The potential of two devices that identify plastic materials by resin type for recycling has Ford Motor Co. so excited it is willing to share the technology with competitors. Ford of Europe, a London-based division of the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker, worked hand-in-hand with the University of Southampton in England to develop the machines - a spectroscopic identifier, and a hand-held unit called Tribopen - which almost instantaneously identify hundreds of types of plastic. The devices can be adapted to identify specific materials.
``The potential of these machines is truly global,'' said Nav Sidhu, a spokesman for Ford Europe. ``They are important both for their ability to aid the recycling industry in dismantling autos, and in benchmarking the materials used in both their own and competitors' vehicles.''
Sidhu said the devices were developed because sorting plastics by resin type is one of the most difficult, costly and crucial components in recycling automobiles. The company plans to make the instruments available to all of its 18,000 dealerships in Europe, and eventually in North America, though vehicle recycling there is more complex, he said.
In some parts of Europe, vehicle recycling is required by law, Sidhu said.
``And because the manufacturers are responsible for properly recycling the materials from the cars that they make, it is the natural place to start.''
Although the devices were developed at the University of Southampton with Ford's help, they actually are manufactured by Fluid Film Devices Ltd. an instrument company in the United Kingdom, and it is the first time that Ford has licensed technology it has developed to an outside venture.
``We really would not have a problem with marketing these devices to our competitors in Europe,'' Sidhu said, ``since the vehicle dismantling and recycling laws pertain to all the vehicle manufacturers, and the impact is really global.''
The company now is turning its attention to recycling the composite materials in vehicles.
In the United States, 94 percent of all cars and trucks scrapped are dismantled and shredded. Ford figures show that 75 percent of their content by weight, including iron, steel, aluminum and copper is recycled. Batteries, en-gines, transmissions, catalytic converters, and radiators also are removed and remanufactured or recycled.
Ford estimates that 80 percent of its Explorers, Rangers, Con-tours, and sister-model Mercury Mystiques are recyclable. The company uses recycled plastic for some parts, including soda bottles to make grille reinforcements, battery housings for splash shields, and bumpers for new taillamps.