There’s an old saying in horse racing, “Weight will stop a freight train.”
It refers to the fact that, in certain races, faster horses will have weights put in their saddles to even out the field.
Similarly, weight is an issue in cars, where more fuel is needed to move around any excess flab.
Making components lighter is now a priority with automakers, including Ford, which will be using its MuCell technology in the future to reduce the weight of certain plastic parts.
These don’t look any different from solid plastic parts on the outside, but if you were to cut one in half, you’d see that the plastic is filled with millions of tiny bubbles, just like an Aero chocolate bar.
The technology was initially developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the late 1980s, but Ford says it has not yet been used in the automotive industry.
“Basically what we do is take a gas such as nitrogen, and we mix it with the molten plastic when we’re ready to injection-mould,” says Ellen Lee, a technical expert in plastics research at Ford.
“When you mould the part and it solidifies, it has millions of uniform bubbles, so that we can reduce the amount of material we use and reduce the weight.”
MuCell can only be used in thermal plastic, the type that is melted and then formed by injection moulding or extrusion.
This type of plastic always shrinks when it hardens, but Lee says that the MuCell product shrinks more uniformly, fills the mould quickly and evenly, and requires less time to produce parts.