How Ford is Applying Machining Techniques from Mobile to Make Fuel Efficient Cars

In Dearborn, Michigan, the Ford Motor Company showcased some of the advanced materials and manufacturing processes it is exploring to produce more fuel efficient cars of the future. One such process is the machining of the car’s doors and frame.

Rather than using stainless steel for the car frame, Ford is exploring with materials such as aluminum and magnesium, which are lighter materials that help to reduce the weight of the vehicle that in turn help to produce a fleet of more fuel efficient automobiles.

Heavier steel door on the rear/left side of the image is made in two pieces with a seam. The one on the front/right side of the image is machined from aluminum and is a single piece of metal, giving the door more strength.

Heavier steel door on the rear/left side of the image is made in two pieces with a seam. The one on the front/right side of the image is machined from aluminum and is a single piece of metal, giving the door more strength.

According to the Research and Engineering staff at the Ford Trends conference, the materials provide at least the same amount of structural support and integrity as the older materials that would be replaced. And in the case of moving the door frame from stainless steel to aluminum, there are several benefits.

First, the weight reduction is about half. The aluminum construction weighs about half as much as the steel construction. Second, aluminum can be machined or extruded. The process is similar to what Apple has been doing on its iPhone, iPad, and MacBook range in creating a unibody structure without seams. This helps to not only create a seamless look that’s more pleasing, but also adds a lot of structural integrity and strength. The same principles apply here with doors for Ford vehicles.

In Ford’s case, the stainless steel door is created by joining two pieces of steel together whereas the machined aluminum door frame is made using a single piece of extruded metal, which helps add strength.

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Car frame design: the one on the front is made from stainless steel, the rear is made from aluminum that's been extruded.

Car frame design: the one on the front is made from stainless steel, the rear is made from aluminum that’s been extruded.

And as far as moving to magnesium, that’s an even greater weight savings than moving to aluminum, though there would be some costs involved. Magnesium as a material has been used to strengthen the frames and build of PC laptops and notebooks for some time now. It’s a strong, lightweight material that stands up to flex.

So while it’s interesting to see car-makers innovate and apply new techniques and materials, those same principles have been explored already by smartphone, laptop, and tablet OEMs for some years now. Another mobile-first innovation that may be making it to future vehicles would be Gorilla Glass, which could also help to further reduce the weight of the vehicle and add to the fuel efficiency.

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