Of all recycled products in the U.S., there is one that makes up the majority. Every year, 25 million tons of materials are recovered and recycled from automobiles. The scrap metal is often used for new vehicles, making the automotive industry more sustainable.
But the extent of environmental sustainability in the auto production industry does not end there. Ford, the nation’s second largest motor company behind General Motors, has foregone new technologies when it comes to early car designs. Instead, they’ve turned to clay.
Every year, Ford Motor Company uses about 200,000 pounds of clay to craft full-sized models of its vehicles.
“When a design is still fluid, clay allows immediate reviews and feedback so necessary for working in a collaborative atmosphere,” said Lloyd VandenBrink, the modeling manager at Ford’s Truck Studio in Dearborn, Michigan.
The “clay” that Ford uses is made of waxes, oil, and filler, not like the ceramic clay you would find in an art studio.
At first, the company did not recycle the building material, but since 2011 it has used a machine to reprocess the clay chips for reuse on future products. By doing so, Ford has been able to keep 20,000 pounds of clay out of landfills.
While the majority of the clay is reused, there are some parts that are not sent through recycling. Since even a single grain of sand or dirt can affect the model’s construction, only the clay chips that are collected in bins surrounding the model are sent through the proprietary machine.
The machine, specifically designed to handle Ford’s modeling clay and nothing else, uses multiple blades to compress and remix the clay while removing all of the air pockets. From there, the mixture goes through a heated nozzle, which churns the clay to the proper consistency that is conducive for company use.
The clay modeling method helps engineers recognize potential issues that would not have been noticed if the model was created only on a computer. Computer models are generated before being milled in clay by hand until the model reaches its desired level of perfection. A model of the new 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor, a high-performance truck with off-road capabilities, was crafted using 1,935 pounds of clay and took 20,000 hours to complete over four year’s time.
“A group conversation is a great tool for collaboration and consensus, and clay models do that same thing with design,” said VandenBrink. “Everybody can see and explore possibilities together with a better chance of developing a great-looking model.”