Tiny Cell Technology Wins Engineering Award, Helps Boost Fuel Economy in New Ford Escape


DEARBORN, Mich. — Microscopic cells are helping to save weight, and ultimately fuel in future Ford vehicles, starting with the instrument panel of the all-new Escape. It is the first time the MuCell process has been used in an instrument panel and the largest automotive component molded using the process.

Invented by MIT, and subsequently acquired by Trexel in 1995, the MuCell process was initially created for development and commercial use in the injection molding industry worldwide. The MuCell process involves the highly controlled use of a gas such as CO2 or nitrogen in the injection-molding process, which creates millions of micron-sized bubbles in uniform configurations, lowering the weight of the plastic part.

“Ford is focused on leveraging innovations in materials that save weight and boost fuel economy, helping our vehicles travel farther on less gas,” said Derrick Kuzak, Ford’s group vice president of global product development. “MuCell is a great example of this effort.”

Creating the instrument panel structure in microcellular foam saves an estimated $3 US/vehicle vs. solid injection molding. Weight also is reduced by more than 1 lb., molding cycle time is reduced 15 percent and molding clamp tonnage is reduced 45 percent.

“We are pleased that Ford recognizes the immense potential MuCell holds for vehicle cost and weight savings,” said Steve Braig, president and CEO of Trexel. We’re now working with Ford to apply the MuCell process in a strategic way for many more applications as they incorporate MuCell into their design guidelines.”

MuCell first makes its debut in the instrument panel (IP) of the all-new Ford Escape, helping to reduce the weight of the IP by one pound. Weight savings of a little more than one pound may seem insignificant, but plastic parts are an area where it is particularly challenging to save weight without sacrificing strength, durability or function.

This innovative microcellular foaming technology also saves petroleum as well as reducing overhead and energy costs by reducing the amount of time it takes to produce plastic parts.

The MuCell process has already been used successfully in Ford vehicles in Europe for valve covers, along with heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.

The MuCell process is slated for use in the production of instrument panels, along with other applications, in future Ford vehicles beginning next year following its debut in the new Escape.

The all-new Escape which makes its debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show on Nov. 16, goes on sale next spring.

MuCell Captures Top Prize

Ford was named the “Grand Award Winner” at 2011 Society of Plastic Engineers “Most Innovative Use of Plastics Awards” competition for MuCell instrument panel innovation on the 2013 Ford Escape. The Society of Plastics Engineers awarded Ford the honor at the association’s 41st Auto Innovation Awards Competition on November 9th.

In total, Ford engineering teams won four of the competition’s eight categories including Body Interior, Chassis/Hardware, Process/Assembly/Enabling Technologies and Safety.

Over the four decades the plastics’ competition has been held, Ford has been a leader by driving new technology with industry-first new plastic materials and processing innovations. Twenty Ford teams submitted projects and four of those teams won in the eight possible categories.

SOURCE: Ford Motor Co.