Issues by Date

Warped Parts Cause Rework And Scrap

March, 2013By Russ OlexaV. P., Publisher/EditorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Mayville Engineering Co. (MEC) calls itself the go to company and the one stop shop for cost effective fabrication, quality manufacturing and complex assembly.With capabilities that include metal cutting and forming, stamping, machining, tube forming, welding, painting and assembly, there's no manufacturing process it seems it Read full article >>

Unique Tools: Job Shop Equipment that Goes Beyond

TOOLS, JANUARY FSMDColin CarluAssociate EditorThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Sometimes job shop managers might find themselves wishing for a tool that offers a little more than what’s typical – a tool that goes beyond. Or maybe they wish they had a tool to accomplish something that might seem impossible, like lifting a grinding unit as if it was weightless or training new welders without expending material.Read full article >>

Keeping Parts On The Level

Nov./Dec. 2011 By Russ OlexaV. P., Associate PublisherThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Don Begneaud, president of Begneaud Manufacturing, has tried every trick he knows to keep perforated, punched-metal parts flat. Along with developing some proprietary ways to flatten them, he’s driven over them with a forklift. Run them through a bending machine’s pinch rollers, and when all else fails, he has sent jobs Read full article >>

Ten decades strong

Chevrolet celebrates 100 years of truck making excellence

by Kip Hanson, senior editor




My first car was a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair. It had red paint, four doors and floorboards so rusty that my brother would drop empty beer cans through it onto the street below. I paid $400 for what eventually came to be known as Kip’s Folly and had to tow the damned thing to the junkyard after a bird’s nest in the engine compartment caught fire one Friday night.


I graduated to a Sequoia Green 1968 Chevelle a few years later. It had a 327 small-block V8, Muncie 4-speed transmission, dual Holley 4-barrel carburetors and a pair of Hooker headers that made it roar like a dragster. I loved that car despite the many speeding tickets I received because of it.


There’ve been other Chevys over the years. A Monza Spyder, a Chevy Impala and a Chevette Scooter whose paint was called Saddle Tan but my brother called something else. “It’s baby poop brown, Bro.”


And there was my 1968 Chevy C10 pickup truck. We jacked it up so high you needed a ladder to climb inside.


The Chevrolet bow tie logo has been used in one form or another since its creation in 1913.



Bow ties and businessmen

I didn’t know it at the time, but that 1968 model year signified the 50th anniversary of the iconic truck brand. And this year marks its 100th.


Chevrolet Motor Co. was founded in 1911 when retired race car driver Louis Chevrolet and one-time General Motors CEO William Durant opened the doors of what would soon be the world’s largest automobile manufacturer, although it would be seven years before the first truck was born.


Louis Chevrolet left his namesake company just two years after its inception. He returned to racing and also started the Frontenac Motor Corp., but was eventually forced to file for bankruptcy. He died penniless in 1941.



Louis Chevrolet returned to the racetrack soon after, but Durant stayed on. While at GM several years earlier, he’d attempted to purchase the Ford Motor Co., but couldn’t get a bank to loan him the $2 million down payment. “Too risky,” they said about investment in the fledgling automobile industry.


Adding injury to insult, the GM board soon sent Durant packing. Chevrolet was his attempt to get back into the car business.


He was successful. 1918 may have been the year that Chevrolet produced its first truck, but it was also the year that Durant regained control of GM (at least for a little while), after which Chevrolet became one of the automaker’s most recognizable and long-lasting brands.


Released in 1959, the El Camino was a direct response to the Ford Ranchero, introduced two years earlier.



The one-ton wonder

Chevy’s first truck was the One-Ton, built at GM’s plant in Flint, Mich., where the company still operates today. The One-Ton boasted wooden wheels; a 36-hp, 3.66 liter (224 cubic in.), 4-cylinder engine; and sold for $1,325 at a time when family income in the United States averaged $1,518 per year. Not all that different than buying a fully loaded Cadillac ATS-V today except that this “chassis only” model didn’t include seats, windows or doors. It didn’t even come with a truck bed.


Despite these crude beginnings, Chevrolet trucks were a big hit. By 1929, steel wheels were standard on its newly introduced Chevy International Series AC Light Delivery truck, as was the first ever overhead-valve, 6-cylinder engine. Best of all, an enclosed passenger cab was available for an additional $195 over the chassis-only price of $400.


This was also around the time that GM surpassed its archrival Ford. By 1930, the company announced it had produced 7 million vehicles globally and by the next year, it had earned the title of world’s largest automaker.


Pickup trucks went from functional to stylish later that decade when GM created its Art and Color department; it was led by design engineer Harley Earl, who would later become vice president of the company. With swept fenders and a shiny front bumper and grill, the 1938 Chevy Half-Ton enjoyed twice the horsepower and half the price of its 1918 predecessor.


Nomad means someone who roams, an activity that anyone sitting behind the wheel of this vintage car will be wont to do.



Taking to war

It wasn’t long, however, before GM ceased all commercial truck production. From January 1942 until August 1945, the automaker put its not inconsiderable might behind the war effort. GM’s Flint facility began making M-4 tanks, but soon moved production to the nearby Grand Blanc plant, which cranked out more than 11,000 Shermans by the end of the war.


They weren’t alone. GM’s Buick division produced 2,000 engines a month for the B-24 bomber, Pontiac built anti-aircraft guns, and Oldsmobile made 48 million rounds of ammunition and 140,000 machine guns.


And Chevrolet? Its workers, most of them women, built everything from military trucks and ambulances to wing sections and fuselage components for aircraft manufacturer Grumman, not to mention the armored half-tracks that General Patton rode into Tunisia during the North Africa campaign.


All in all, GM supplied close to 1 million trucks, 400,000 diesel and aircraft engines, 40,000 armored vehicles and countless munitions in its effort to supply Allied forces, leading military historians to wonder whether the war’s outcome would have been quite different without the support of GM and other leading manufacturing companies.




Chevrolet today

Happier times came for all, of course, as World War II drew to a close and Chevrolet went back to building more peaceful wares. Its “Advanced Design” series trucks featured the now classic rounded profile and five-bar horizontal grill as well as such niceties as a wider cab with a three-person bench seat, fresh air heating and defroster system, and in-dash AM radio.


This was followed by Chevrolet’s Task Force generation, which introduced the first V8 engine and 12-volt electrical power, followed by the Action Line, the vehicle series that transformed pickup trucks from workhorses to comfortable, all-purpose cruising machines.   


The following decades would see the introduction of countless new truck models. There was the Cameo Carrier, an early version of the half-truck, half-car El Camino; the C30 one-ton “dually” with Chevy’s first ever crew cab; and the C10 pickup that I once owned and still miss, despite its leaky head gasket.


1969 is often called the year that everything changed. For Chevrolet, it meant a bold new body style with the K-5 Blazer.



There’ve been Silverados, Centennials and Colorados, Suburbans and Blazers, S10s and Tahoes, never mind an even longer list of passenger cars and crossovers. I won’t take this opportunity to pick on the Chevy Citation, and my Chevette Scooter I’d just as soon forget, but the automotive world would be a poorer place without the Corvette Stingray LT-1 and the ZL1 Camaro, a car that my father once owned until my brother crashed it.


So here’s to you, GM, and a very happy 100th birthday to Chevrolet! Let’s all hope for another 100 years of American-made automotive excellence.



General Motors

Silver medal manufacturing

At Fiat Chrysler, fine tuning nearly every aspect of the manufacturing process leads to world class manufacturing – literally

by Jimmy Myers, senior editor




Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) made a big investment in its Mack Avenue Engine Plant in Detroit several years ago in terms of money and quality management, and it has paid off. The plant was awarded World Class Manufacturing’s (WCM) silver designation in December 2017; an upgrade from a bronze designation the plant was awarded a short 15 months prior.


“We call that our game-changing moment,” says Tyree Minner, plant manager of the Mack Avenue plant.


FCA announced in 2012 that it was investing nearly $200 million in upgrades to the facility. Retooling began in 2013 and production of the Pentastar engine at the facility began in 2014. Today, the fine-tuned manufacturing processes that are the hallmark of the WCM method are part of what allows the plant to churn out roughly 1,000 Pentastar V-6 engines daily.


The Pentastar engine name serves as a nod to the former Chrysler Corp. trademark and was initially introduced in 2009 at the New York Auto Show.


FCA employees assemble Pentastar V-6 engines, which are placed in a number of Dodge and Chrysler models. Workstation efficiency is closely monitored as part of the WCM process.



WCM history

WCM is a manufacturing methodology, a concept developed by Fiat and partnering companies in 2005, that focuses on eliminating waste, increasing productivity, and improving quality and safety in a systematic and organized way. While fully embraced by FCA in all its facilities, WCM is not exclusive to the company or the automobile industry.


The mastermind behind WCM is Hajime Yamashina, professor emeritus at Kyoto University in Japan. He created the “10 technical pillars” of WCM, which include a focus on safety (occupational safety), cost deployment (distribution of costs), focused improvement, autonomous activities, professional maintenance, quality control, logistics, early equipment management, people development and environment.


WCM also looks closely at “10 managerial pillars,” which include:


  • Management commitment
  • Clarity of objectives – KPI
  • Route map to WCM
  • Allocation of highly qualified people
  • Commitment of organization
  • Competence of organization
  • Time and budget
  • Level of detail
  • Level of expansion
  • Motivation of operators


“All of these pillars work together,” says Jodi Tinson, spokesperson for FCA, “but cost deployment is the compass used to identify where you’re having the greatest losses and where the resources should be directed to make the most significant impact.”


According to Tinson, in 2006, before Fiat and Chrysler joined forces, Fiat implemented the WCM process at associated business units, which today include Comau, Teksid, Magneti Marelli and Fiat Powertrain Technologies.


WCM Academy, based in Michigan, was established in 2012 as a place where FCA North American employees can learn about the WCM methodology and collaborate to seek out the best methods to improve their plants’ processes. In 2012, the first gold award (more on the awards later) was earned by the Bielsko-Biala engine plant.


A robot delivers engine blocks for a machining operation. All robot movements are audited for effectiveness in the WCM process.



Putting into practice

To determine how a facility is performing, the WCM method includes an audit system based on a total of 100 possible points. Improvements are measured in the performance of the 10 technical and 10 managerial pillars.


To offer an objective viewpoint, trained auditors from other facilities that are also WCM members observe the production site and do comparisons to establish best practices. They determine if the correct application of the WCM methodology is taking place and tally the points.


At 50 points, a facility will have earned the bronze award. Silver is attained at 60 and gold at 70. World class, which by design should be nearly impossible to attain, would go to a facility that earns 85 points. A world class facility will have no waste, no defects, no breakdowns and complete efficiency in everything they do, which in WCM terminology is “concept zero.”


“No FCA plants have achieved world class yet,” Tinson says. “Reaching world class would be a significant achievement. It would mean a plant has no issues and has reached concept zero in everything.”


Tinson says they keep “raising the bar” so the processes at each of the FCA plants continue to improve.


When the WCM method was first implemented in the Mack Avenue plant, Tinson says they were focused on the low-hanging fruit, which would be the problems and issues that have the most impact on operations as determined through cost deployment.


“Those are things you try to eliminate immediately and permanently,” she says. “To get silver means you’re expanding those practices, principles and ideas much further across the plant. So achieving silver in such a short amount of time is a significant accomplishment.”


For example, Tinson says the process of improvement includes looking at each and every workstation, assessing what work goes on there and determining what other methods could be used that would result in more efficient processes.


“For example, we look at how the operator is loading a part,” she says. “How many steps are they taking? What kind of motion are they using? Are they turning or twisting or reaching?”


Minner adds that when he stepped into his role in 2015, the overall line effectiveness was in the low 80 percent area.


“Now we’re reaching 93 percent overall line effectiveness,” he says. “That includes the time the machines are running and the quality and the rate of parts coming out.”


FCA employees assemble Pentastar V-6 engines, which are placed in a number of Dodge and Chrysler models. Workstation efficiency is closely monitored as part of the WCM process.



Empowering the workforce

Tinson says the WCM philosophy isn’t a “top down” process. Rather, “the operator is king,” she says, because they are the ones that have the first-hand knowledge of what’s going on in their workstation.


Minner echoes that sentiment, saying some of the most valuable information they receive to improve their approach to WCM comes from the shop floor operators, and they are rewarded for their recommendations.


“We talk about employee involvement and how people have to be engaged if we’re going to be successful,” he says. “We’re constantly asking for employee input through suggestions. The operators have the ability to improve their operations because now they have a say in how the work is arranged and optimized. They see changes that are taking place from week to week, which is how we made our journey from bronze to silver.”


The empowerment also enriches the employees’ work experience. Minner says the employees not only appreciate this level of engagement, “they latch on to it,” and it helps to form a tighter workplace community.


“They take pride in their plant and themselves,” he says. “They’ll see things an engineer may not see because the engineer is only out on the floor for short periods of time. The operators are out there around the clock and they can make those suggestions.”


Suggestions from employees also help to reduce costs. Those savings are put back into operations.


“Empowered and self-directed teams are extremely critical in enabling our plant to achieve world class manufacturing,” he says. “That is the culture we are creating at Mack Avenue Engine.”


An employee loads a crank for a Pentastar V-6 engine onto the assembly line.



Achieving concept zero

Part of reaching that concept zero goal is to have industry-leading technology, all of which is WCM approved. To that end, a new assembly line was brought in to the Mack Avenue facility when the Pentastar V-6 engine became its focus. They produce a 3 liter, 3.2 liter and 3.6 liter for a variety of vehicles, including the Jeep Cherokee, Dodge Grand Caravan, Dodge Journey and three vehicles exported to China.


The Mack Avenue plant is fully automated. Milling and drilling are the only metalworking processes involved, and the machines dedicated to those tasks are automated. Material handling is also automated with conveyors and robots doing all the heavy lifting. However, approximately 750 people perform final assembly of the engines.


Minner says the team at Mack Avenue studies all robotic movements for efficiency. But the concept zero aspect also involves machine availability and part quality. They’ve also worked out a way to maintain part quality without shutting down machines to do so.


“There are things you can do while the machine is running that still add value,” Minner says, “but you still maintain quality control, so you’re utilizing the machine the whole time it’s available to you. That’s what really helped us to move forward.”


Tinson says the Mack Avenue facility is also equipped with part delivery systems that efficiently bring parts directly to operators. This is another process that is continually monitored to make sure the part is dropped off in a way that makes the operator as efficient as possible. These findings aren’t kept secret – she says they are passed on to other FCA plants that can gain from that knowledge.


Furthermore, the efficiencies gained in WCM organizations in other industries are also shared, which is one of the benefits of being a WCM member. Tinson says there is no competition between facilities because only one organization from a specific industry is allowed to become a WCM member. For example, Royal Mail, which is the United Kingdom’s mail service, is a WCM member. Members of the FCA manufacturing organization visit Royal Mail facilities to study how they’ve addressed various issues, and they’ve gained advice from Royal Mail officials, and vice versa.


“When plants reach the first award level,” Tinson says of the bronze designation, “the plant managers become auditors. They will come in and assess if you’ve reached a new level. Many of our plant managers and auditors will go to these plants in other industries. It’s very much a collaborative group that shares ideas and processes.”


Minner is a consummate supporter of WCM, saying that it not only boosts the engagement of the “entire workforce, you get that pride and quality and you get the entire workforce working in the same direction. It’s a very powerful tool.”


Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

Hydrogen hero

With its new Nexo, Hyundai adds fuel to the hydrogen-powered auto marketplace, helping the technology move closer to mass production

by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief




Market demand for electric vehicles has been steadily rising. Sometimes simply referred to as EVs, more and more consumers are getting plugged into the idea of alternative fuels. According to Bloomberg’s research organization New Energy Finance, as of November 2017, sales of EVs and plug-in hybrids were 63 percent higher than the same quarter one year prior. 


EVs and hybrids, however, aren’t the only option out there for the growing number of consumers that base their vehicle purchase decisions on the environment. Hydrogen-powered vehicles are shaping up to be a viable choice for green-minded drivers. In fact, Hyundai Motor Co. recently unveiled its second hydrogen-fueled vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2018. 


The Nexo’s dedicated architecture allowed the battery to be located in the trunk of the vehicle, which also allowed an innovative method for integrating the 12-V battery with the main battery assembly.



Fueling firsts

On the southeastern shores of South Korea, Hyundai has been hard at work producing the cars of the future in the company’s Ulsan factory, the world’s largest automobile plant. Inside, Hyundai’s Nexo is being produced based on experience the company gained producing the Tucson, which served as its first foray into fuel cell electric vehicles, or FCEVs.


Those unfamiliar with Hyundai’s new offering, or FCEVs in general, might be surprised to learn that the concept has been around since 1801. But it wasn’t until 41 years later that the concept was finally brought to fruition.


In 1842, William Grove, a chemist, lawyer and physicist introduced the world’s first working fuel cell, which was dubbed a “gas voltaic battery." The breakthrough proved that electricity could be produced by an electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen.


Today, FCEVs are the mature version of the original gas voltaic battery, consistently and reliably converting hydrogen into fuel. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the most common type of auto fuel cell – the type that Hyundai is employing with the Nexo – is one with a polymer electrolyte membrane, or PEM.


“In a PEM fuel cell, an electrolyte membrane is sandwiched between a positive electrode (cathode) and a negative electrode (anode),” the DOE explains. “Hydrogen is introduced to the anode and oxygen (from air) to the cathode. The hydrogen molecules break apart into protons and electrons because of an electrochemical reaction in the fuel cell catalyst. Protons travel through the membrane to the cathode.”


From there, “the electrons are forced to travel through an external circuit to perform work (providing power to the electric car) then recombine with the protons on the cathode side, where the protons, electrons and oxygen molecules combine to form water.”


The process is incredibly efficient, and similar to EVs, PEM fuel cells produce incredibly low emissions – a major selling point for FCEVs. Generally, FCEVs emit nothing more than the water vapor described by the DOE and a small amount of warm air.


Nexo is the second generation in Hyundai’s line of fuel cell electric vehicles. Improvements over the first generation’s fuel cell design push the car’s target range to an estimated 370 miles.



Finding Nexo

Initially, hydrogen-powered cars were only available in select regions due to a lack of infrastructure for drivers, namely hydrogen fueling stations. For instance, the current generation of Hyundai’s Tucson was released in late 2013, but wasn’t available in the United States until June 2014. But, times are changing.


Currently, there are 31 hydrogen fueling stations in California, but by 2020, up to 100 will be in service. That’s the goal of the California Energy Commission. As more manufacturers produce FCEVs, the infrastructure ultimately grows. 


With consumer interest on the rise and with the announcement of its Nexo, Hyundai is moving closer to mass production of FCEVs, which will, in turn, support the ambitions of the California Energy Commission and other similar organizations. Jerome Gregeois, senior manager for PT evaluation and the eco department at Hyundai-Kia America Technical Center Inc., explains how Hyundai is ramping up interest.


Hyundai’s first-generation fuel cell vehicle, the Tucson, in production at the carmaker’s Ulsan plant in South Korea. Despite Nexo’s all-new, dedicated architecture, the Ulsan plant didn’t require a major factory redesign.



“Having a hydrogen fuel cell in an SUV that has the capabilities and styling consumers expect these days is surprising a lot of people,” Gregeois says. “The performance, electronics and infotainment are coming in an attractive package, and thanks to new engineering, the Nexo also offers longer ranges than ever before – up to 370 miles.”


Despite being an all-new vehicle with a dedicated architecture, the Nexo didn’t require Hyundai to undergo a major factory redesign. Other than a few retooling requirements, the company is well-positioned for full-swing production.


“Fortunately, the industrial setup for the Nexo is fairly similar to that of the Tucson,” Gregeois says. “With the Nexo, the intent was to move even closer to a mass production setup for both the vehicle and the fuel cell stack. By moving toward mass production levels, manufacturing costs can be reduced, which can then be passed on to the consumer.”


According to Hyundai, the Nexo will be available in select markets later this year. In the meantime, consumers can anticipate advanced drive assistance systems, a lighter weight, improved power-to-weight ratio, faster acceleration and more cabin space with the battery located in the trunk.




Going long

Compared to the Tucson, the Nexo shares a host of conceptual similarities, but the design of the fuel cell stack is slightly different. The stack, which powers the Nexo’s motor, is essentially a combination of multiple fuel cells. With more fuel cells, higher power – and longer ranges – can be achieved.


“The longer range is allowed by two things,” Gregeois explains. “The first one is a larger hydrogen capacity, moving from the Tucson’s two tanks to Nexo’s three tanks. The second one is the overall efficiency of the stack.”


Gregeois says that the stack’s design assembly is new, adding that the pitch of the stainless steel plates between the multiple fuel cells was reduced by 20 percent for an overall higher power density.


The choice for stainless steel was based mainly on cost-efficiency. Compared to other manufacturing approaches that rely on titanium or other expensive plates, stainless steel is cheaper and easier to work with.


Beyond the design changes to the stack itself, the elements around the stack have changed. The radiator for cooling, the flow of the coolant and the engine compartment all received a complete redesign.


The Nexo’s fuel cell stack assembly was redesigned to reduce the pitch of the stainless steel plates between the multiple fuel cells and deliver a higher power density compared to its predecessor, the Tucson.



“The air intake system, in concept, is similar as the air still goes through a filter, compressor and humidifier and then through the stack,” Gregeois explains. “But, based on the requirements Hyundai had for packaging purposes, the system was redesigned to perform better across a wider range of elevations. This was made possible by providing a stable air pressure supply to the stack.”


The thermal management side, used for cooling, also has a new look. Its packaging, a number of the components, such as valves, and the layout were all re-envisioned. For further packaging purposes and to reduce the overall weight of the vehicle, the separate motor and inverter were integrated into one.


As is true with the automotive community as a whole, Hyundai’s cars are designed with lightweighting in mind. The Nexo is no exception.


“On the powertrain side, integrations of parts, such as the integration of the invertor and motor, helped reduce the Nexo’s weight,” he says. “The more integrated components we have the less casing we have and, therefore, the less weight involved. Relocating components has also helped. We relocated the battery from under the floor to the back of the vehicle, which allowed for an innovative integration of the 12-V battery to the main battery assembly.”


Hyundai’s 2019 Nexo fuel cell electric vehicle wins Editors Choice Award for CES 2018.



Eco leader

With plans to develop a larger fleet of low emission vehicles, Hyundai will continue to solidify its leadership role in manufacturing low-emission vehicles. Hyundai Motor Group, the multinational conglomerate that includes Hyundai Motor Co., Kia Motors and Genesis Motors, plans to introduce 38 eco-friendly models by 2025.


“In general, Hyundai takes pride in their leadership in the hydrogen fuel cell,” Gregeois says. “We’re hoping that other industries, especially energy companies and retailers of fuel, will see that and help build the infrastructure that’s necessary for the technology to be widespread.”


The popularity for the Nexo and other FCEVs could also rise if more consumers do something as simple as take one for a test drive. Getting behind the wheel of a Nexo can help to remove some of the stigma that might be attached to alternative-fuel vehicles. In addition to an improved power-to-weight ratio and faster acceleration, the Nexo boasts the same level of durability as an internal combustion engine vehicle.


“The idea of the Nexo feels akin to a science fiction project, but when you drive it, it’s remarkably a conventional experience,” he says. “You totally forget that you’re driving a piece of cutting-edge technology – and that’s truly amazing.”


Hyundai Motor Co.

Remarkable replicas

Retired Canadian military officer uses his personal shop for highly technical replica car projects

by Jimmy Myers, senior editor 




Whether it’s a worker in a high-volume fab shop or a hobbyist toiling with metal in their tricked-out garage – many find they are similar in that they were brought up as tinkerers, fascinated with designing, engineering and building things.


Such is the case with David Saulnier, a retired Canadian military officer who spent his 22 years of service as an aerospace engineer before taking on serious projects in his garage.


Saulnier, a resident of Nova Scotia who was brought up in Montreal, got the fix-it bug early after receiving a childhood gift of a Tinkertoy Construction Set.


“Those are the things that get a young kid’s brain going and working and trying to figure out how to build something,” he says.


The curiosity stayed with him, and by the end of high school, he was ready for the next step, which turned out to be a fairly significant one. Saulnier enrolled in the aerospace engineering program at the Royal Military College of Canada, the Canadian equivalent of West Point, where admission standards are strict.

Graduating as a second lieutenant, he bounced around Canada to a different location every three years or so (the Canadian military likes to have well-rounded officers, says Saulnier), but his focus was always on airplanes.


From responsibilities for the care and maintenance of aircraft engine test facilities to being the weapons systems manager and aircraft engineer for four aircraft, Saulnier had several roles.


Building transmission parts required the assistance of a CNC lathe. Going off of drawings from Saulnier, the machinist programmed the path the lathe would take to build a custom flywheel.



Auto passion

While aircraft were his bread and butter, automobiles have been Saulnier’s passion since he was a teenager. He recalls being awestruck by the beauty of a red Lamborghini Countach after seeing it in a glossy poster, and it just “snowballed from there,” he says.


In the early 1990s, Saulnier began working on his own cars, not so much as a hobby, but because he was “tired of being ‘hosed’ by auto mechanics, being told I needed a $600 brake job,” he explains. “So I started learning how to do my own auto maintenance.”


The Northstar engine for the Ferrari F355 was an automatic, but Saulnier wanted to drop in a six speed manual instead. To do so, he had to engineer the parts, including this flywheel.



Now, 13 years retired from the military after reaching the rank of major, the list of tools Saulnier has acquired has grown steadily since he took up working on cars in his large garage/warehouse where he also stores automobiles for clients during the brutal Nova Scotia winter months.


A 12-ton hydraulic press, MIG welder, shrinker/stretcher machine and English wheel get regular use. As a volunteer at the Greenwood Military Aviation Museum, he also has access to a 48-in. shear and 48-in. box brake.


One of Saulnier’s first large projects was fueled by fuel injection – he knew nothing about it. So, he bought a Chevy small block 305 TPI fuel-injected engine from a scrap yard, took it apart and rebuilt it.


From 1992 to 1996, still active in the military, Saulnier built his first car kit over nights and weekends – a Ferrari 308, the car made famous, if not for its own design, because it was featured on television’s “Magnum P.I.”


The pressure plate on this custom-built transmission weighs in at 11.62 lbs.



A complex project

All these tools, including his air compressor and air tools, have been important given the number of hours he’s spent on his most ambitious project – a Ferrari F355 replica, which began in 2009 and has since grown into a labor of love in which he’s invested more than 3,600 hours.


Saulnier’s documented a great deal of the project on his blog at He refers to it as his “build diary,” which essentially got its start on a car forum where he was an avid poster. As the project grew in size, he felt it deserved its own blog.


Ferrari produced the F355 from the mid to late 1990s with various models of the F355 featured in music videos and a number of motion pictures.


“The Ferrari F355 replica has definitely been the most challenging project I have ever done,” says Saulnier, who has completed five ground-up car restorations. “It’s definitely the one I’m most proud of.”


Part of the reason this project is so complex is that he’s dropping a Cadillac Northstar engine into it. The Northstar engine is considered Cadillac’s most technically complex 90-degree V engine, and Saulnier estimates that only a handful of people in North America have installed a Northstar 32 valve, four cam engine into a mid-engine car, such as the Ferrari. Those who have done it have had to use a hacked version of Corvette’s computer to make it work.


It’s made even more difficult by the fact that the Northstar is an automatic, but Saulnier is installing a six-speed manual transmission, which means he has to farm out some mill and lathe work to local shops. For instance, a lathe was used to build a custom flywheel, which Saulnier designed.


“That’s high precision work,” says Saulnier of various parts, including custom axles, “so I had to outsource it.”




Opportunity costs

As one might imagine, when you tally up the hours and all the parts that go into a project like this, a Ferrari enthusiast could pick up a used F355 perhaps at less cost.


“People often tell me, ‘you could just buy a 355 with the amount of money and time you’re sinking into this?’,” Saulnier says. “My response is, ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey getting there.’ I enjoy the challenge of trying to come up with something unique and learning something new. When I mention the cost factor, people usually don’t realize how much it costs to own and operate a Ferrari.”


Saulnier’s aerospace engineering background didn’t directly impact his current project, which he says is about three-quarters finished. However, the discipline, planning, dedication, patience and attention to detail he acquired while in the military did.


“The hands-on stuff is mostly learned by watching others and learning through osmosis, I guess you could say,” Saulnier claims. “There isn’t a whole lot of technology that transfers over from aircraft maintenance to building cars.”




Tackling a turret

It’s not all car restorations with Saulnier – he also took on a unique WWII-era airplane project that got plenty of press from newspapers in his area.


With so many years of experience with aircraft, it’s only natural that Saulnier would volunteer at the local military aviation museum in nearby Greenwood. In the 1970s, the museum was gifted an Avro Lancaster, a WWII-era bomber that was used in the European theater.



It was retrofitted after the war and used as an artic patrol and reconnaissance aircraft, which means all the features that made it useful for fighting a war were taken out, including the gun turret on the nose. Museum volunteers decided they wanted to restore it to its wartime glory, and one of the biggest projects was putting the turret back into it.


“We did a number of searches for nose turrets for Lancasters and they weren’t available,” Saulnier says. “Rather than put some type of fake dome on it, I offered to try my hand at replicating it.”




Saulnier dedicated six hours a week over a two-year period, nailing every detail of the turret. The work was almost exclusively done at the museum using the large shear, the box break and the shrinker/stretcher machine. While almost everything was riveted on airplanes during the Lancaster’s era, Saulnier said he had to invest some time in welding complex shapes together to make a reasonable facsimile of the original.


To follow Saulnier as he finishes the final 25 percent of his Ferrari project, go to his blog at


David Saulnier

Greenwood Military Aviation Museum

Top tier

Success for this Tier 1 automotive parts manufacturer comes from continuous growth, global partnerships and team-driven innovation

by Kip Hanson, senior editor




Five years ago, my wife bought a juniper green Hyundai Santa Fe. She named it Sam. The car’s rear-view camera has eliminated her unfortunate tendency to back into other vehicles, and its Blue Link navigation system makes us both feel more secure when she drives home from her girls’-night-outs. She loves that car.


Recently, I decided it was my turn for a new vehicle, so I jumped in my tired 2001 Ford Ranger and headed down to the auto mall. Boy, have things changed in five years. Hands-free parallel parking. Sync 3 voice control. Lane keeping and blind spot information systems. The future of electric cars was still in question when my wife bought her Hyundai; now every car manufacturer has some sort of EV or hybrid. And autonomous driving? Not today, but probably by the time she’s ready to trade in her beloved Sam.




Kudos are due

Looking at all that driving technology, one really has to hand it to automakers. There’s no sitting on their laurels for these folks. For those of us who grew up with the Ford Pinto and the AMC Pacer and actually admit to having once owned a Chevette Scooter, the current race toward safer, smarter and ever more fuel-efficient cars is a breath of fresh air.


So how about a round of applause for Ford, BMW, Toyota and all the other automotive pioneers – and especially for newcomers like Tesla and Waymo? Without them, it’s unlikely the current wave of innovation would have made it past the concept-car stage.


The reality, however, is that much of the technological acclaim should go to the car manufacturers’ suppliers. Granted, it’s not their logo perched on the grill, but without companies, such as Robert Bosch and Denso Corp., Johnson Controls (now Adient) and Delphi Automotive, it’s unlikely our cars, trucks and SUVs would have half the high-tech features we’re currently enjoying.


For example, Bosch’s Human Machine Interface (HMI) promises to keep drivers awake, pull up their favorite playlist and find them the best parking spot downtown. By 2019, Delphi and Mobileye plan to deliver their self-driving system, centralized sensing localization and planning system. And Denso is working toward holographic displays and haptic-feedback for hands-free driving as well as the “next generation” persuasive electric vehicle, an autonomous, electric, shareable three-wheeled vehicle.




The neighbor to the north

Another important player in the new technology arena is Magna International Inc. Ranking third on Automotive News’ Top 100 list of global OEM suppliers (and the largest Tier 1 supplier in North America), this Ontario-based company boasts 159,000 employees, 317 manufacturing locations and 102 product development centers globally. And, it provides body, chassis and exterior components, seating and powertrain assemblies, electronics, vision systems and more to virtually every car and truck maker in the world.


It wasn’t always like this. In 1957, Magna founder Frank Stronach operated a one-man tool and die shop called Multimatic, with annual revenue of just $13,000. His first big break came two years later with an order from General Motors for the stamped metal clips used to make sun visors. In 1968, the now established Multimatic merged with Magna Electronics, a leader in the aircraft and defense industries. By 1973, the new company had changed its name to Magna International Inc., with Stronach as chairman of the board.


Over the coming decades, the company continued to grow. In 1981, Magna sold off its aerospace and defense work to focus its efforts on the automotive industry, and three years later, it expanded into Europe followed by Mexico in 1993. It also acquired several companies along the way, including car designer and manufacturer Steyr-Daimler-Puch, automotive mirror giant Donnelly Corp. and CTS Fahrzeug-Dachsysteme, Porsche’s roof system subsidiary. 




Innovating ideas

Today, Magna International enjoys $32 billion in annual sales. It has enough supplier-performance and excellence-in-quality awards to fill a tractor trailer and recently received the Center of Automotive Management’s most-innovative-supplier award for development of a steel-to-aluminum welding process, its second such award in three years. Magna’s innovations don’t stop at the factory floor, however.


  • Magna’s Eyeris electronic vision system uses front, side and rear cameras to provide a 360-degree view of the driver’s surroundings, displaying it on an 8.4-in. touchscreen. If you’re lucky enough to drive a Maserati Levante, the Eyeris will detect pedestrians, help avoid collisions and make parallel parking a breeze.


  • Ever kick yourself for buying a four-wheel drive vehicle when it only snows twice a year? Magna’s Flex4 AWD technology automatically decouples the car’s rear axle when driving conditions permit, but applies torque within 100 milliseconds if it detects slippery roads. This improves fuel economy and vehicle handling, two reasons why the system was adopted for the Audi A4 Quattro.


  • In collaboration with Ford Motor Co., Magna designers used a clean-sheet-of-paper approach to completely redesign one of its vehicle sub-frame assemblies. The result is a carbon fiber prototype that has 34 percent less mass and 87 percent fewer components compared to its stamped metal predecessor.


  • In a similar vein, Magna worked recently with the U.S. Department of Energy to develop an ultralight door frame, reducing component weight by 42 percent. Engineers on the project said this was made possible by knowledge they’d gained several years earlier, while working with Ford and the DOE on the multi-material lightweight vehicle program.


  • Recognizing that it’s not the only one with good ideas, Magna recently partnered with Silicon Valley technology startup firm RocketSpace on an accelerator program intended to bring “automotive innovation in areas that include electric vehicle systems, automated driver assisted systems and secure vehicle connectivity.” Magna has also provided $5 million to Canada’s Vector Institute to help fund research on artificial intelligence and machine learning.


  • With an eye toward solving the problems of long recharge times for electric vehicles and a shortage of hydrogen fuel cell refueling stations, Magna has developed a best of both worlds solution: the fuel cell range extended electric vehicle concept car, a Mercedes Viano multi-purpose vehicle (automaker-speak for minivan) retrofitted with an onboard battery recharging unit. Although the design isn’t slated for production, it provides a look into the “what’s possible” type of innovation for which Magna is known.


Magna’s interests and initiatives extend well beyond the world of automobiles. The company sponsored the 2017 Special Olympics, and encouraged its employees to participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer bicycling event, a 200-km trek from Toronto to Niagara Falls. As part of the North American International Auto Show, it challenged Lawrence Technological University industrial design students to envision what the car of the future would look like, awarding one designer with a Magna Bold Perspective Award.




More than four wheels

Magna International is also making an environmental impact. In recognition of the energy-efficiency projects implemented across seven of its Canadian manufacturing facilities, the company received a continuous energy improvement award late last year from Enbridge Gas Distribution in recognition of Magna’s reducing gas consumption by 2.75 million cubic meters, the carbon footprint equivalent of planting 1,600 trees.


Finally, Magna was named by its employees as one of the best places to work in Forbes’ 2017 list of Canada's best employers, and it received equally high marks on the employee-review website Glassdoor in Austria, Mexico and Russia. Considering that Magna has more people on its payroll than the population of Fort Collins, Colo., that says a lot about how this international company treats its people.




In a day where consumers are increasingly skeptical about big companies and their “profit margins first” focus, it’s refreshing to see one that cares about more than the bottom line. Innovation, contribution to the community and a drive for continuous improvement are just a few of the attributes that separate Magna from other large organizations. So, the next time you’re standing on the showroom floor at your local car dealership, awed by the electro-mechanical wizardry surrounding you, just remember that much of it was made possible by OEM parts suppliers like Magna.


Magna International Inc.

Lighten up

A new process determines optimal size, shape and placement of weight-saving lightening holes in vehicles

by Susan Woods, managing editor




These days, “lightweight” is arguably the most popular word in the automotive industry. Improving fuel economy is at the top of every automakers list, and the easiest way to make that happen is to reduce the weight of the vehicle. Lighter materials like carbon fiber and aluminum are one choice, but they aren’t the answer in every lightweighting situation. And they also tend to be expensive.


Fortunately, weight reduction can also be achieved by using less material. One of the traditional ways to lightweight vehicle components is to poke holes in them. Lightening holes, which first found their way into racecars in the 1920s, are holes in structural components used by a variety of engineering disciplines to make structures lighter. The edges of the holes can be flanged to increase the rigidity and strength of the component; the holes can be circular, triangular, oval or rectangular in shape with rounded edges. Sharp corners risk the appearance of stress risers and must not be too close to the edge of a structural component. 


Therefore, the challenge of introducing lightening holes in vehicles is determining which components can withstand weight reduction – and by how much – and still maintain their integrity and satisfy customer expectations for vehicle durability and performance. If there are too many holes, it can cause problems with rigidity, durability and, perhaps, even safety.


The engineers at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA US), however, are tackling those challenges by developing multiple algorithms that can quickly and precisely determine the optimal size, shape and placement of lightening holes that are drilled into components of a vehicle’s frame. Their work was presented in a white paper presented in April at the WCX 2017, the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) annual international gathering. The paper is titled, “A New Weight Reduction Lightening Holes Development Approach Based on Frame Durability Fatigue Performance.”


DesignLife’s Seam Weld option enables the fatigue analysis of seam-welded joints, including fillet, overlap and laser welded joints. The method is based on the approach developed by Volvo and validated through years of use on vehicle chassis and body development projects.



FCA findings

According to the FCA US engineers, CAE fatigue simulation is widely used in frame design before the physical proving ground tests are performed. A typical frame durability fatigue analysis includes parent metal fatigue (PMF) analysis and seam weld fatigue (SWF) analysis. Usually, the gauges of the frame components are dictated by the SWF performance so opportunities for weight reduction may exist in areas away from the weld.


One method to reduce frame weight is to cut lightening holes in the areas that have little impact on the frame fatigue performance. The white paper proposes a new methodology to identify the locations of these noncritical areas in which holes can be added while the vehicle frame still maintains good durability.


A light-duty truck frame was used for demonstration. With the new lightening hole approach, engineers were able to reduce three to five percent of weight on components of a frame without compromising the frame durability fatigue performance.


Adding to the challenge of removing material, a light-duty truck frame has a lot of welded joints. The welding process usually causes these weld joints to have different fatigue properties compared to the parent materials. The Volvo method used by nCode software from HBM Prenscia has been widely adopted in automotive CAE simulations to predict the seam weld durability lives in the welded joints.


The reason the seam weld exhibits lower fatigue life than the parent metal is because the seam weld areas typically  have notches at roots and toes as well as heat effect and high residual stresses introduced from the welding process. Thus, seam weld areas usually have higher fatigue damage than nearby parent metal under the same loading conditions.


For a well-designed frame, the gauges of the parent metals are specified to meet the SWF durability performance. Because the gauge of the seam weld elements is determined by the gauges of its two parent plates, any direct gauge reduction leads to lower section properties on these welded joints and compromises the seam weld durability performance.




No limits

It’s important to note, however, that the lightening hole approach has no such limitation. The gauges of parent plate remain the same and the section properties on the welded joints also remain the same. If the holes are strategically placed at noncritical areas, the frame durability performance can remain at the same level, as well.


To identify the noncritical areas, the FCA US engineers use PMF analysis. The areas that have zero fatigue damage throughout the complete duty cycle events in PMF analysis are good candidates as they show little or no contribution to the durability performance of the frame. Showing no fatigue damage at all, these areas are the ideal candidates to place the lightening holes.


To avoid compromising SWF performance, however, the lightening holes should be at least 20 mm away from seam weld areas. Additionally, as fatigue is mostly a local phenomenon, the shape of the holes should be carefully planned so as to not add new local fatigue issues. Figure 1 shows examples of lightening holes that were added to the frame structure using this approach.


Before the lightening holes are introduced, the newly proposed frame needs to be validated with PMF and SWF performance targets under original material and loading conditions. Iterations may be needed to address new fatigue issues or determine new hole locations to achieve a design optimized for performance and weight. The process chart for this lightening hole approach is shown in Figure 2.


The lightening hole approach was applied to a baseline truck frame and achieved good weight savings results. Three iterations of weight reduction using the lightening hole approach were carried out, but the end result removed almost 15 lbs. of weight from the baseline frame. The final lightweight design frame was confirmed with both SWF and PMF analysis and it was able to maintain the same durability performance as the baseline design.


According to the white paper, FCA US engineers concluded that the new lightening hole approach that uses fatigue performance as the design target to optimize the light-duty truck frame works. Compared to other optimization processes, which typically convert fatigue targets to other design targets, such as stress targets, the lightening hole approach directly uses fatigue targets in the process. It eliminates the need to create intermediate targets and simplifies the whole process.




On a mission

Considering the various methods to remove weight from a vehicle, the FCA US engineers are rarely caught twiddling their thumbs. In fact, the lightening hole process was one of 24 technical papers the engineers presented at the annual event.


“Such exchange is vital to the industry’s continuing mission of developing vehicles that deliver greater and greater efficiency,” said Bob Lee, head of powertrain coordination, FCA global, and ranking SAE member on the company’s management team. “FCA is proud to support SAE in this ongoing endeavor.”


In addition to presenting its engineers’ numerous findings, FCA US also co-sponsored the Leadership Summit at WCX 2017 where industry stakeholders discussed a wide range of topics, including the growing importance of weight reduction.

As some may already know, FCA US is a North American automaker with a new name but a long history. As a member of the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (FCA) family of companies, FCA US designs, engineers, manufactures and sells vehicles under the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge, Ram and Fiat brands. Based on total annual vehicle sales, FCA is the seventh-largest automaker in the world.



Redesigned, lighter Pacifica

Body structure is the core of a vehicle platform. Today, engineering a new body structure requires automakers to consider critical attributes, such as occupant safety, fuel economy, performance, comfort and convenience, and cost of ownership.


The completely re-engineered 2017 Chrysler Pacifica checks all those boxes. Lighter by approximately 250 lbs. (model to model), stiffer and more aerodynamic than the outgoing model, the 2017 Pacifica has functionality, versatility, technology and style.


“FCA US is committed to designing and producing lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles that still meet the demands of our customers,” said Phil Jansen, head of product development, FCA – North America. “The all-new 2017 Chrysler Pacifica meets these criteria. Not only is it 250 lbs. lighter than the vehicle it replaced, the Pacifica is larger and stiffer.

“Such progress bodes well for our ongoing investigation of strategic material placement,” Jansen added.


The light yet stiff unibody structure is based on the new FCA vehicle architecture developed specifically for the minivan global front-drive E-segment. The upper body and frame are engineered as a single unit, enabling a more mass-efficient and stiffer structure.


Much of that credit belongs to the extensive use of advanced, hot-stamped/high-strength steels, application of structural adhesives, where necessary, and an intense focus on mass optimization.


The Pacifica utilizes approximately 22 percent more high-strength steel than its predecessor, of which 48 percent is advanced high-strength steel for maximizing stiffness and strength while optimizing weight efficiency.


Another area where the vehicle has been lightweighted is the optimally sized cross-vehicle instrument panel beam constructed of magnesium. This enables a stiff and light structure while the liftgate, constructed of magnesium (inner structure) and aluminum, represents the first high-volume application. It’s exclusive in the Pacifica’s competitive set.


Some specific components that contribute to reduced mass in the front suspension system include:


  • The thin-gauged front suspension cradle constructed of high-strength steel with lightening holes (“non-contributing” material was removed)
  • The hydroformed front cradle side rails are octagonal and splayed in shaped for reduced mass with added strength
  • Hollow front strut rods and rebound springs within the struts
  • One-piece forged aluminum lower control arms and bracket
  • Front and rear cast aluminum knuckles
  • Aluminum engine brackets
  • A front tubular stabilizer bar
  • An aluminum extruded steering gear cross member that mounts on the front cradle


Some rear suspension components that reduce weight include:


  • A steel four-point isolated rear cradle with optimized weight/stiffness ratios that consequently improves handling performance
  • Twin tube shocks with integrated rebound springs for side-to-side rear stability without the need of a rear stabilizer bar
  • The isolated rear suspension cradle is a stamped thin-gauged steel clamshell construction design with lightening holes
  • Thin-gauged steel trailing arms in the rear suspension are enabled by a blade-style design that ensures strength and durability without adding mass
  • Aluminum rear upper shock mounts






Advances in lightweighting

Utilizing advanced materials and new assembly methods, Ford Motor Co. slims down its toughest truck

by Larry Adams, senior editor




Losing weight requires commitment – a long-term, often challenging and sometimes difficult commitment. But sometimes losing weight is the only choice. When a much-heralded, long-established automaker faced government mandates to improve fuel efficiency, it embarked on the challenge and determined that reducing the weight of its best selling vehicle was the top way to meet this mandate.


Focusing on its most popular vehicle, the Ford F-150 truck and its related iterations, Ford Motor Co. committed to a nearly $1 billion weight-reduction effort. This led to a massive upgrade of its Dearborn, Mich., truck plant to convert it from steel to aluminum vehicle production.


Through a multi-prong approach involving new materials and assembly techniques, the company reduced the weight of its iconic truck by more than 700 lbs. while keeping the rugged intangibles that make the F-150 the most popular truck on the market.


Along the way, this belt-tightening campaign caused a tectonic shift in the supply chain, and it fostered massive research efforts in factories and facilities around the world.


The Ford F-150 truck produced at the famous Ford Rouge factory is made mostly of aluminum alloys.



In 2015, Ford rolled out the first of its aluminum-intense F-150 vehicles. The truck features an all-new, high-strength steel frame, and a high-strength, military-grade aluminum-alloy body and cargo box. It has aluminum doors, hoods, fenders, floors, side panels and more.


The switch to aluminum required a massive plant retooling effort. Traditional spot welding equipment was replaced with state-of-the-art joining technology used to assemble the trucks with self-piercing rivets, structural adhesives and other joining methods and to do so at a rate of about one truck per minute. This change is seen in the numbers: in 2014, a typical F-150 truck underwent 5,000 spot welds. A year later, most of those spot welds were gone, replaced by 2,000 rivets.


Matthew Zaluzec, senior researcher at Ford's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, says the timing was right for overhauling production.


“When we were researching the F-150 upgrades, production was due for a major infrastructure change,” he explains. “We were preparing to change out our robots and welding cells that had reached their useful life. Instead, we substituted rivet guns for welding robots.”


The Ford F-150 truck produced at Ford's Kentucky truck plant is made mostly of aluminum alloys.



Diversity in R&D

The innovation center is staffed by researchers who bring diverse and specialized skills to the product development community. These include enterprising men and women with knowledge of the body structure, powertrain and chassis; experts in sheet metal and casting, extrusion and hydroforming; and researchers exploring new alloys and metal pretreatment, riveting, adhesives and resistance spot welding. Over the course of five years, their efforts led to some of Ford's newest innovations.


“We are a very forward-thinking group,” Zaluzec says. “We are very strategic in our research and think about future product development in a tactical way. Our strategy is about what's the right material to use on a product. It could be steel, it could be aluminum, it could be composites, it could be magnesium. It could be some unique form of glass or a substitute for glass.”


In essence, whatever works best for the job. When the researchers began to consider how best to lightweight the F-150, they didn't come out and say, “we're going to make it out of aluminum.” First, they developed performance targets – developing performance parameters for towing, hauling, fuel economy and more – and then ferreted out the best solution.


“In the case of the F-150, we could only come up with one way to take out between 700 lbs. to 800 lbs. and keep our ruggedness,” Zaluzec says. “Aluminum was the solution.”


The researchers chose 5000-series and 6000-series aluminum. The magnesium-alloy 5000 series is easily stamped, making it ideal for complex body panels. The 6000 series, alloyed with magnesium and silicon, was selected for outer body panels and cargo bed areas because it offers higher tensile and yield strengths that can hold up to the daily rigors of its users and  Mother Nature.


The company had some in-house knowledge from which to draw. Ford had produced aluminum vehicles before.


“Going back in history,” Zaluzec says, “we've produced Aston Martins and Jaguars. We did a Ford GT 'supercar.' We also did a lot of prototype vehicles, so we knew how to stamp and rivet and join the aluminum. So, when it came to the F-150, the real challenge was the economy of scale and sheer manufacturing scale-up.”


Economy of scale is perhaps an understatement as the F-Series is the leader in truck sales, having sold more than 40 million trucks since it first appeared circa 1948.



An operator helps build a Ford F-150 at Ford's Rouge factory.



An aluminum shakeup

Challenges ran from supply to assembly. On the supply side, how do you obtain enough aluminum with which to build one of the world's best selling vehicles? On the assembly side, how do you join aluminum-based parts when your current assembly technology – spot welding – is not suited for the new material?


The F-150 ramp-up was felt all along the supply chain. To put it in to perspective, a product that sold more than 800,000 vehicles last year was converted from mostly steel to mostly aluminum construction. How does a company obtain enough aluminum sheet to make all of those trucks?


“We're not talking about a few hundred thousand pounds, we're talking about billions of pounds of aluminum to support our product development,” Zaluzec says.


Ford's primary source of aluminum comes from Alcoa’s facility in Davenport, Iowa. A smaller company, Novelis, also supplies Ford from its facility in Oswego, N.Y.


A key aspect of the supply agreement is a closed-loop recycling program developed jointly by Ford, Alcoa and Novelis. Novelis relies on scrap material for producing 50 percent of the automotive aluminum sheet that it sells. The company invested $48 million in a new recycling plant in Oswego that includes an 81,000-sq.-ft. facility for processing, sorting and storing automotive scrap aluminum.


Much of this scrap comes from the Dearborn Truck Plant, which generates thousands of pounds every day. Only 60 percent of the 6-ft.-wide rolls of aluminum supplied to Ford is actually used to make body parts for the F-150. To aid in the recycling effort, Ford invested $60 million in equipment to separate and shred the scrap before shipping it back to its suppliers.


Ford recycles as much as 20 million lbs. of aluminum stamping scrap per month using the closed-loop system at the Dearborn Truck Plant, which builds the F-150.



Riveting topic

Other suppliers, such as rivet manufacturers, also soon felt the avalanche of F-150 demand.


“The riveting company asked, 'You need how many millions of rivets?'” Zaluzec recalls. “They didn't even make that many, and we needed to come back to them and say 'no, we need 5 billion rivets.' Are you ready to step up and support those kinds of volumes?”


Rivets are the primary source of joining components. Ford uses self-piercing rivets that don’t require a predrilled or punched hole, unlike conventional riveting. The rivet makes its own hole as it is inserted. The fastener pierces and fastens in one operation, simplifying assembly and reducing costs while providing a strong, reliable joint.


Self-piercing rivets achieve the results and quality of spot welding without many of the risks, such as toxic fumes, sparks and noise. And, the hardware boasts the same tensile and peel strength as spot welds, but with twice the fatigue life.


Unlike spot welding, rivets do not generate heat, which eliminates problems associated with spot welding of pure aluminum and aluminum alloys that melt below 600 degrees C. Although rivet assembly is slower than using an automated spot welding system, Zaluzec says the difference is negligible.


“Rivets are a little bit slower, but we wouldn't be using them on the F-150 if we couldn't meet production schedules,” he says. “We're talking almost 55 to 58 jobs [trucks] per hour. That's almost a truck every minute.”


The F-150 uses a combination of self-piercing rivets and structural adhesives in a significant percentage of the cab. Applying the adhesive along a flange's larger surface area provides for additional stiffness, which is good for the body structure and reduces NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) that improves the passenger's riding experience.


Structural adhesives are often used in architectural applications, but in those uses, the structure rarely travels down a highway at 65 mph.


“That's why we've invested in research to understand aluminum, pretreatments and adhesives, welding and joining,” Zaluzec says. “Research is our insurance policy for the future.”


Ford's F-150 truck is aluminum intensive, as this animation depicts. 



Future is in site

While the revamping of the F-150 appears to be a success – the truck continues to win national awards and outsell its competitors – the Research and Innovation Center continues to focus on future endeavors, as does its various supply chain partners. Unsurprisingly, Ford's future lightweighting efforts will focus on more areas than body structure.


“You will see the power train becoming lighter weight in the future,” Zaluzec notes. “You will see some mixed materials, and you might see some composites creep in for things like oil pans and engine covers. We will look at every component and ask, 'where can we take out some weight and still deliver the functional performance that we hold very near and dear to our hearts?'”


One such effort is to look beyond the 5000- to 6000-series aluminum alloys to stronger yet lighter variants. For example, Alcoa developed a milling process called Micromill that changes the metal's micro-structure to create an aluminum alloy with 40 percent greater formability and 30 percent greater strength than traditional aluminum.


The easier-to-shape material could be used for the inside panels of doors and external fenders. The downside? Alcoa is currently only able to make this material in small volumes.


Similarly, carbon fiber materials show great promise and might indeed be the next big material in automotive. But for now the strand-like material, woven and combined with other materials to turn it into a composite, is not ready for the high-volume world of the F-150 and its ilk.




“When Ford went to the aluminum industry, just the F-150 alone really shook them up and they had to substantially increase capacity,” Zaluzec says. “That was an established industry. Now jump to the other extreme, carbon fiber. That industry is really in its infancy and it has a long way to grow before we can get to high-volume vehicles.”


Ford is working with Dow Chemical and DowAksa to develop carbon fiber. The two companies signed a development agreement to research high-volume manufacturing of automotive-grade carbon fiber that can be applied to random fiber formats while maintaining compatibility with thermoset and thermoplastic matrices.


In a production environment, carbon fiber can be a challenge because of its multiple fiber strands, their orientations and the complex matrix combined with epoxy or resins to keep it all together. One of the ways Ford is working to overcome this challenge is through computer-aided analysis, often called computational material engineering.


“With carbon fiber [material], you have to be able to predict the fiber location, the fiber density and the orientation,” Zaluzec says. “For a stamped steel component, for example, you can do it on paper first and then review prototypes and get it to production sooner.”





Assembly issues

To get these lightweight materials into production, a number of assembly scenarios are considered. Where will the component be used and to what environmental conditions will it be exposed? What variations in external and internal temperatures will it face and what kind of exposure will it undergo? Will these different metals require different coatings and pretreatment processes and can they be used in tandem for corrosion control and other issues? 


“When you start mixing materials, you have to be worried about assembly issues,” Zaluzec says. “When you do mixed metal joining, you cannot spot weld or fusion weld. It's like MIG welding steel to aluminum; you can't do it. Instead, you're going to consider rivets with adhesives to join those materials.”


An assembly line at Ford's Kentucky truck plant featuring self-piercing riveting and adhesive application robotic equipment.



The same issues apply, he says, when introducing a structural composite reinforcement. In that case, a mechanical joint is most likely required, but using a rivet to join a metal to a composite will give a weak joint, and production might have to predrill a hole and use a mechanical fastener with an adhesive.


No matter the challenge, if it is the best solution, chances are, eventually, that a manufacturing or assembly concept will find its way to a Ford production operation.


“If you go to one of our assembly plants, you will see we are state of the art,” Zaluzec says. “We're using advanced materials and advanced manufacturing techniques. At Ford, we’re putting science back into manufacturing. I think that's really exciting, and we are extremely proud of that.”


Ford Motor Co.



Get This Magazine

Join over 70,000 fab shop professionals and receive our magazine in your email inbox for FREE. Every issue will give you great editorial to help your business stay productive and profitable.

Subscribe Now