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Been there, done that, Ford says of process

Still, making it work for high-volume truck is a brand-new game

The redesigned pickup's body is aluminum, assembled with rivets and adhesive rather than spot welds.

DETROIT -- The aluminum body of the 2015 Ford F-150 pickup uses the same bonding process developed by Ford engineers for the Jaguar XJ luxury sedan and the Range Rover SUV more than a decade ago.

This explains, in part, why Ford Motor Co. executives are confident they can handle the F-150's switch to aluminum, despite widespread industry fears that it's risky.

The bonding system, which uses adhesive and stainless steel rivets to join aluminum sheets, is being installed in Ford's F-150 assembly plants in Dearborn, Mich., and Kansas City, Mo.

"It's the same process," said Michael LaPensee, vice president of applications for Henrob Corp., the New Hudson, Mich., company that supplies rivets to both Ford and Jaguar Land Rover.

Nair: Jaguar was first step.

Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president of global product development, said: "Obviously, we did a lot of the advanced engineering work when Jaguar was part of the fold. And so we have a lot of experience."

Ford sold Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata Motors Ltd. of India in 2008.

Nair was interviewed at the North American International Auto Show last week after the redesigned pickup was unveiled to the press.

Steel bodies of the current F-150 are constructed with spot welds. While the construction process of the redesigned model is different, Ford said other manufacturing aspects of the pickup stay the same.

For instance, Jim deVries, Ford's global manager of materials and manufacturing research, said the number of body parts used in the 2014 F-150's steel cab is comparable to the number used in the 2015 aluminum cab.

He also said the manufacturing footprint of the assembly line will remain about the same.

Last week Ford executives doled out limited information about how the company will assemble the redesigned pickup. Ford spokesman Mike Levine said Ford will reveal how it will build the pickups later this year.

The Range Rover SUV uses 3,722 rivets, of which there are 17 types, and 528 feet of adhesive to hold together the body's 403 parts.

The 2015 F-150, The New York Times reported, will use about 4,000 rivets instead of the 7,000 spot welds used in the current pickup.

While rivet guns will replace spot welders on the assembly line -- and add complexity -- other areas of the manufacturing, such as painting, could be simplified. For instance, the current pickup uses a steel body and aluminum hood, which complicates the paint drying process.

F-150 by the numbers
Ford released few technical details about its aluminum-bodied 2015 F-150 truck, but here are a few key numbers and estimates.
550-700Pounds cut on 2015 F-150 models compared with 2014 models 10Pounds saved by switching from aluminum to magnesium on the transfer case
1,000Dollars in added cost per vehicle attributable to replacing steel with aluminum components, according to one analyst's rough estimate 6Pounds cut by redesigning the rear axle
15%Estimated weight reduction on the 2015 F-150 compared with the 2014 version 28-30Estimated highway mpg on 2015 F-150, up from 18-23 on the 2014
4,000Roughly the number of rivets used in the 2015 F-150, according to The New York Times, replacing about 7,000 spot welds on a steel truck 18Length in inches of the F-150's new 2.7-liter V-6 EcoBoost engine, including the front cover and flywheel
80Pounds shaved from the steel frame 647,697F-150s built in 2013
10Pounds cut by shortening the rear suspension's leaf springs   

Since all the body panels of the 2015 F-150 are aluminum, they can be painted and dried for the same amount of time in the same paint shop. Ford will be able to modify its existing facilities for aluminum, Nair said.

"We can pretty much use the existing infrastructure because we are painting aluminum right now," he said.

Ford says the 2015 model will weigh 550 to 700 pounds less than a comparable 2014 pickup. Aluminum accounts for the vast majority of the loss. But Levine, the Ford spokesman, said the weight of nearly every part was scrutinized.

The redesigned steel frame, for example, weighs 80 pounds less than the current one. Levine said engineers shaved 10 pounds from the transfer case by switching from aluminum to magnesium.

Another 10 pounds were shed by shortening the rear suspension's leaf springs, and 6 pounds were dropped by redesigning the rear axle. The weight of the seats was reduced, too, he said.

Ford engineers also cut weight by developing a compact 2.7-liter V-6 with two turbochargers for the pickup. The engine, about 18 inches in length, uses die-cast aluminum on the bottom of the block and graphite iron on the cylinder section.

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