In a move receiving financial support from American soybean growers, Ford hopes to use soy-based polyurethane foam in more than one million vehicles within two years. The move will reduce use of oil-based polyurethanes. Polyurethane foams are used to make seat cushions, seat backs, armrests and head restraints. “We studied from zero to 100 percent, and we went to 12 percent to meet automotive requirements,” says Dr. Deb Mielewski, who has been leading a team focusing on developing new materials for automotive using plant-based products including soy, corn, hemp and other plants.. “We’re studying using more.” The durability and stiffness of the foam is not compromised, says Ford. The average vehicle uses 30 pounds of foam.
Ford has applied for three patents on soy-based polyurethane polyols used in foams: one for high-content soy foam formulations, one for a novel, low-odor process to synthesize polyols and one for the use of soy foam in headrests. Several companies have expressed interest in licensing the technologies. One licensee is John Deere, which first tried soy-based reaction injection molded (rigid) systems about eight years ago. Tier One supplier Lear Corp. has conducted head restraint trials with 40-percent soy foam, measuring how it performs with a variety of production head restraint tools used for Ford vehicles. Bayer is also conducting significant research on the formulation. The project has received funding from the United Soybean Board (USB), a group of 64 farmers/directors that oversees investments in soy-based technologies. The USB has also supported work at Deere.
Ford first used soy-based foams at a 5 percent level in the 2008 Ford Mustang, which was introduced last year. Ford initially said that “Projections estimate that using soy-based foam at high volumes could represent an annual material cost savings of as much as $26 million.” However, Ford now says the switch would be cost neutral. The economics obviously swing as oil and soybean prices fluctuate.
Ford’s use of so-based polyols is a finalist in the SPE Automotive Division Innovation competion. Winners will be announced at a banquet in Detroit Nov. 20.
As the 3D printing and overall additive manufacturing ecosystem grows, standards and guidelines from standards bodies and government organizations are increasing. Multiple players with multiple needs are also driving the role of 3DP and AM as enabling technologies for distributed manufacturing.
A growing though not-so-obvious role for 3D printing, 4D printing, and overall additive manufacturing is their use in fabricating new materials and enabling new or improved manufacturing and assembly processes. Individual engineers, OEMs, university labs, and others are reinventing the technology to suit their own needs.
For vehicles to meet the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, three things must happen: customers must look beyond the data sheet and engage materials supplier earlier, and new integrated multi-materials are needed to make step-change improvements.
3D printing, 4D printing, and various types of additive manufacturing (AM) will get even bigger in 2015. We're not talking about consumer use, which gets most of the attention, but processes and technologies that will affect how design engineers design products and how manufacturing engineers make them. For now, the biggest industries are still aerospace and medical, while automotive and architecture continue to grow.
More and more -- that's what we'll see from plastics and composites in 2015, more types of plastics and more ways they can be used. Two of the fastest-growing uses will be automotive parts, plus medical implants and devices. New types of plastics will include biodegradable materials, plastics that can be easily recycled, and some that do both.
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