The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has awarded Ford’s 2015 F-150 SuperCrew (pictured below) its five-star Overall Vehicle Score in its New Car Assessment Program, the highest possible rating.
The F-150’s improved performance is enabled by up to 700lb weight savings through the use of high-strength steel in the frame; high-strength, military-grade, aluminium alloy in the body; and ‘smart’ engineering.
A cross-functional group comprised of Ford truck product development veterans and researchers worked to precisely optimize vehicle weight savings and manufacturing design to deliver improved durability, capability, fuel economy and crashworthiness.
The team created and patented new structures, materials and joining methods that were tested virtually with supercomputer simulations, then retested in Ford’s advanced laboratories to engineer the safest F-150 ever.
The F-150 team began engineering the truck using supercomputers before the first units were crash-tested in a lab.
Engineers developed digital safety models with nearly 1.4 million separate elements to examine how even the smallest parts of the truck would perform in a crash situation.
According to Ford, safety begins with the truck’s signature, fully boxed frame – the backbone of the all-new F-150.
Engineers found they needed to add an extra cross-member; they also increased the use of high-strength steel to improve stiffness, durability and safety – while also helping reduce the frame’s weight by up to 60lb.
“The team had to invent new ways to manage crash energy, because advanced materials like high-strength steel behave differently,” said Matt Niesluchowski, Ford truck safety manager. “We found that changing certain shapes led to a weight reduction, while also improving crash performance.”
Safety engineers developed a patented 12-corner front crush horn to dissipate more energy in a front impact.
The uniquely shaped structure helps manage crash forces so the frame buckles predictably to keep those forces away from occupants in the cabin. This is just one of the 31 new safety-related innovations the team developed to make the truck safer in the event of a crash.
Ford’s advanced research and safety teams worked together to engineer F-150’s high-strength, military-grade, aluminium-alloy body structure to manage what happens to the body in the event of a crash.
The truck’s cab features hydroformed roof rails that constitute a cage-like structure around the doors, extruded roof bows to provide lateral strength across the top of the cab, and extruded rocker rails near the bottom to reinforce lower body strength.
How various parts of the truck were joined also yielded safety improvements. In many cases, welding was not the most effective way to join parts, so the team developed and patented methods to connect parts using high-strength adhesives. This resulted in structural strength equal to or greater than traditional welds.
At the heart of the new F-150’s joining system is the technique of using self-piercing rivets (SPRs) pioneered by British company Henrob (now part of Atlas Copco). Initial work aimed at using SPRs for aluminium-intensive (AI) automotive body structures was developed by Henrob at Jaguar’s Castle Bromwich plant in the West Midlands of the UK for the Jaguar XJ when the British company was briefly owned by Ford. That experience gave Ford an entrée into the technology that the US automaker has subsequently exploited for its own benefit.
Ford is understood to have 1,100 SPR application systems installed in three plants including Dearborn Truck Plant and Kansas City Assembly Plant. The SPR systems are manufactured by Henrob. Together these three plants consume 1.5 billion SPRs a year. The F-150 body structure has over 3,200 SPRs in each vehicle. This might imply an annual production of 468,750 trucks.
And there is more to come. Rumours suggest Ford and Henrob are working together again on applying SPRs to the F-250 and F-350 which will appear next year. The F-250 for example will require 750 SPR application systems and these will consume one billion SPRs a year.
New also to F-150 is an advanced restraint system that includes an adaptive steering column that adjusts energy management depending on occupant size and safety belt usage. The system includes dual-stage airbags and side-curtain airbags.
“The five-star safety rating is a terrific example of One Ford collaboration and innovation,” said Raj Nair, Ford group vice president, global product development. “Our truck team worked together for years to deliver this accomplishment, using an unprecedented combination of advanced materials throughout the all-new F-150. The 2015 model is engineered to be the safest F-150 ever, which matters to customers who depend on this truck to not only get the job done, but also get them safely home.”
F-150’s improved performance is enabled also by the use of the 2.7-litre EcoBoost turbocharged gasoline engine. Ford’s EcoBoost engine is the first gasoline engine to use a compacted graphite iron (CGI) block in volume production. This engine again helps reduce weight compared with a 3.5-litre engine.
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