At a gala Society of Plastics Engineers’ banquet Wednesday evening, Ford engineers collected the grand award for the most innovative new use of plastics in cars.
They won for designing the largest automotive component ever made with a microcellular foam molding process. The innovation was significant because of the amount of weight that can be removed from a car through widespread use of the technology, which is called MuCell.
More than a pound is saved in the instrument panel of the 2012 Escape and Ford
Executive Chuck Rocco told me that Ford plans to aggressively implement the weight-saving process throughout Ford vehicles and applications. Ford wants to reduce weight a minimum of 220.5 pounds from its smallest cars, and 661 pounds from larger cars by 2020.
Many entries in the SPE Automotive Awards program are tours-de-force of engineering innovation. That was not so much the case this year because, after all, MuCell has been a commercial process since 1995 when a company called Trexel was granted a license by MIT to develop the technology. MuCell has been demonstrated at countless trade shows as one of those many fascinating technologies on display.
But Ford takes home the big prize because it took MuCell from a small to a very large stage.
The MuCell Process refers to the controlled use of gas in its supercritical state to create a foamed part. Targeted are components with maximum wall thicknesses of less than 3mm. There are significant savings beyond weight reduction. The process generally offers a 50-75% improvement in key quality measures, such as flatness, roundness, and warpage, and also eliminates all sink marks. These improvements result from the fact that relatively uniform stress patterns are created in the molded part rather than non-uniform stress characteristic of solid molding.
That’s because the pack and hold phase of the molding cycle is eliminated.
That also means you can use a lower tonnage (and less expensive) molding machine. In the case of the Ford instrument panel, there was a 45% reduction in tonnage needed. A big press was still needed because of large platen requirements. But press like is extended because of the lower force employed, Rocco says.
Cycle times are lower, creating the ability to produce 20-33% more parts per hour on a given molded machine.
While the MuCell technology isn’t brand new, Ford had to invest significant engineering time in tooling development and flow optimization.
Congratulations to Rocco and the entire supply chain team: George Halow, cockpit & trim chief Engineer at Ford; Junko Pauken, the Ford engineer who made the presentation to the judging panel in October; Steve Campana, Ford program director at systems supplier Faurecia Interior Systems; Steve Braig, CEO of MuCell; Sanjay Patel of Flint Hills Resources (materials’ supplier) and Chuck Jarrett of SABIC Innovative Plastics. The tooling supplier is Lamko. The MuCell process for instrument panels was trialed on a 3000-ton machine at the Proper Group in Warren, MI.