CHICAGO — Ford Motor Co. has introduced a new thermoplastic bumper fascia that the automaker says could be the lightest-weight fascia ever produced worldwide.
The fascia, made of thermoplastic olefins, was developed in a joint project with Montell Polyolefins automotive business group in Troy, Mich.; injection molder Polycon Industries Inc. of Guelph, Ontario; and engineers at Ford's Engineering Test facility in Dearborn, Mich.
The fascia currently is used on Ford's 1997 model Windstar minivan, which began production in January. Ford has not announced plans to use Montell's HiFax TPO bumper material on any other vehicle lines.
The project first began in 1994 when Ford approached Montell to develop a lighter-weight bumper material for the Windstar that maintained the stiffness needed to pass 5-mile-per-hour crash tests, said product development engineer Jim Krebs of Ford's Automotive Products Operations group.
Ford wanted the material so the minivan could meet fuel efficiency standards better, Krebs said during a June 13 news conference at Ford's test facility. However, fascia production needed to remain cost-effective with the new resin, he said.
``We think the material they came up with is lighter than anything produced in the world [for bumpers],'' Krebs said after the press event. ``We've checked with Europe and Asia and haven't found anything that weighs less. It's really quite an innovation.''
The high-strength material, developed exclusively by Montell for Ford, comprises a blend of advanced olefinic polymers using the company's proprietary Catalloy technology to provide low-temperature impact resistance, said Montell senior marketing manager William Windscheif.
Development of the fascia material at Ford's testing center took less than 20 months. The fascia weighs only 81/2 pounds, 5 pounds less than previous Windstar fascias, which also are made of TPO. The weight savings primarily come from a reduction in the fascia's wall stock to 2.4 millimeters from a previous 3.5mm. As an added benefit, the redesigned fascia also reduces production cycle times, said Polycon product engineering manager W.T. Ferris, who declined to provide data cycle-time reduction figures.
The fascia mold includes a hot-runner manifold with sequential valve gating especially designed for the TPO material, Ferris said. That helped speed fill time, evenly distribute the material and cause less internal stress, he said.
The mold builder, Paragon Die & Engineering Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., uses similar valve-gating processes on other tools, said Paragon President Ralph Swain.
Paragon and officials at Polycon, a division of Dearborn-based Conix Corp., worked together to develop a fascia mold that would reduce production costs, he said.
Polycon uses four injection presses to mold the fascias. Two presses with clamping forces of 3,000 tons are used for the front fascias, and two 2,000-ton presses mold the rear, Ferris said.
The completed fascias are assembled at Ford's Oakville, Ontario, plant, located about 30 miles from Polycon's plant. Last year, Ford sold 230,000 Windstar minivans. Sales volumes are expected to increase this year, Krebs said.
TPO materials rapidly are becoming the resin of choice for North American bumper fascias since the polymer's advent four years ago, Windscheif said. The material has replaced reaction injection molded materials and polycarbonate blends in many applications.
According to Montell's industry-derived figures, TPO fascias are found on 60 percent of all North American vehicles.
By 2001, that figure is expected to mushroom to close to 85 percent of all vehicles, said Windscheif of Montell, which is based in Hoofddorp, the Netherlands.
Montell exhibited at NPE 1997 in Chicago, held June 16-20.