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US:Nanotechnology catches on at Ford

Nanotechnology catches on at Ford

Automaker teams with Northwestern University, Boeing to study how small science can pay big.

By Nick Bunkley / The Detroit News

Little is big
What is nanotechnology: Working with materials on an atomic or molecular scale.
Why it matters: Nanocomposites can be used to make vehicles stronger, lighter, more powerful and less expensive to manufacture.
Source: Detroit News research

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Ford Motor Co. will collaborate with aircraft maker Boeing Co.p. and Northwestern University to research how nanotechnology can improve car and plane design and ultimately lead to more alternative-powered vehicles.

Ford is promoting the alliance as evidence of the automaker's commitment to innovation as a means of improving sales and returning to profitability.

"Creativity and innovation is the competitive advantage," said Anne Stevens, Ford group vice president for Canada, Mexico and South America. Stevens announced the alliance Thursday at the opening of the Ford Motor Co. Engineering Design Center on Northwestern's campus, which was funded in part with a $10 million donation from the automaker.

Researchers from Ford and Boeing will work with Northwestern faculty members to develop nanocomposites, specialty metals, thermal materials and sensors that could be used to make vehicles stronger, lighter, more powerful and less expensive to manufacture.

"The aerospace industry is one, unlike autos, that hasn't used steel for decades," said Lindsay Brooke, a senior analyst with auto industry con******t CSM Worldwide in Farmington Hills. "Composites are where aircraft design is going. Anything a company like Boeing has learned and has practiced can really benefit an automaker like Ford, which is looking ... for stronger and lighter."

Nanocomposites are materials made using nanotechnology, a science that involves manipulating individual molecules.

"Stronger, lighter materials would benefit us in almost every car we make," said Edward Krause, Ford's external alliances manager. "Nanotechnology isn't one thing. It enables improvements across countless technologies."

Initially, using nanotechnology raises costs, said Charles Wu, Ford's director of manufacturing and vehicle design. But it can allow breakthroughs that ultimately reduce expenses and have invaluable benefits.

Ford has used nanotechnology to make more efficient catalytic converters for some vehicles and to create more durable paint for the Ford GT. Other automakers have been using the technology to build stronger running boards, cargo beds and exterior panels.

Ford hopes the alliance will help it build more fuel-efficient cars and engines that are more durable because they run cooler. The research also will focus on designing vehicles that run on alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen and electricity. Nanotechnology should allow batteries for hybrid vehicles that produce more energy while weighing less and taking up less space, Stevens said.

CEO Bill Ford Jr. recently said half of the company's models will have hybrid capabilities by 2010. By making batteries and other components smaller, it opens up space for more features that consumers want in their vehicles, Stevens said. Designers will be forced to make fewer compromises when choosing materials and amenities.

"When you're engineering a vehicle, you're always making tradeoffs," Stevens said. "It creates an opportunity to give the consumer more."

Ford chose to work with Northwestern because of the university's emphasis on nanotechnology. Northwestern has about 40 faculty members working on nanotechnology, while Ford has eight to 10 researchers in that field. The Dearborn-based automaker also hopes to encourage university students to study nanotechnology and join its ranks as the field becomes more integrated into the auto industry.

Ford has long-standing relationships with both Boeing and Northwestern. It has worked with Boeing for a decade on projects including aluminum bonding and rapid prototyping and has partnered with Northwestern for 30 years.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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