Windsor Company Saves Ford $30M on Aluminum F-150

Friday, January 17, 2014

A small Windsor, Ont., company says it has saved Ford Motor Co. millions of dollars.

Brave Controls developed technology that allows Ford to stamp the aluminum parts for its new, lighter aluminum-body F-150, unveiled this week at the North International American Auto Show in Detroit.

Ford had been stamping - or pressing - steel body parts for the old F-150 at a facility in Buffalo, N.Y. The auto maker wanted to stamp aluminum parts with the same machinery, but the different metal has different characteristics and tolerances that made using the old pressing system impossible.

"They were going to have some challenges with the equipment they had," Brave Controls co-owner Brent McPhail said.

Changing equipment entirely would have cost Ford upwards of $30 million, McPhail said.

Ford approached Siemens, a big auto supplier, to see if it had a solution. Siemens put Ford on to Brave Controls, a little Windsor company it thought could solve the problem.

Brave Controls came up with a system that allowed Ford to use the old steel-stamping machines to stamp the aluminum.

Total cost: approximately $1 million.

"The main problem was their equipment was very out-dated. It was 30 years old," McPhail said. "The press itself was a viable piece of equipment but the controls and automation were out-dated."

Controls "act as the brain" for the press, McPhail said.

He said a completely new press would have cost Ford about $30 million.

"To upgrade the technology on the [current] press is much more reasonable," he said.

Brent was working at a Windsor engineering company in 2008, at the height of the recession and downturn in the auto industry. That's when he decided to strike out on his own and start his own company.

He had $80,000 in sales in his first year. Last year, the company's fifth, he had $6 million in sales.

McPhail said he targeted experienced people rather than junior staff and apprentices when he started his company.

"We didn’t set out to do press applications for Ford. But we had a team in place that was excellent at doing press applications for Ford," McPhail said. "We had people on board who had press application experience; we had people on board with Siemens application experience; and people on board with motion experience. That combination was the key Ford was looking for.

"Ford is now one of the company’s largest customers. We’ve made them a believer and our future is bright."

Lighter, more fuel efficient

Ninety-seven percent of the body of the 2015 F-150 is aluminum, the most extensive use of aluminum ever in a truck

The truck is 300 kg, or 700 pounds, lighter and uses 25 per cent less fuel than the current model.

"You're either moving ahead and you're improving and you're making it more valuable and more useful to the customer or you're not," Ford CEO Alan Mulally told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Ford declined to comment on Brave Controls role in the development of the truck.

"It’s not Ford policy to discuss specific suppliers," Mike Levine, Ford truck communications manager, said in an email. "We’ll have more news to share about F-150 manufacturing later this year."

McPhail said he toured the stamping plant in Buffalo but never saw the end product until this week in Detroit.

"We’re playing an incredibly small part in Ford success but they’re playing a huge part in our success," he said. "I’m very proud to be even the smallest part of that. We can’t ask for much more than that."

The Ford F-150 has another Windsor connection; the company builds its V8 engines in Windsor.