DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. said it would begin using a new type of aluminum from supplier Alcoa to make some parts for the F-150 pickup later this year, in a step toward eventually replacing more steel components with aluminum.
The automaker announced a joint development agreement Monday with supplier Alcoa Inc. to work on an production process called “Micromill,” which reduces the time to produce aluminum coils to just 20 minutes from the 20 days it currently takes.
In addition to being made faster, the Micromill process creates aluminum that is about 30 percent lighter than high-strength steel, while maintaining the same level of crash resistance. It’s also 40 percent more formable and 30 percent stronger than the aluminum already being used for the F-150 body, Ford said.
That means it can be used in parts of a vehicle, such as fenders and inner door panels, for which conventionally produced aluminum had not been an option, said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief.
“It gives us flexibility for better design and better styling as well as dramatically reduced time,” Nair told reporters at Ford’s research and engineering campus. “This really opens up possibilities in those types of parts. This is one of the those things that engineers really get excited about.”
In the fourth quarter, Ford will start using three tailgate-reinforcement parts made of Micromill aluminum on the F-150, followed by box crossmembers, wheelhouses and other parts next year. All of those parts already are made of aluminum on the truck because the design isn’t changing, but future development work on the F-150 and other vehicles can incorporate the Micromill aluminum capabilities to replace more high-strength steel.
“The real flexibility is when we start designing parts specifically for this material,” Nair said.
Nair declined to say whether the process would be used on the Super Duty pickups, Ford Expedition or Lincoln Navigator, all of which will use aluminum bodies in their next redesign.
Alcoa initially plans to make the Micromill steel in San Antonio, Texas, but is considering building additional capacity as demand for the material grows, CEO Klaus Kleinfeld said.
Exclusive for Ford
Alcoa will provide the aluminum exclusively to Ford for a period of time that neither company would specify, before licensing the technology to other producers. The Micromill process is much faster because molten metal is formed into coils without first being poured into ingots.
Kleinfeld said the process “creates value for our customers,” but neither he nor Nair would discuss how much it could reduce the cost of aluminum for future vehicles.
Nair said Ford plans to increase its use of aluminum by “a lot” in the coming years.
“The fact that we’re collaborating on this scale shows a pretty big commitment,” he said.