• Apr 4th 2011 at 6:21PM
  • 21
Just like every other automaker, Ford is looking into making its cars lighter, and thus more eco-friendly. Thanks to a bubble-infused plastic introduced at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology [MIT] called MuCell, Ford says it can step further toward its goal of lightening all its cars by anywhere from 200 to 750 pounds.

MuCell is made by pumping tiny bubbles of nitrogen or carbon into standard injection-molded plastics. Though the bubbly plastic is slightly weaker than the standard stuff, Ford says the difference will be negligible, since its plastic parts are engineered to be 50 to 100 percent stronger than they should ever need to be.

Though the idea is still in development, Ford says it wants to be running MuCell plastics in all its cars by 2020. Though the technology has been around since 1995, it hasn't made sense for automakers to start buying in until now. With a new focus on green technology in the automotive industry, the move suddenly makes a lot of sense, and Ford will start using the plastic in items like engine covers beginning in the next few years. Check out the official press release after the jump.

[Sources: Ford, FastCodeDesign]

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* Honeycomb structure MuCell plastic parts save 20 per cent weight, improving fuel economy and emissions, without compromising durability
* Injection of gas during moulding creates a cross-section resembling an Aero chocolate bar on a microscopic level, with the bubbles meaning less plastic is used
* Parts require less energy and time to manufacture, reducing emissions and cost

BRENTWOOD, Essex, 4 April 2011 – In their never-ending quest to reduce weight and therefore emissions and fuel use, Ford's engineers have taken inspiration from the Aero chocolate bar to produce lighter plastic parts by injecting gas bubbles during manufacturing.

There are many areas where weight can be saved by changing the type or grade of metal used to a stronger, lighter material to trim kilos from the kerb weight. Plastic parts are an area where it is traditionally difficult to save weight without sacrificing strength, durability or function, but Ford has found a solution. MuCell technology introduces gas bubbles into the plastic as it is moulded, leaving a microscopic honeycomb structure. These tiny spaces save weight by reducing the amount of plastic used, without compromising the integrity of the part.

Weight plays a key role in vehicle emissions and reducing the overall mass of the vehicle results in improvements to fuel economy and carbon emissions. Vehicle weights have increased in the last 30 years to allow for much greater levels of equipment and radically improved safety attributes. Ford has targeted reducing weight while still providing class leading levels of equipment and 5-star Euro NCAP safety ratings.

MuCell brings a host of other benefits with lower pressures used to mould the plastic and up to 33 per cent more parts per hour than a conventional process. This increase in speed and efficiency reduces energy consumption, manufacturing emissions and cost for parts produced using the innovative technique.

Ford's MuCell technology expert Carsten Starke is excited by the potential of the new process: "The first time I saw this plastic under the microscope I thought to myself it looks like an Aero chocolate bar!The bubbles in the chocolate change the taste, but in our plastics they save weight and making cars lighter reduces emissions and fuel consumption significantly," he said.

"We are saving weight in many ways, not just by using this new plastic, because lighter cars handle better, accelerate faster and stop more quickly. For the customer it is win-win, the plastic is 20 per cent lighter without increasing cost or reducing strength and it will help make their Ford better in almost every aspect."

The MuCell technology will see its first application in engine covers on vehicles such as Focus, C-MAX and Grand C-MAX, S-MAX, Mondeo and Galaxy in the next few years. Ford has committed to a minimum of 100kg weight reduction from even its smallest cars and 300kg from larger cars by 2020 as part of environmental initiatives. Weight saving, including deploying MuCell technology, is also achieved from other materials such as high-strength Boron steels which are used extensively in Ford models.

These new materials join innovations such as the EcoBoost petrol engines, which allow the use of more efficient, lower capacity engines even in larger vehicles without sacrificing performance. A range of other measures including automatic stop-start engines, aerodynamic grille shutters and low rolling resistance tyres make Ford's ECOnetic models amongst the most efficient on sale.

# # #

About Ford Motor Company

Ford Motor Company, a global automotive industry leader based in Dearborn, Mich., manufactures or distributes automobiles across six continents. With about 164,000 employees and about 70 plants worldwide, the company's automotivebrands include Ford and Lincoln. The company provides financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more information regarding Ford's products, please visit www.fordmotorcompany.com.

Ford of Europe is responsible for producing, selling and servicing Ford brand vehicles in 51 individual markets and employs approximately 66,000 employees. In addition to Ford Motor Credit Company, Ford of Europe operations include Ford Customer Service Division and 22 manufacturing facilities, including joint ventures. The first Ford cars were shipped to Europe in 1903 – the same year Ford Motor Company was founded. European production started in 1911.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      It is called "Styrofoam", folks. Ever heard of Styrofoam?
      • 4 Years Ago
      This MuCell process has been around for a very long time. Conceptually its similar to foamed plastic, basically bubble infused within a plastic polymer. The major difference is that with MuCell you have incredibly small bubbles compared to foam.

      Obviously you'll have reduced density, and an weaker plastic. It really depends on the application but in general plastics aren't major load bearing components of automotive parts, and where there are you can adjust the amount of plastic a component uses in many different ways.

      We should keep in mind that Ford isn't the only company using MuCell, many major injection molding machinery has MuCell techniques (Engel, Nissei, Mitsubishi, etc). So we should be seeing this technology in more than just Fords.

      In fact, I believe there are several car components that MuCell plastics are widely used; side mirrors, door handles, plastic body parts, etc.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This is a micro version of the structural foam plastic that has been producing very impact resistant plastic products for decades. This seems like a very smart move.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Structural foam has poor impact resistance properties. It provides great stiffness for its weight, but it is more brittle. There are benefits in production because the machines don't require the clamping force that high-pressure injection parts do, though they do require a nitrogen separator and mixing system and add another variable to the process. The molds themselves also wear more slowly and/or can be made of softer metals.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Thank you for the clarification, cdwrx.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Up to 750 pound just by changing plastic parts to this new kind of plastic?

      Can anybody name a production Ford car with that much plastic on it?

      My guess is they plan to replace non-critical metal body panels with this stuff. Not a bad idea at all as long as weight loss doesn't come at the cost of safety.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Fair enough, perhaps I was a bit hasty in commenting before I had time to absorb the entire wording of the piece.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ironic name there, ScentOfUnderstanding. ;-)

        "Thanks to a bubble-infused plastic introduced at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology [MIT] called MuCell, Ford says it can step further toward its goal of lightening all its cars by anywhere from 200 to 750 pounds."

        The plastics alone won't save up to 750 pounds - they'll help Ford "step further toward its goal" of reaching that target, meaning that other technologies and techniques will also contribute.
        • 4 Years Ago
        It doesn't say all of that 750 pounds will come from plastic, it says this is part of a strategy to reduce weight by 750 pounds.
      • 4 Years Ago
      If you make your parts weaker, they will no longer be 50 to 100% stronger than they needed to be, will they?

      There has to be a better explanation which doesn't result in parts being weaker than they were before. Because if you really make a lot of parts weaker than they were before, you'll find they break more, even if you thought they were stronger than they needed to be before.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I don't think they we as consumers need to worry about that since we're still years away from this material being used in production cars which provides the company with quite a bit of time to further their goal of weight reduction through other means.

        At the same time we should be aware of the fact that we do not know where Ford would apply the MuCell or how it would be used. For all we know it may see usage in things like engine covers or some interior trimming.
        • 4 Years Ago
        My guess is that the foamed plastic decreases the density more than it decreases the strength, so they can just compensate with a slightly greater wall thickness to create a part that is just as strong for less weight.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Calling the parts 50-100% stronger than they need to be is the same as calling them 1.5 times to twice as strong as they need to be. Using MuCell might make them 1.3-1.6 times as strong as they need to be. Still strong enough, though.
        • 4 Years Ago
        ^ Correct. That's why they won't use it as a substitute in their existing molds. They have to engineer it into the design from the beginning.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I wonder what happen to that aluminum- foam that they talked about years ago.
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