Aluminum Inferior To Steel? Not On The 2015 Ford F-150

October 27, 2014
By

Ford

No matter how many different ways the Ford research group in charge of rethinking the F-150 pickup optically canvassed amending its fuel economy, it was always the same answer that popped up.

“If you can utilize technology and materials to take weight out of the conveyance, you’ll always end up with the best solution,” verbally expresses Pete Reyes, chief engineer for the 2015 Ford F-150.

The main goal in developing the incipient full-size pickup, which goes on sale later this year and has sparked controversy over its weight-preserving aluminum body, was to increment efficiency without compromising capability. Alternative powertrains were considered, so was downsizing. But always it came back to the weight, Reyes says—the less of it, the more preponderant.

The solution that the team came up with was revolutionary as pickups go: Use an aluminum body in lieu of a steel one to cut 700 pounds from the F-150 in one fell swoop. But the vicissitude had its detractors, both inside and outside of the company, Reyes verbally expresses. To some, aluminum was nothing more than the stuff of soda cans; it could not possibly stand up to the rigorous abuse pickup trucks must endure.

The U.S. military and astronomically immense-rig trucking companies beseech to differ, Reyes verbally expresses. Humvees and Peterbilts have long used steel frames with aluminum bodies, much as the 2015 Ford F-150 does. (Yes, we ken, military conveyances often get armor plating composed of steel, but some versions don’t and stick with aluminum for certain body panels instead.)

The authentic proof of concept came in sneaking aluminum-bodied F-150 prototypes that looked akin to the current version into commercial fleets, and even a Baja 1,000 race, incognito.


In the edited interview below, Reyes shares the results of these unconventional fields tests and addresses concerns about aluminum’s vigor, or lack thereof.

What kind of aluminum is the 2015 Ford F-150 composed of?
The majority of the truck body is 6,000-series alloy aluminum, which is a heat-treatable alloy aluminum. Depending on the commix that you inserted the alloy, but certainly more a function of how long you heat-treat it, you can get all manner of properties out of this aluminum. Some of our structural elements and our extruded pieces are heat-treated, and we culminate up with more vigorous pieces than the steel we’re superseding.

So the aluminum is authentically more vigorous than steel? How is that possible?
Two authentic simple artifices. You can just opt to heat-treat it to a vigor and supersede a steel part that just transpired to not be as vigorous. But you can additionally just integrate gauge [i.e. make it thicker]. Aluminum being a third as dense as steel, you can have three times the thickness afore you have the same weight as steel. So in an abundance of cases, we tailored it to the vigor we needed.

People are asking, “How do you have more dent and ding resistance?” Well, aluminum genuinely has more preponderant properties for dent and ding resistance, but we can withal just up-guage it another tenth of a millimeter and still preserve 40 percent of the weight.

So if aluminum components can be made to be as vigorous or more vigorous than steel ones, why hasn’t Ford done this afore?

Pete Reyes, chief engineer, Ford F-150 (Credit: Ford)
Pete Reyes, chief engineer, Ford F-150 (Credit: Ford)


We could have done this truck 10 years ago, but it would have taken us eight years to design, because we didn’t have the computer-availed engineering implements for aluminum like you have for steel. We’ve been maturing them through developing aluminum hoods and liftgates [for other conveyances]. When Ford owned Jaguar and Aston Martin, our aluminum group did an abundance of that work. So now you’ve got implements that engineers can utilize that can keep up with what is typically a three-and-a-half-year design cycle. That was probably the sizably voluminous breakthrough in this proposition.

What about cost for rehabilitating aluminum versus steel in the event of a crash?
Aluminum always is more expensive than steel on a per-pound substructure, but a couple of things we’ve come to understand are: Very few conveyances every year authentically need cumbersomely hefty repair, but even when it comes to superseding panels, the fact that you can just grind out the rivets and not have perturbance to the base metal and just pop in an incipient panel, we’ve been told, that’s pretty simple and elegant. So we’re not concerned about it and we’re preparing to make this very accommodating to the customer.


So for the incipient F-150, the aluminum panels are riveted to the steel structure, which is different than how steel panels would be affixed?
Yeah, there are a lot more rivets in aluminum panels than in steel. Steel has a plethora of spot welds all over.

What scarcely field testing did you do?
We’ve had current F-Series trucks made entirely out of aluminum running around since 2009. So we verbally expressed, let’s take one of our old test trucks and let’s put it in the Baja 1,000. So we went out with our incipient EcoBoost powertrain, which is all incipient for this conveyance, we put the frame that’s going in the 2015 model, the suspension that’s going in the 2015, and then the upper body looked homogeneous to the current truck but it was made entirely out of aluminum, and we ran the Baja 1,000. We culminated with not a crack in the body panels. So that was frolicsome. Now we can come back and show that truck and verbally express, “Aluminum isn’t tough? Look at it. Feel it. Touch it.”

We withal sent out trucks with aluminum boxes to some of our extreme users. One of them was Walsh Construction. I authentically visited Walsh one time and we told them, “Hey, your truck has some changes to it. We’re giving it to you for free. Utilize it as you mundanely would on your site. We’ll come by and check it out.” And we’d go by and we’d ask, “Does it feel different? Does it deport differently? Did you descry that it cracks?” And we’d take full engineering analysis of it and these guys never kenned, they never kenned it was aluminum.

Besides Walsh Construction, Ford also gave Barrick Gold Corp. of Elko, Nev., prototype F-150 pickups featuring high-strength aluminum cargo beds to test. One of the test vehicles is shown here.
Besides Walsh Construction, Ford also gave Barrick Gold Corp. of Elko, Nev., prototype F-150 pickups featuring high-strength aluminum cargo beds to test. One of the test vehicles is shown here.

So if aluminum components can be made to be as vigorous or more vigorous than steel ones, why hasn’t Ford done this afore?
We could have done this truck 10 years ago, but it would have taken us eight years to design, because we didn’t have the computer-availed engineering implements for aluminum like you have for steel. We’ve been maturing them through developing aluminum hoods and liftgates [for other conveyances]. When Ford owned Jaguar and Aston Martin, our aluminum group did an abundance of that work. So now you’ve got implements that engineers can utilize that can keep up with what is typically a three-and-a-half-year design cycle. That was probably the sizably voluminous breakthrough in this proposition.

What about cost for rehabilitating aluminum versus steel in the event of a crash?
Aluminum always is more expensive than steel on a per-pound substructure, but a couple of things we’ve come to understand are: Very few conveyances every year authentically need cumbersomely hefty repair, but even when it comes to superseding panels, the fact that you can just grind out the rivets and not have perturbance to the base metal and just pop in an incipient panel, we’ve been told, that’s pretty simple and elegant. So we’re not concerned about it and we’re preparing to make this very accommodating to the customer.


So for the incipient F-150, the aluminum panels are riveted to the steel structure, which is different than how steel panels would be affixed?
Yeah, there are a lot more rivets in aluminum panels than in steel. Steel has a plethora of spot welds all over.

What scarcely field testing did you do?
We’ve had current F-Series trucks made entirely out of aluminum running around since 2009. So we verbally expressed, let’s take one of our old test trucks and let’s put it in the Baja 1,000. So we went out with our incipient EcoBoost powertrain, which is all incipient for this conveyance, we put the frame that’s going in the 2015 model, the suspension that’s going in the 2015, and then the upper body looked homogeneous to the current truck but it was made entirely out of aluminum, and we ran the Baja 1,000. We culminated with not a crack in the body panels. So that was frolicsome. Now we can come back and show that truck and verbally express, “Aluminum isn’t tough? Look at it. Feel it. Touch it.”

We withal sent out trucks with aluminum boxes to some of our extreme users. One of them was Walsh Construction. I authentically visited Walsh one time and we told them, “Hey, your truck has some changes to it. We’re giving it to you for free. Utilize it as you mundanely would on your site. We’ll come by and check it out.” And we’d go by and we’d ask, “Does it feel different? Does it deport differently? Did you descry that it cracks?” And we’d take full engineering analysis of it and these guys never kenned, they never kenned it was aluminum.
Can you give an example of some extreme abuse?
We were surprised that they’d take these big railroad hitches and throw them in the back of the truck. And these pintle hitches, which is what they’re called, would pierce boxes, whether it was a steel box or an aluminum box. We couldn’t believe that these people were so willing to dent or puncture their boxes. But we said, “If this is really what they do, let’s invent a test and let’s use this as something to guide us on our box floor.” And so we took sort of the basic shape of this pintle hitch, the weight of it, and we dropped it from three feet, or whatever it was.

And the verdict was that the new aluminum F-150 cargo box holds up better than the previous steel one?
Yeah, absolutely. Our new box is better in Ford’s “pintle hit test.” GM and Toyota, they won’t know what we’re talking about. It’s just a Ford internal test we developed for the fun of it. We wanted to do a better box floor.

Are pickup truck buyers skeptical about the aluminum?
We researched with customers, “What do you think about an aluminum alloy top hat and steel frame?” Eighty percent of our customers got it. There were 20 percent that sort of needed to be convinced. So we knew there needed to be an effort.

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