Once it was a technique that helped protect knights in armour from the crashing blows of their rivals. Now, Ford are applying a cutting-edge version of the same technology to help make their cars safer than ever.
The first fully automated hot-forming process shapes and cuts parts of the car – which are integral to protecting drivers and passengers – using giant furnaces, robots and 3,000° C lasers.
Dale Wishnousky, who heads up manufacturing in Europe.
“We are building on techniques used to strengthen steel for thousands of years, incorporating modern materials and automation to speed and refine the hot-forming process. The resulting boron steel safety cell helps to make the all-new Focus one of our safest vehicles ever.”
The hot-forming line – fully integrated within the Saarlouis Vehicle Assembly Plant in Germany – was built as part of a recent €600 million investment. Hot forming is an integral part of the production of the new Focus that was awarded a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
The Focus makes extensive use of boron steel – the strongest steel used in the auto industry – within the car’s safety cell. This helps to create a survival space in the event of an accident. In addition, the use of boron, also found in skyscrapers, helps the new model to achieve a 40 per cent improvement in the car’s capability to withstand head on crashes.
Hot-formed steel pieces are subjected to temperatures of up to 930° C; unloaded by robots into a hydraulic press that has a closing force up to 1,150 tonnes; and then shaped and cooled in just three seconds. The boron steel is so strong by this point that a laser beam hotter than lava is used to precision-cut each piece into its final shape.