Twisted frames, cracked bumpers, and crinkled hoods serve as the physical prompters for developing specific repair procedures to get wrecked vehicles back to precrash operating condition.
Safety engineers, vehicle repair technicians, suppliers, and other industry experts are using the new Ford Paint and Body Technology Center in Inkster, MI, as the gateway for finding ways to lower the costs of fixing damaged Ford vehicles.
"This facility allows me to see crash-tested vehicles much sooner than before, and that means I'm seeing potential design issues while there is still time in the development process to make changes to the vehicle," said Larry Coan, Damageability Product Concern Engineer in the Ford Customer Service Division.
The Ford Fiesta, coming to the North American market in 2010, spent post-crash time in the center's 9,800-ft2 (910-m2) shop. When the car arrives in U.S. dealerships, it will have a bumper system different from the Fiesta sold in European markets. "We advised a modification in the bumper design, including a height adjustment, to improve the compact car's crash performance for the North American market, which typically includes larger vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks," said Coan, a former insurance adjuster.
Safety and repair engineers collaborated to create a repair process for the 2009 Ford F-150 pickup truck's frame, including the development of front and rear frame section kits, which cost about $2,000 less than a full frame replacement. "The crush zones that are at the front of the F-150 frame are critically important for deceleration—slowing down the vehicle during a crash," said Stephen Kozak, Safety Chief Engineer for Body Engineering at Ford.
Shop service technicians undoubtedly would have wasted time trying to implement conventional steel repair methods on the F-150 because the 2009 model year vehicle's upper body structure uses high-strength and ultrahigh-strength steels, including dual phase and boron steel. "Boron doesn't like to be straightened. You can't heat it up to straighten it. It won't beat out. You basically have to section it and replace it—meaning cut it out and replace it," said Kozak.
Crash tests are benefiting from vehicle reuse. "On average, we crash one of our Ford prototypes three times. The cost for one F-150 prototype was about $500,000. In the past, it would have cost us $1.5 million to do what we did for $500,000," said Kozak. The cost savings came from repairing and recrashing the same F-150 prototype vehicle.
Specific repair procedures and recommendations for the 2009 F-150 originated at the new center, which was funded by a $650,000 investment from collision repair product, equipment, and service suppliers. "Our former Ypsilanti, MI, center opened in 2002, and it had similar sponsors. But what is different at this new facility is we're interfacing more closely with several engineering teams, including crash safety, vehicle dynamics, vehicle operations, and product development," said Gerry Bonanni, Damageability/Collision Repair Senior Engineer.
The new center expanded the former building's paint-shop footprint. "We had a paint booth at Ypsilanti, but this facility has a newer, larger paint booth. And unlike the Ypsilanti center, we now have a prep deck, which allows technicians to sand vehicle body panels. Having an open-front prep deck also makes this center's space more relevant for vendors who use the facility for training purposes. In addition to the painting area and the shop floor evaluation zones, the center has a classroom, a meeting room, and offices upstairs," said Bonanni.