Ford Motors recycles clay to enhance car designs and sustainability capability

Ford Motor Company has revealed that it recycles car modelling clay to enhance car designs and sustainability capability, which is a core part of business process. Clay modelling is an important part of Ford’s creative design process, helping designers to spot issues in both the interior and exterior of vehicles. The recycling is also geared towards conserving improving environment.

“We are constantly being influenced by new technologies, but when we want to view physical properties early in the process, we still turn to clay,” says Lloyd VandenBrink, modelling manager at Ford’s Truck Studio. “When a design is still fluid, clay allows immediate reviews and feedback so necessary for working in a collaborative atmosphere.”

Ford uses up to 90 tons of clay every year to construct full-size vehicle models. None of this material would be reused in the past, but during the last five years the company has used a proprietary machine to recycle more than 9,000 kilograms of clay and keep it out of landfills. The clay that Ford uses in its modelling is a combination of waxes and oil with filler, and does not contain water like traditional ceramic clay.

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Innovating with recyclables

Most of the clay that Ford recycles comes from the milling process, during which designers use a machine to help them shape the silhouette of a vehicle. Since even a grain of sand can affect the finished quality of a model, only clay chips that fall into bins surrounding the vehicle are recycled that are later reused to make subsequent cars.

Digital software and new scanning technology has greatly improved, however, Ford Motors has asserted that clay is still the best medium for tackling changes in car design. When a small or digital model is scaled, there are some aspects that may not come out right, and full-size models built from clay help identify issues that wouldn’t have been apparent otherwise – such as depth issues on belt line edges or a car hood’s power dome.

Collective clay play

Ultimately, clay is used to complement the design process. Ford constantly creates models on a computer, milling that surface design onto a clay model, making changes by hand before scanning them back into a computer.

“Computers tend to have a more single user work flow, where clay models tend to be much more collaborative,” said VandenBrink. “A group conversation is a great tool for collaboration and consensus, and clay models do that same thing with design. Everybody can see and explore possibilities together with a better chance of developing a great-looking model.”



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