The Ford Motor Company's big bet for the 2009 model year is
a vehicle designed to cross over from minivans to passenger cars.
Ford put a lot of engineering muscle into the vehicle,
witnessed by eight technical innovations that were awarded finalist status in
the 2008 Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Division Innovation awards. The
Flex is big. It's longer than a full-size sport-utility vehicle and longer than
some of the biggest minivans ever. It's loaded with extras and high-end
One of the Flex innovation finalists is the use of high-gloss
black acrylic appliquÃ©s that feature Ford's industry-first keypad, which is
invisible until touched. "The appliquÃ©s are the enabler for the Flex's unique
floating roof design," says Paul Dellock, a design engineer at Ford. The
appearance of a "floating" or unattached roof is an effect created by blacking
out the roof pillars combined with dark windows. A conventional keypad would
have ruined the look.
Arkema developed a unique acrylic for the application that has
a high surface hardness, good impact properties and good temperature
properties. Ford engineers also wanted a recyclable material and ruled out
painted coatings that emit volatile organic compounds.
a Canadian tool builder, developed a thin-wall, two-shot molding technology
that included robotic glue sealing. Highly polished mold surfaces create a
mirror-like finish with ding resistance superior to metal appliquÃ©s, according
"Prior-generation high gloss black appliquÃ©s were either
painted steel or painted aluminum
and are not capable of providing the
semi-transparent features required for the hidden keypad," says Dellock. The plastic
appliquÃ©s save about $25 for the 10 pillars on the Flex. Tooling costs were
more than $1 million less than the progressive stamping dies used for painted
steel. Also, no paint racks were required. The plastic appliquÃ©s weigh 5 lbs less than the painted steel used on the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX.
Tour de Force
Another engineering tour de force on the Ford Flex is a
system that integrates the auxiliary air conditioning duct, headliner
stiffener, headliner attachment base, moon roof opening stiffening rings and
the dual sun shade carrier.
"Our challenge was to make the subsystem using a single
injection-molded part, with one plastic resin, to reduce complexity, improve dimensional
integrity, reduce engineering time and
achieve significant cost savings through innovation," says Joe Callahan,
program manger at Dakkota, the
system supplier of the component.
In the integrated structure, a hodgepodge of materials (stamped
metal, glass mat laminate and polypropylene) are replaced with one material â a
polycarbonate/ABS blend. The supply chain was significantly smaller: one molder,
H.S. Die, was responsible for the
integrated duct. Component complexity was reduced from 22 to 15, and weight was
cut by 1 lb. Savings per part total $13.41, and there was a significant
capital savings on tool cost, which is a reduced $2.45 million. A special
high-strength melt adhesive with nitrogen-assisted spray was developed to
attach the large integrated part to the headliner substrate.
Other Flex finalists in the SPE Innovation competition are:
plastic capless refueling system with a sensor that only allows the proper
fuel to be dispensed. The system uses a conductive plastic ground path to
prevent electrostatic discharge. Ford plans to start using the capless
system on all vehicles. Martinrea
has applied for patent protection on the technology.
- A 20
percent glass-filled polypropylene is used on the overhead console of the
Flex to provide high heat-deflection properties. The original console made
of talc-filled thermoplastic olefin sagged after exposure to heat.
expanded polypropylene head restraint to meet new federal safety rules.
industry-first integrated floor console and compressor refrigerator.
modular floor console using an all-plastic structural framework to support
a floor shifter and eliminate a steel shifter bracket.
There were 26 finalists in the competition. Winners will be
announced at a banquet Nov. 20 in Detroit, MI.