Ford recycles clay to reduce landfill waste

Modeling clay is a favourite of many children, who can craft, re-craft and recycle the pliable stuff over many years.


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While a bit more advanced, Ford has employed a similar idea with the clay it uses to model future vehicles: craft, re-craft and then recycle. Even as Ford embraces digital design and new technology, full-size clay models of vehicles remain an important part of Ford’s creative design process, helping designers spot issues in both the interior and exterior of a vehicle. “We are constantly being influenced by new technologies, but when we want to view physical properties early in the process, we still turn to clay,” said Lloyd VandenBrink, modeling manager at Ford’s Truck Studio in Dearborn, Michigan. “When a design is still fluid, clay allows immediate reviews and feedback so necessary for working in a collaborative atmosphere.” Ford uses up to 200,000 pounds of clay every year to construct fullsize vehicle models. During the last five years the company has used a proprietary machine to recycle more than 20,000 pounds of clay and keep it out of landfills. That’s the equivalent of a dozen full-size clay model exteriors. For example, a full-size model built to design the new Raptor was composed of 1,935 pounds of clay – and designers spent 20,000 hours modeling it over four years. Most of the clay that Ford recycles comes from the milling process, during which designers use a machine to help them shape the silhouette of a vehicle. Since even a grain of sand can affect the finish quality of a model, only clay chips that fall into bins surrounding the vehicle are recycled. Once gathered, these clay chips are placed in the recycling machine – designed to process only Ford’s unique clay material. The machine compresses and churns the clay with multiple blades, sucking all the air out of the material. The clay is then passed through a nozzle that’s heated just enough to churn it out with the proper consistency so that it can be reused.