Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn is promoting environmentally friendly auto parts by using recycled bottles for underbody shields on all cars and SUVs as well as wheel liners on F-Series trucks.
In the past decade, aerodynamics has driven the need for underbody shields. The use of plastics in vehicle parts is used globally and has grown exponentially. Ford uses approximately 1.2 billion recycled plastic bottles per year, which is about 250 bottles per vehicle on average.
“The underbody shield is a large part, and for a part that big, if we use solid plastic, it would likely weigh three times as much,” says Thomas Sweder, design engineer at Ford. “We look for the most-durable and highest-performing materials to work with to make our parts, and in this case, we are also creating many environmental benefits.”
When plastic water bottles are thrown into a recycling bin, they are collected with others and shredded into small pieces. Suppliers who buy the shredded plastic then melt and extrude the bottle to turn it into a fiber. Fibers are then mixed together with other fibers in a textile process and used to make a sheet of material. The sheet of material is formed into automotive parts.
Because recycled plastic is lightweight, it is ideal for manufacturing underbody shields, engine under shields, and front- and rear-wheel arch liners, which help improve vehicle aerodynamics. The shields also help create a significantly quieter environment on the 2020 Ford Escape.
Using recycled plastics on vehicle parts helps in reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in places such as the Pacific gyre, a floating mass of plastic in the Pacific Ocean bigger than the size of Mexico.