. To prevent criminals from simply making a wax imprint of the pattern, each nut contains unevenly-spaced and gradually widening ribs and indentations within, so any wax applied to the nut breaks when it's pulled away.

As Raphael Koch, research engineer with Ford Europe, says, this innovation demonstrates how 3D printing can be a boon for automakers beyond simple parts creation. "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," he says. "Making wheels more secure and offering more product personalisation are further proof that 3D printing is a game-changer for car production."