Ford's Phenomenal Recycling System

An engineer at Ford Motor Company has designed a closed-loop system to recapture aluminium used in automotive manufacturing.
19 May, 2017
The Ford Motor Company has made the successful switch to high-grade aluminium, and is now focusing on recycling.
Ford relies on aluminium in manufacturing its popular F-150 pickup truck series, along with other trucks and even a line of law enforcement vehicles. Now they've flipped another switch – on an innovative recycling system that allows the company to recover aluminium waste used in the manufacturing process and recoup the material savings with it.

Chip Conrad is a stamping engineer, which means he works on process and machines that shape metal parts. He led the Ford team that designed the recycling system, which is now collecting 5 million pounds of military-grade aluminium scrap each week. The company says that every month, with the system in use at three different plants, it saves enough material to build the equivalent of 51 commercial jetliners.
Or alternately – and this clearly matters more to Ford – that's equal to 37,000 new F-Series truck bodies. In other words, the company is saving the aluminium to build more than 1,000 trucks every single day.

How does it work? At the core of this closed-loop system is an automated vacuum system connected to more than two miles of tubes that crisscross the plants. As doors or fenders are stamped into shape, the scrap aluminium is shredded into pieces about the size of a dollar bill. These pieces are vacuumed up into the factory system and routed through a sophisticated series of computer-controlled gates.
Images: Ford Media
"The system automatically knows which of the four different grades of alloy is being stamped at a given time, then it routes the material into one of four trucks standing by to send it back for reprocessing," Conrad explained. The process is seamless, like a water slide, he says, and moves the scrap directly from the manufacturing operation where it was created to the semi-truck that takes it to its next destination.

The vacuum tube system was developed at the Dearborn Stamping Plant, where the F-150 is built. It proved so successful in turning those dollar-bill-sized scraps into real dollar-bill savings, the automaker installed it at Kentucky Truck, where the Super Duty vehicle line is made, and at Buffalo Stamping. The latter facility makes the aluminium alloy panels that are used to build the commercial F-series line.
Image: Ford Media
"Not only does this make sound business sense," Conrad said, "it's helping Ford reduce its environmental impact."

That's because of the reduced energy inputs in the recycled scrap aluminium when compared with new product, the company said in its press release.

Recycling scrap will use just 10 percent of the energy needed to make new aluminum, according to the Aluminum Association, which is one of the reasons why so much of the aluminium that has ever been produced remains in its first or later lives today.
Images: Ford Media, via and PublicDomainPictures
As Ford expands the use of aluminum in its product lineup, closed-loop recycling systems will be essential to the long-term viability of lightweight materials and meeting overall sustainability targets. The company says it already reinvests the weight savings on individual truck models in improving performance, as it did with the Super Duty's capability to include more towing and hauling capacity.

"Our ability to recycle leads to improved fuel economy and capability for our truck customers," says Conrad. "And it helps us build more affordable, high-performing, efficient trucks."
Banner image: Ford Media