Ford stud­ies geckos for glue an­swers

Motor Equipment News - - OEM -

Ford will chart new ter­ri­tory as it seeks to cre­ate ad­he­sive in­no­va­tions in­spired by the gecko. Ford will also work with Proc­ter & Gam­ble, shar­ing re­search find­ings as both com­pa­nies look to biomimicry for a host of busi­ness so­lu­tions.

For years, Ford re­searchers have con­sid­ered ways to make auto man­u­fac­tur­ing more sus­tain­able. A key chal­lenge is glue used to ad­here foams to plas­tics and met­als can make dis­as­sem­bling parts for re­cy­cling nearly im­pos­si­ble. En­ter the gecko. The lizard’s toe pads al­low it to stick to most sur­faces with­out liq­uids or sur­face tension. The rep­tile can then eas­ily release it­self, leav­ing no residue. Con­sider, too, that a typ­i­cal ma­ture gecko weigh­ing 70g is ca­pa­ble of sup­port­ing 132kg.

The gecko could in­spire a host of ad­he­sive in­no­va­tions for global ap­pli­ca­tions at Ford, says Deb­bie Mielewski, Ford se­nior tech­ni­cal leader for plas­tics and sus­tain­abil­ity re­search.

“Solv­ing this prob­lem could pro­vide cost sav­ings and cer­tainly an en­vi­ron­men­tal sav­ings,” said Mielewski. “It means we could in­crease the re­cy­cling of more foam and plas­tics, and fur­ther re­duce our en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print.”

Buoyed by the biomimetic method, Ford re­cently hosted a fo­rum at its Dear­born cam­pus with par­tic­i­pa­tion from Proc­ter & Gam­ble and The Biomimicry In­sti­tute, a non-profit com­mit­ted to pro­mot­ing the in­no­va­tive ap­proach of look­ing to na­ture for sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to mod­ern-day chal­lenges. Nearly 200 re­searchers and de­sign­ers took part in the day-long ses­sion to learn about biomimicry and how to ap­ply it to their work.

“We are ex­cited for the op­por­tu­nity to par­tic­i­pate, to­gether with Ford – with whom we have a history of col­lab­o­ra­tion – in The Biomimicry In­sti­tute work­shop,” says Lee Ellen Drech­sler, di­rec­tor for cor­po­rate con­nect and de­vel­op­ment, The Proc­ter and Gam­ble Com­pany. “We have an in­ter­est within Proc­ter & Gam­ble for us­ing biomimicry as a way to broaden our ap­proach to solv­ing tough re­search chal­lenges.”

The biomimetic ap­proach is not new. The Bul­let Train in Shinkansen, Ja­pan was in­spired by the king­fisher. Vel­cro took its cues from a burr. And im­proved med­i­cal nee­dles were de­vel­oped based on the mos­quito. In­ter­est in the ap­proach has in­creased in the last decade as aware­ness of cli­mate change and en­vi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges is height­ened, says Gretchen Hooker, project man­ager for de­sign chal­lenges at The Biomimicry In­sti­tute.

Founded in 2006, the group works to em­power peo­ple to cre­ate sus­tain­able prod­ucts and ser­vices us­ing biomimicry. In ad­di­tion to mo­bil­is­ing ed­u­ca­tors and re­gional prac­ti­tion­ers through the Biomimicry Global Net­work, the or­gan­i­sa­tion pro­vides a plat­form to learn and prac­tice biomimicry through mul­ti­ple de­sign chal­lenges.

Th­ese in­clude open in­no­va­tion, aca­demic-cor­po­rate part­ner­ships and cor­po­rate-em­ployee chal­lenges where employees get hands-on train­ing while de­vel­op­ing new so­lu­tions to is­sues cor­po­ra­tions face. AskNa­, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s on­line data­base of bi­o­log­i­cal so­lu­tions, of­fers in­spi­ra­tion to those look­ing to find an­swers in biomimicry.

“Ford and P&G are the first com­pa­nies to take part in th­ese new cor­po­rate-em­ployee chal­lenges,” said Hooker.

Be­yond re­cy­cling, the Ford de­sign teams have worked for nearly a decade to find na­ture-in­spired tech­nolo­gies, with re­cent suc­cesses in yarn pro­duc­tion for seat­ing ma­te­ri­als and head­lin­ers.

Ford is the only au­tomaker to use Unifi’s high-per­for­mance Repreve fi­bre, made from 100 per­cent re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als in­clud­ing plas­tic bot­tles, in its ve­hi­cles. Ford em­ploys Repreve in five of its ve­hi­cles – the new F-150, Ex­plorer, Edge, Fo­cus Elec­tric and Fu­sion – making it a glob­ally used ma­te­rial. The use of Repreve rep­re­sents Ford’s com­mit­ment to re­duce, re­use and re­cy­cle, part of the au­tomaker’s global sus­tain­abil­ity strat­egy to lessen its en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print.

Ford de­sign­ers are now look­ing to ex­pand upon that com­mit­ment, turn­ing to na­ture to fur­ther im­prove the sus­tain­able ma­te­ri­als in ve­hi­cle fab­rics. The gecko may also in­spire fab­ric tech­nolo­gies that could trans­form the cabin of Ford ve­hi­cles, re­searchers said.

“As we look to fur­ther our com­mit­ment to re­duc­ing our en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print, tak­ing a holis­tic, biomimetic ap­proach makes sense be­cause na­ture has ef­fi­cien­cies in de­sign and uses min­i­mal re­sources,” said Carol Kordich, global sus­tain­able fab­ric strate­gies and de­vel­op­ment, Ford. “Na­ture is the ul­ti­mate guide.”

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