Ford Motor Company is collaborating with Boeing and Northwestern University on nanotechnology research focused on lighter weight metals and plastics with greater strength to improve the safety and fuel economy of its vehicles.
The three announced their intention to form a research partnership for commercial applications of nanotechnology in October 2005. While the initial focus of the collaboration is nanotechnology, other potential research areas include specialty metals, thermal materials, coatings, and sensors.
Ford is now using the Local Electrode Atom Probe (LEAP) housed at Northwestern—one of only four such tools in North America—to cut in half the amount of time it takes to analyze the molecular makeup of metals and plastics and determine ways to tailor the material to make lighter weight and more durable parts.
The stronger and lighter structural materials under investigation use nanoparticles as fillers that reduce weight and increase strength. Examples include making aluminum castings—such as engine blocks—stronger and better performing or paints and glass that block the sun’s infrared radiation and clean themselves of dirt and grime.
In addition, Ford is developing nanofluids, which involves dispersing nano-scale particles into vehicle liquids, such as coolants and engine oil, lubricants and transmission fluids. Ford scientists found that sprinkling nanoparticles into these liquids reduces friction and increases thermal conductivity, both of which allow the liquid to operate at lower temperatures.
The nanotechnology alliance between Ford and Boeing is the latest development in an 11-year relationship. Other areas in which the two have collaborated include:
- Human factors modeling;
- Aluminum bonding;
- Aerodynamic development;
- Rapid prototyping; and
Ford and Boeing also have committed to a technology exchange program.
In 2005, Ford and Northwestern University dedicated a new $30 million engineering center on the school’s campus in Evanston, Illinois. Ford provided a $10 million grant to build the new “Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center” as part of the Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science facility.