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Materials & Assembly

Ford Turns Recycled Bottles Into Car Seats

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Beth Stackpole
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Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
Beth Stackpole   12/21/2011 6:31:35 AM
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This is pretty cool. I would think that a full-out campaign to use sustainable materials in  vehicles, be it car seats, rugs, or whatever, might actually have more impact on reducing carbon footprint than auto makers' EV plans, given the relatively small audience still for those cars. I hope we see more manufacturers follow this route.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
TJ McDermott   12/21/2011 9:42:21 AM
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I'm thrilled to see the plastic get reused, and agree there should be much more of it.

But does being green mean giving up some of the rich feel of a new car?  Do the fabrics feel as good as regular fabrics?

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
Beth Stackpole   12/21/2011 9:49:46 AM
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If car seats are anything like the fabrics used in clothing, I think you can still maintain a pretty good look and feel.  I've seen some pretty amazing things done with recyclable materials in clothing, even household items. High end vehicles typically don't have fabrics--they are usually equipped with leather upholstery. My guess is we'll see some pretty compelling options going forward.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
Rob Spiegel   12/21/2011 10:48:24 AM
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Nice story, Ann.

It's amazing what a customer mandate will do. Ford asked its suppliers to come up with post-consumer waste interior materials and its supplier got imaginative. I guess that's the old saw of necessity being the mother of invention. Various supplier mandates from Wal-Mart have also been effective.

Justajo
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Re: Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
Justajo   12/22/2011 11:09:56 AM
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TJ, I can assure you that fabric made from recycled plastic bottles absolutely feels like that made from new or even natural material. There's a chance that you've worn or handled fabric made from recycled plastic. This technology is so advanced that one is hard pressed to tell the difference.

It's good to see that the automotive industry is getting more into recycling, though it has been there for quite some time in one way or another. As one example, think of the auto salvage yard. These have been around for decades. Parts from old or wrecked car and trucks are reused. What isn't reused gets melted down, as in the case of steel and aluminum, and likely ends up in more cars.

As another example of this re-use aspect (and to show my age) back in 1969, when I had been laying carpet for a few years, I had my first glimpse of "rebond" carpet padding. I wondered about it's appearance, that it looked like it was made from various bits of foam, and I was told that's exactly what it was and still is. The majority of this foam (as well as vinyl fabric and other synthetics) came from and still comes from, I'm sure, the auto and furniture industry. And now, since rebond pad is made from the scraps left over in upholstering with car making the major source, we may soon see RE-recycling as the scraps of that redone plastic ends up on floors of houses and commercial buildings.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
Rob Spiegel   12/22/2011 2:44:54 PM
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I agree Justajo about the long standing recycling aspects of the auto industry. The cars don't get melted down until all useable parts have stripped off. Then what's left gets melted down to make new cars. Steel's big argument against composite materials is the ease with which steel can recycled.


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Sustainable materials even bigger sustainability impact
Ann R. Thryft   12/27/2011 12:43:41 PM
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TJ, I think the feel-good of fabrics is in the eye, uh, I mean hand, of the beholder. Personally, I don't like to use clothing or household goods fabrics made of materials that aren't natural. But a lot can be done with them for more industrial type uses, such as carpets and now car seats. My 3 years' new living room carpet feels almost exactly like wool, and it's made from some kind of polymer.

Justajo, thanks for the input from someone who's actually seen and felt this stuff.


vimalkumarp
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Ford's great work
vimalkumarp   12/21/2011 10:32:56 PM
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This will definitely act as an eye opener. Though cradle to cradle design is a bit far there is still hope..

Dave Palmer
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Nylon ≠ polyester
Dave Palmer   12/22/2011 10:43:21 AM
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@Ann: Good article.  However, you might want to clarify that, while Unifi makes both Repreve polyester fiber and Repreve nylon filament, these are two different products.  The polyester fiber contains both pre- and post-consumer waste material, while the nylon fiber contains only pre-consumer waste material.

EdV
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Electric doesn't mean zero CO2
EdV   12/22/2011 3:26:20 PM
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Love the new fabric! In the second paragraph, there is a statement asserting that the car, being electric, produces no CO2 emissions. I think we should count the fraction of the emissions of the power plant for the energy used to charge the car. It would be significantly less than an HC fueled car, due to efficiency and averaging across coal/nuclear/wind/solar/hydro, etc. generation. I just think that zero is a bit misleading. Not that I don't like electric cars ... It's the ONLY way I would ever drive anything ultimately powered by wind or nuclear.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Electric doesn't mean zero CO2
Beth Stackpole   12/23/2011 7:34:13 AM
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Curious that the story states that Ford is mandating cars with "eco-friendly power trains" to use the sustainable materials for car seats and such. Obviously they are trying to make a statement with these cars, but it does lead you to wonder how serious they are about this. If it's limited to eco-friendly cars, not their full portfolio of vehicles, is this more of a marketing/positioning ploy or is it a true sustainability effort?

Ratsky
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It's all about MARKETING
Ratsky   12/23/2011 10:00:03 AM
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There's a very simple reason that Ford has done this with a focus on EV and Hybrid vehicles: it's due to the slow uptake in the marketplace of these still-niche products.  It's intended to make the up-front cost penalty of these (especially the EVs) more palatable, considering the presumably "green" orientation of the potential buyers.  It's the "Feel Good" factor. While on that subject, I want to inject one more element of basic economics that nearly ALL of the posters favoring EVs ignore.  I refer to the acronym "TANSTAAFL."  There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.  SOMEBODY pays for EVERYTHING.  That $7500 "government rebate/sudsidy" is coming out of MY pocket and the many others who continue to drive our aging (but still fuel- and emisiions-efficient) vehicles (mine is a 2003 Camry with 130K miles on it, gets as much as 29+ MPG on road trips, average 25 overall)). You simply cannot continue to blithely ASSume that this piece of the price can be ignored just because it isn't coming (directly) out of the buyer's pocket!  This nonsense may be good politics, but it's fraudulent in the economic world.  These same posters are very quick to tout the (alleged) indirect economic benefits of "greenness" in justifying the immense and wasteful (e.g. Solyndra) governmental subsidies lavished on the various hucksters who have latched on to this newly-swollen federal teat, but refuse to consider the indirect costs.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: It's all about MARKETING
Rob Spiegel   12/23/2011 1:45:11 PM
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I agree, Ratsky, on your notion that the economics of these vehicles is even more in question when you figure in the subsidy, which is really the rest of the population kicking in to cut the price for those who effectively want a posh vehicle.

I'm also curious about the carbon footprint comparison between an EV and a gas vehicle. The electricity is mostly generated by coal, which certainly has some carbon consequences.

All that said, I like the idea of Ford asking suppliers to use a certain percentage of post-consumer waste. If the supplier is doing it for Ford, at a certain point - and a certain scale - it may become effective for uses that are not tied to a customer mandate.


Ann R. Thryft
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Re: It's all about MARKETING
Ann R. Thryft   12/28/2011 12:40:49 PM
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I, too, was really impressed to find out how far Ford and other car makers are taking the sustainable mandates with their suppliers. I think Rob's right, that big manufacturers like Ford and Walmart can make a huge difference with these supplier mandates. Beth, note that Ford started by mandating that all cars' fabrics had a minimum of 25% recycled content. This 100% mandate is, so far, limited to their EV cars and others with "eco-friendly powertrains." That makes marketing sense, as Ratsky points out. It's also possibIe--I'm only guessing--that Ford intends to eventually extend this mandate to their mainstream, high-volume vehicles, as well. That would make sense, anyway. 


Rob Spiegel
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Re: It's all about MARKETING
Rob Spiegel   12/28/2011 12:57:08 PM
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I agree, Ann, it would make sense for Ford to adopt this mandate to other vehicles. I'd like to know the economics of it. Do these alternative materials cost more or cost less than traditional materials. The answer is probably volume. Whatever is getting use the most will probably cost the least per vehicle.

Tim
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Green or cost
Tim   12/25/2011 3:09:22 PM
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Depending on grade, recycled PET feedstock can be significantly cheaper than virgin material. The decision to go with a recycled material may have been a financial one with an added benefit of a more green vehicle.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Green or cost
Rob Spiegel   12/27/2011 2:08:51 PM
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TJ,

One thing I haven't heard in the list of reasons for Ford's mandate on 25 percent post-consumer materials in its cab is cost. Post-consumer waste may actually cost more than the alternative. I would guess it does cost more, since it probably requires some significant processing.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Bottle vs Soy
Jack Rupert, PE   12/28/2011 12:38:22 PM
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Wasn't it about a year ago that Ford was talking about making their car seats from a soy product?  If they are now marketing a recycled plastic product, does anybody know what happened to previous design? 

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Rob Spiegel   12/28/2011 12:43:47 PM
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Jack, it's my understanding that Ford uses a number of vendors to provide environmentally friendly materials for their seats and flooring. I would imagine different vendors are using different materials. The soy products are likely still being used.

Jack Rupert, PE
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Jack Rupert, PE   12/28/2011 12:54:33 PM
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Thanks, Rob.  I just thought it was strange that they would be implementing two radically new competing technologies at the same time, unless their finding one isn't so great.  I can see the slowly replacing an old material (such as foam) by keeping that supplier going for a while when testing the plastic, but thought it was strange that they would pick one "green" material and jump to another so quickly.

Of course, Ann's most recent post might be the reason.  If the bosses are mandating 25% recycled for marketing purposes, then this is a way to getting to that goal.  It might not have anything to do with better materials (however you might choose to define "better").

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Ann R. Thryft   12/28/2011 1:08:12 PM
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Rob, I think you are right regarding Ford's use of various vendors for various materials. I don't know the specific structure of Ford's supply chains for different models or lines, but one particular material may not be competing with another from a different vendors It's pretty clear that Ford's use of material X in the car seat for model Y doesn't mean that X will be used in all other models' car seats. 

And I don't think the mandate is for marketing purposes alone. I think it serves multiple goals.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Rob Spiegel   12/28/2011 5:20:29 PM
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Good point, Ann. I can understand the marketing advantages of using sustainable materials. What are some of the other goals this mandate might serve? Not sure there is a cost savings here, but maybe there is.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Ann R. Thryft   12/29/2011 12:10:27 PM
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Rob, your questions about cost in both posts are good ones. I don't have the answers in this specific case. But I do keep seeing assertions in many cases that recycled plastics are less expensive than the original virgin materials. Aside from cost savings and marketing objectives, the other obvious goals to be achieved from the use of sustainable; materials are green-ness, which could actually involve several advantages.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Rob Spiegel   12/29/2011 12:16:22 PM
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I agree this program could produce serveral advantages. For one, it could prove the case for using sustainable materials, which could spread the use of these materials (and thus drive down costs by expanding scale). It could also pressure other car makers to adopt sustainable programs.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Ann R. Thryft   1/3/2012 12:29:03 PM
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I think you're exactly right, Rob. Ford is one of several carmakers either using or investigating sustainable materials, whether those are recycled plastic bottles or engineering plastics made from natural feedstocks. The way things seem to work in automotive manufacturing, a new material has to be checked out pretty thoroughly, not only in terms of cost and performance, but also in terms of how easily it can be dropped into the highly automated manufacturing process. From the background material I read, Ford sees itself as a leader in promoting the use of sustainable materials, kind of like Walmart has done in big box stores.


Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Rob Spiegel   1/3/2012 3:00:10 PM
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Yes, it's a good program. One of the things that encouraging about the program is that Ford clearly sees this as a way of competing for goodwill among consumers. that kind of competition can have a significant impact on the production and use of sustainable materials.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Ann R. Thryft   1/4/2012 12:46:28 PM
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Isn't listening to consumers supposed to be what the car makers do? So if they are listening to consumers in regards to sustainable materials, then perhaps that will also translate into paying attention to user input in other areas, too. In any case, I agree, this can really help jumpstart not only the production and use of sustainable materials, but more R&D, which is sorely needed. 


Alexander Wolfe
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Alexander Wolfe   1/24/2012 4:08:49 PM
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Intellectually, I feel good about using green and sustainable materials. Emotionally, I'm not sure how great I feel about sitting on recycled garbage. It's kind of the same reaction I have to a notepad that says "50% post-consumer content." ("Post-consumer content" is a nifty euphemism for "recycled.") At the end of the day, use of sustainable materials is driven by cost savings, not perceived consumer demand. That's also what's driving the recent crop of "green" materials we're seeing, which are being ably covered by Ann.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Bottle vs Soy
Ann R. Thryft   1/25/2012 12:46:28 PM
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I agree that it can feel weird to think that one's notepad or car seat is made from garbage. But I remind myself that it's really *clean* garbage, not what we might find at the dump, which is the image that, at least in my mind, causes the "ecchh" response.

And, as I mentioned in another story's comment thread, I was surprised to find out that consumer demand has actually made a big difference in the development of both bioplastics and recycled materials. In fact, that's partly why most of the bioplastics volume to date has been in less durable materials to replace things like trash bags. It depends on the app and a few other things, but consumer demand, and the desire of large OEMs to look good to consumers, have been important factors in getting as far as we've gotten. 


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