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Building the 2015 Ford F-150 Safe and Strong

Unconventional Building Techniques Yield Light, Tough Truck

Apr 23, 2015
The 2015 Ford F-150 seems to just keep racking up the accolades and recognition, and the latest feather in its cap is a 5-star NHTSA crash test rating on all cab configurations, including SuperCrew, SuperCab, and regular cab. We recently traveled to Ford HQ in Dearborn to get a more up-close look at some of the methods and construction techniques used on the new F-150 that enable this level of safety.
There’s no need to re-state the obvious that the majority of the new F-150’s body is made of aluminum. The only steel part of the body (aside from the frame) of note is the firewall. Other than that, almost every inch of the body, from fenders to hood to doors to bed, is aluminum. And it’s use is not just limited to the sheetmetal alone but the structural elements as well.
Photo 2/8   |   The only major steel component in the F-150's body is the firewall (in green).
Defying Expectations
Because of its lower density than steel, many of the aluminum pieces and structures were physically beefier than their steel equivalents but were still impressively lightweight for their size. Unlike a steel structure, which is primarily spot-welded, the F-150’s body makes extensive use of specialized rivets and structural adhesives. At first blush, from a non-engineering perspective, it would seem like rivets and adhesives would be weaker than welds and one-piece stampings.
However, Len Shaner, Ford F-Series Safety Manger, showed an adhesive-bonded two-piece aluminum boxed section that was subjected to an offset barrier test, in which only half of the structure was rammed into the barrier. Shaner wanted to see what the weakest link would be: The metal itself, the rivets, or the adhesive. To his surprise, the first thing to go was the stamped metal itself, with the adhesive-bonded portion remaining intact, and the stamped aluminum portion shearing away from the base. From that point on, he was convinced of the strength and durability of adhesives.
Putting the Squeeze On
Another method enabled by the use of aluminum was extrusion, something that would be much more difficult, if not impossible with steel. By pushing the semi-soft aluminum through a form, Ford was able to create internal webbing that added strength to the pieces without adding excessive mass. The other advantage to the F-150’s sectional construction is the ability to selectively remove and replace sections of the body, rather than entire one-piece stampings. This could conceivably offset the otherwise slightly higher repair costs for aluminum, something that Ford has worked hard to minimize for the consumer. Ford claims the sheetmetal used on the F-150, both for exterior fenders, as well as the inside of the bed, has higher dent resistance than equivalent steel sheetmetal. Ford demonstrated the toughness of the aluminum in a series of videos in which they had sports figures hurl various projectiles at high rates of speed and force into the F-150’s bed, as well as a conventional steel bed.
Although certainly unconventional by today’s standards for fullsize trucks, Ford is so committed to aluminum that the next-generation Super Duty, due for the 2017 model year, will also feature a predominantly aluminum body, much for the same reasons it was chosen for the F-150: greater towing and hauling capacity, and higher fuel economy.

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