Since the very beginning, the auto industry has sought the perfect alloys to create strong vehicles. However, its experiments in metallurgy in Gastonia, NC contain different considerations than the typical machine shop. Making cars strong could also make them heavy, which can make it difficult to afford fuel costs. However, with crash test requirements and good will among the consumer public at stake, cars also need to hold up in accidents. The journey of Ford Motor Co. is a good example of how auto makers look for that perfect metallurgical combination. Here is a look at that history.
Model T composition
Henry Ford was an innovator in many ways. He created the affordable Model T and the mass production system. Realizing that workers could not afford his cars unless he paid them enough, he was also well known for setting his own minimum wage requirements.
Ford also used aluminum in cars before it became mainstream. International auto manufacturers used primarily steel, and Ford was no different. Even then, he realized weight was the enemy, and the Model T frames were made of steel containing vanadium for added strength. However, Model T hoods were made of aluminum in order to reduce weight.
This was especially important when you consider that the original Model T only had a 20-horsepower engine. To meet any reasonable performance goals, its weight had to remain under 2,000 pounds. While aluminum definitely had its advantages when it came to automotive properties, it would take another 100 years before Ford or any other manufacturers would consider it for other components.
Loyalty to steel was not unreasonable. Steel is not only strong, but it is also affordable and easy to shape. It responds well to heat treatment and welding, which made it perfect for creating car and truck frames. Steel lacks resistance to corrosion, but that was handled with surface treatment and turning it into steel-dominant alloys.
If cost of manufacturing were the only consideration for the auto industry, steel would remain the dominant and likely only material used for cars and trucks. Aluminum is lighter and resistant to corrosion, but it costs nearly twice as much. However, industry leaders also realize that saving money on product manufacturing costs only pays off if consumers buy their vehicles. Therefore, when considering performance and fuel efficiency, finding ways to integrate aluminum becomes a priority.
Ford used its experience and research to create an aluminum alloy with a higher composition of steel. Aluminum frames once contained 23 percent steel, but the company was able to develop a proprietary method that increases that amount to 77 percent without adding significant weight. This created a material that offered the durability of steel with the anti-corrosive elements and low weight of aluminum. That was possible thanks to the techniques of heat treatment. The current F-150 with a frame made of this alloy is nearly 700 pounds lighter, but has the same towing and hauling capacity as other trucks not built with this alloy.
The evolution of auto manufacturing materials shows how a 1,000-year-old process like heat treatment still has applications with current technology. It creates stronger cars, better components and parts less likely to corrode due to moisture or pressure. If you require help with your own experiments in metallurgy in Gastonia, NC, contact J.F. Heat Treating Inc. today.