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Ford Developes High-Tech Plasma Process That Can Save An Engine From The Scrapyard And Reduce CO2 Emissions

By Maddy Price
Wednesday, December 2, 2015 - 16:49

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Ford is recycling old engines so they can be used again with the help of a special Ford-patented plasma coating technology. The process delivers a 50 per cent reduction in CO2emissions compared with producing a new engine.

“We have taken a process that was originally developed to enhance performance models such as the all-new Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350R and used it to remanufacture engines that might otherwise be scrapped. It is just one example of how Ford is looking to reduce its environmental footprint through a range of innovative measures,” said Juergen Wesemann, manager, Vehicle Technologies and Materials, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering.

The Plasma Transferred Wire Arc thermal spray process and other sustainability innovations are being researched and developed at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Aachen, Germany, and around the world. The use of lightweight materials such as aluminium, carbon fibre and high-strength steels also are being researched and developed for improved fuel efficiency. Furthermore the research work also includes the use of renewable materials such as tomato fibres that are a by-product of Heinz Ketchup, bioplastics, and shrubs.

Engines that can be used again

Engines today are designed to operate for many years and several hundred thousand miles in all imaginable conditions. However, in instances when an engine does fail, it is common that faulty units are simply replaced with a new engine.

Plasma Transferred Wire Arc coating technology applies a spray to the inside of the engine block that helps restore it to its original factory condition.

“Traditional engine remanufacturing techniques can be prohibitively expensive, and energy intensive, requiring iron-cast parts and intricate machining processes. The Plasma Transferred Wire Arc coating technology removes the need for additional heavy parts and the processed engine block has a new life as the base of a replacement engine,” said Mark Silk, supervisor, Powertrain Products, Ford Customer Services Division Europe.

Lightweight materials

Creating lighter vehicles is a key to Ford’s Blueprint for Sustainability and includes the use of  new manufacturing techniques for high-strength aluminium enabling light-weighting, without sacrificing vehicle body strength.

Recently named 2016 Green Car Journal Green Truck of the Year at the San Antonio Auto & Truck Show, the Ford F-150 uses sustainable materials to help reduce its environmental footprint. REPREVE fiber, made from recycled plastic bottles, is available for the F-150’s cloth seats. By using this recycled material, Ford will divert more than 5 million plastic bottles from landfills this year. Other eco-conscious materials employed include rice hulls to reinforce plastic used in an electrical harness, fuel lines made from castor bean oil, seats made of soybeans and post-industrial recycled cotton.

Ford is now using an industry-first recycling concept for its F-150 production. The body shells for the F-150 are made using giant aluminium alloy sheets. Previously, those parts that remained after the body panels had been stamped would be reused, but downgraded to lower value “secondary aluminium”. Now Ford is recycling those parts into the body-stamping process, avoiding any requirement to downgrade.

And in Europe, current products applying a light-weighting philosophy include the B-MAX, Fiesta, all-new Mondeo and all-new S-MAX –delivering greater strength, improved safety with reduced weight, and enhanced sustainability.

The all-new Mondeo features an industry-first application of hydro-formed high-strength steel. This is used to produce the A-pillars, B-pillars, and roof rails. A new magnesium inner tailgate structure for the four- and five-door models delivers a weight-saving of approximately 40 per cent compared to a traditional steel equivalent.

The company’s engineers are now developing new production processes using low-cost, high-volume carbon fibre composites in future products. Used in aircraft production and racing cars, tailored carbon fibre provides high strength with extreme low weight. Working in partnership with DowAksa, Ford aims to reduce the energy needed to produce carbon fibre components, cut the cost of raw materials and develop recycling processes.

“This opportunity builds upon Ford’s current joint development agreement with Dow Chemical and accelerates our timeline to introduce carbon fibre composites into high-volume applications,” Wesemann said. “This collaboration helps us accelerate our efforts to create lighter automotive-grade composite materials that benefit customers by enabling improved fuel economy without sacrificing strength.”

Renewable materials – from shrubs to ketchup

In exploring how cars could be more environmentally friendly, Ford also is investigating the use of a wide range of renewable resources. Among them is a shrub called Guayule, found in Arizona, in the U.S., which is being investigated there for its potential to reduce the amount of rubber that is imported for use in auto production. Further plant-based rubber alternatives Ford is looking into include dandelions, sunflowers, and sugarcane.

Working with H.J. Heinz Company, Ford is also investigating the use of the dried tomato skins that are a by-product of Heinz Ketchup production. These tomato skins could become the wiring brackets in a Ford vehicle, or the storage bins used to hold coins and other small objects.

Ford has already used a hybrid plastic-metal for the first time, in the front grille of the Ford Focus, and created a prototype glove box using the plant sisal. As part of the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance, Ford also supports the responsible development of plastics made from plant material. The goal is to help to build a more sustainable future for the bioplastics industry.

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