Ford is in love with aluminum, and it doesn’t care how much GM makes fun of it (because GM is headed in the same direction). In a bid to stay at the forefront of the aluminum revolution, Ford has announced a new collaborative agreement with Alcoa.
That might sound like not a big deal, but Alcoa’s Micromill technology is seriously the kind of thing you could call revolutionary and not be overreacting. Ford’s first in line to use the innovative automotive aluminum on a production vehicle.
Nobody’s going to get excited about Micromill without understanding why it’s a good thing. Basically, it can be formed around different shapes better than other automotive aluminum, meaning it can be used in some intricate portions of a vehicle, such as the interior panels on a door. The stuff’s also stronger, so it can be used in thinner sheets, which allows for designs that before weren’t possible, and helps cut down on weight.
Thanks to the nature of Micromill, Alcoa and Ford say some vehicle components that are made of several parts could be manufactured using a single piece of the material. That speeds up production time and keeps costs down.
One of the most impressive features of Micromill is something consumers never see, but that definitely impacts them. Traditional rolling mills take about an average of 20 days to convert molten metal into coil so it’s ready to be used on a car. With Micromill, the process takes only 20 minutes. That means Alcoa will be able to churn out the material much, much faster, which hopefully will cure Ford’s previous problems with aluminum supply lags.
The whole agreement between Ford and Alcoa goes beyond the current Micromill alloy and applies to future developments, for at least several more years. Ford says that between 2016 and 2017, its usage of Micromill materials on vehicles will double. The move should keep Ford ahead of many of its competitors when it comes to materials science and engineering.