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DINOSAUR FOSSIL IS ONE-OF-A-KIND MODEL FROM FORD
DEARBORN, Mich., July 7, 2008 - Ford has contributed the company's expertise in rapid parts prototyping to help bring "Leonardo"- a 77-million-year-old duckbill dinosaur - to life for researchers and potentially millions of museum visitors around the world.
This technology, which allows the company to generate three-dimensional solid models of complicated virtual designs quickly and economically, has helped Ford boost its initial vehicle quality to among the best in the industry. Now, Ford is using its rapid parts prototyping expertise to help create a life-size dinosaur prototype that will be used to create replicas for display and research.
According to National Geographic News, Leonardo is one of the most complete brachylophosaurus dinosaur fossils uncovered to date - and only the fourth in the world to be classified as a "mummy" because of its preserved soft tissue.
When he died, Leonardo was a 22-foot-long (seven meter) teenager, weighing between 1.5 to 2 tons. He sported polygonal, five-sided scales that ranged from the size of a BB (air gun pellet) to the size of a dime, and soft-tissue structures on his back suggest that he had a little sail frill running up it.
Ford's pro-bono rapid prototype work was conducted at one of the company's Non-Destructive Evaluation Laboratories in Dearborn Heights, Mich., which is equipped with computed tomography (CT), radiography and rapid prototyping capabilities.
"We have one of the largest CT scan machines in the world," says Ford's Martin Jones, technical leader at the lab. "To my knowledge, there are only three like it in existence. One belongs to Ford and the other two are owned by the government."
Most days, the Ford lab creates radiographic images such as the inside of a running transmission or high-fidelity solid models of parts such as engine manifolds.
"We use the technology to speed up the development process by eliminating the need to make expensive dies," he added. "It also allows our engineers to test new components for fit and function more upstream in the vehicle design process. That helps deliver great quality."
In the case of Leonardo, the lab created a high-fidelity model based on a series of CT scans that were taken of the fossil on-site at Montana's Dinosaur Field Station. The model is made of carefully engineered plastic. "The end prototype model is an exact replica of Leonardo that's lifelike and to size," says Jones.
Rapid prototyping encompasses two main technologies: Stereolithography Apparatus and Selective Laser Sintering. The former, which was used for the Leonardo prototype, uses intersecting laser beams to solidify a ‘vat' of engineered liquid plastic. The lasers scan through the vat and build a solid model layer by layer with very fine resolution - as fine as 10 one-thousandths of an inch.
The other technology is called Selective Laser Sintering. Here, a thin layer of powdered plastic material is wiped across a heated bed. A heater warms the powder up to just under its melting point. The laser is then scanned across the layer imparting just enough heat to melt the plastic, causing the powder to solidify.
Both techniques deliver parts with fine external and internal detail, including hollow areas, chambers and paths.
The Ford-built life-size rapid prototype of Leonardo is on its way to the South Dakota-based Black Hills Institute of Geological Research for molding and casting.
"Thanks to Ford, we will be able to create multiple clones of Leonardo that could be used for more touch-and-feel displays that will travel around the world," says Art Andersen, president of Virtual Surfaces Inc. and project leader of the dinosaur's 3-D scanning and imaging.
Ford's rapid prototyping of Leonardo has been filmed for a documentary about the dinosaur. The show is scheduled to air on the Discovery Channel later this year.
According to Joe Iacuzzo, Leonardo project manager, Ford's rapid prototyping also is helping preserve the original fossil.
"Leonardo is an once-in-a-lifetime discovery with skin, internal soft tissue and even intact stomach contents," he said. "If we would have had to create a typical mold and cast of Leonardo like we do with most dinosaur fossils, we could have greatly damaged him, especially his delicate skin."
The replicas created from the Ford rapid prototype likely will tour the world, including the U.S., Asia and Europe for at least six years. The original Leonardo fossil will be on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Houston later this year, eventually returning for permanent exhibit at the new Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta, Mont.
"Ford is making a significant contribution to science by giving millions of children the opportunity to see Leonardo and to find out just how exciting science can be," says Iacuzzo.
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Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles in 200 markets across six continents. With about 228,000 employees and about 90 plants worldwide, the company's core and affiliated automotive brands include Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Volvo and Mazda. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.ford.com.