By on February 1, 2018

Iron or aluminum? For cylinder head construction, that’s the basic menu we’ve long grown used to. There’s advantages and drawbacks to both. Aluminum is lighter, but more prone to warping. Iron is stronger but heavier, with low thermal conductivity. Both materials are prone to the ups and downs of the commodities market, frustrating beancounters working at automakers everywhere.

In a U.S. patent application filed in October and published today, Ford Motor Company’s global tech division proposes something new: a cylinder head containing a barest minimum of metal. Called the Hybrid Composite Cylinder Head, most of the component’s bulk is made up of polymer composite, not aluminum or iron.

Ford Global Technologies LLC points out that partial ceramic or fiber-reinforced ceramic composites have been proposed in cylinder head construction before, but both suffer from major drawbacks in withstanding high heat and pressure. Nor can ceramic be molded around a metal skeleton. With its mind on efficiency (soaring aluminum prices hammered Ford’s bottom line in 2017), the automaker took a different approach.

The proposed head features an internal metal structure surrounded by a polymer composite structure, one which may be fiber reinforced. The metal structure, made of cast iron, could include upper combustion chambers, combustion chamber inserts, fire deck, engine coolant ports, and oil drain ports. Meanwhile, the polyment structure gets some holes of its own. The patent claims the surrounding structure could include intake or exhaust oil feeds for a hydraulic lash adjuster, plus spark plug and direct injection pockets.

Image: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

Any number of resins, or a combination thereof, could make up the polymer composite structure, with silicone or some kind of fiber being another possible ingredient. Ford’s clearly not ruling much out in this patent.

What the automaker hopes to achieve is a cylinder head that’s light, durable, corrosion-resistant, and far less costly to build than existing components. An added benefit from the reduced weight would be a tiny increase in fuel efficiency. The patent states that the head could find a home on a direct-injected gasoline engine or a port-injected gas or diesel engine.

As lightweight, high-strength carbon fiber slowly begins finding its way into cars, it’s not surprising to see Ford look at metal alternatives for its engine components. Two years ago, the automaker showed off a 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine at the Detroit auto show that made use of injection-molded carbon fiber for a number of parts, including the cylinder head. The mill’s weight fell nearly 16 percent compared to a stock motor.

Last year, Ford and Magna teamed up to develop a carbon fiber-reinforced composite subframe. This key piece of architecture weighed 34 percent less than a conventional subframe, employing far fewer parts.

H/T to Bozi Tatarevic!

[Image: United States Patent and Trademark Office]

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80 Comments on “Ford Wants Far Less Metal in Its Cylinder Heads...”


  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    One word – delamination.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Is this a patent for a method and material that actually exists, or is it a patent for an idea for which they would like to develop a suitable material?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      It would seem that its for the method itself, but it could be for the material as well. That much isn’t clear.

      But, I know someone who knows someone who’s friends with someone who had a 2009 Focus that had a bad alternator once, so that means this will never work in a million years. If only the name “Toyota” was in the headline, then this would be the best thing since the round wheel. Oh well.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Maybe the next gen Explorer can benefit from manifolds made of composite material. Either that or interiors that absorb carbon monoxide.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Is this technology from the company that can’t design cruise control switch so it doesn’t burn the whole car?

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I didn’t know every vehicle Ford has made with cruise control burned or is burning right now. Interesting.

      As we all know, any manufacturer that has ever had a recall is not allowed to develop new technology.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        Here’s a serious question. A few years ago GM developed integrated intake/exhaust manifolds for the 3.6 V6. (in the name of weight savings)

        How’s that working out? Given GMs past history that idea made me nervous.

        • 0 avatar
          indi500fan

          I had a Saturn with a Honda V6 where there were no separate exhaust manifolds, the cat convs just bolted to the cylinder heads.

          But not at all familiar with the design you describe…??

        • 0 avatar
          LeMansteve

          PrincipalDan, GM isn’t the only automaker to install composite intake manifolds, but they seem to be the only automaker who have well-known problems with them.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Check this out. Top-5 quality failures. And ford has 3 of them
        https://www.cebos.com/the-top-5-automotive-quality-management-failures-of-all-time/

        I just don’t trust “new ford technology”

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      Texas Instruments made the cruise control switch. Moisture would get into it and corrode the internals causing a short circuit.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Hopefully high temp polymers have moved on from the days of BMW’s plastic water systems. Personally I think Ford would do better to reduce weight in other parts of the car. A cylinder head weighs what, 30lbs? There is probably 5-10x that that can be carved out of their crossovers with utilization of composites that won’t have to be subject to the extreme conditions of a cylinder head.

    • 0 avatar
      bullnuke

      This idea may be smart in that it introduces a non-traditional material into one of the highest stress areas of a vehicle. If the heat-up/cool-down and the cyclic pressure stresses on the cylinder head of an ICE can be successfully endured, this may go a long way to prove the method for other areas or components of a vehicle. It is indeed an interesting concept.

    • 0 avatar
      LeMansteve

      Do you mean the cooling systems from the late 1990s and early 2000s? BMW still uses “plastic” for many of their cooling system parts. I wonder if their electric water pumps use a metal or composite impeller…

      • 0 avatar
        cbrworm

        I’m not sure what the material is, but the common failure mode seems to be the pump motor controller board that is potted into the back of the pump.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          cb,
          I’m wondering if the potted controller presents itself as an issue. We had a position tx that only had LVDT wiring potted and it was a pain.

          The temperature in the position tx was around 200F (engine oil temp), so it wasn’t really hot.

          A combination of heat and fluid eventually destroyed the potting.

  • avatar
    Fred

    On my Chevy trucks I had plastic radiator tanks, fuel rails and intake manifolds crack.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      Plastics age with heat. I think that that gets you past the warranty period, but not after that, not so good.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      When they mention polymers, there are other materials like carbon/graphite fibers, that are baked to produce a stiff, heat resistent material. The result is not plastic, but something like bakelite: strong, heat resistant, but somewhat brittle. The cracking of baked polymer resin composites is a feature of the material, so the addition of metal may have the effect of reducing brittleness. Otherwise, Ford is headed for a future headache.

  • avatar

    It worked for Glock.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Sure, but think of a Glock machine gun firing continuously for 8 hours.

    • 0 avatar
      TheEndlessEnigma

      What worked for Glock? Any pressure bearing structure you see in a firearm (Glocks included Glockboi) are made from machined metal components (barrel, bolt, firing pin, chamber, etc). Plastics components on firearms (successful firearms) are in non-pressure bearing areas.

      I can foresee Ford fighting with a whole new area of engine failure resulting from thermodynamic issues resulting in charred heads not to mentions problems with lubrication and fluid flow. Unless you’re getting into aeronautic and aerospace level production methods (read EXPENSIVE) the consistency from any polymer molding process won’t be there.

  • avatar
    Asdf

    Now Ford’s hurry to start Chinese manufacturing of its cars makes sense… Chinese metallurgy to the rescue…

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    But when something does break it’s all sha-oobie, shattered, shattered.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    And you think Egobust engines are unreliable now…….just wait.

  • avatar
    EBFlex

    And you think Egobust engines are unreliable now…….just wait until this comes out.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Ford is great at having bold, new ideas blow up in their face, but this is just a concept. Ford may be better at running a successful business than actually building cars. This could go nowhere, but they’ll own the rights to it. In the meantime, the expense is cash diverted from the IRS.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      > And you think Egobust engines are unreliable now…….just wait until this comes out.

      Then it will be dubbed – EcoBurst.

  • avatar
    probert

    Have they also come up with a new head gasket material?

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Foley

      That was my thought. All those heat cycles, with the composite head expanding and contracting at a vastly different rate than the aluminum or iron block, seems like it would be very tough on the head gasket.

      I live by the late adoption of new technology. Saves me a lot of money and hassle.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I remember when Ford wanted far less metal in their manifolds…that didn’t go so well.

  • avatar
    Add Lightness

    One less thing to have to sweep up when a carbon fiber car burns to the ground and another part with a best-before-date.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    When I see polymer I think plastic. When I think plastic, my memory goes back to a particularly bad experience with a Lincoln LS. Hopefully, they have learned from it?

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      When I think plastic, I think of the plastic intake manifolds and plastic radiator side tanks, but I also think of modern aircraft and satellites. A polymer with the physical properties of the latter and the cost of the former would be great…

  • avatar
    Dilrod

    I wonder how much torque it can take? No more “that feels like 60 ft lbs”…CRRRAACCKKK!

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    The return of the Polimotor? :-)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_automotive_engine

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Future headline:

    “Ford Wants Far Less Warpage in Its Cylinder Heads”

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Scotty Kilmer’s head is going to explode when he hears about this.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Just thought I’d mention some old tech along this line
    A plastic race engine.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_automotive_engine
    and on a related note search for the Crosley sheet metal engine.

  • avatar
    Ron in WA

    I do not see this as silly at all. I could imagine cylinder head caps in iron taking heat, valve seats and plug, positioned by some surrounding plastic. Head bolts could hold the caps, with or without the plastic. Interesting concept. I wonder if they put some engineering muscle behind it.

  • avatar
    gmrn

    Call me crazy, but I can’t imagine the weight savings on say, an F150 engine, would be any greater than going from the redonkulous 20-22 inch wheel/tire combos to a more modest 16 or 17 inch set.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Whilst Ford goes than the composite cylinder heads, some upstart will print them.

    • 0 avatar

      Just how much experience do you have with 3d printing? Any idea how long it would take to print a single head?

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        Ronnie,
        That’s now. What about in a decade or so?

        As for myself. I don’t own a 3D printer. I’m considering one for my N gauge layout I want. I think it will be useful creating objects for the diorama.

        At the moment 3D printing is successfully recreating parts for aviation. My view (in some respects) is aerospace leads the transport industry in material tech and production techniques.

        • 0 avatar

          I’m no expert but I’ve been working with 3D printing for over three years and I’ve been printing myself for about a year. There will be improvements in speed in 3D printing due to software and firmware changes but ultimately the rate at which you can put down plastic is determined by the extruder hardware and the properties of the filament that you are using and that’s necessarily going to make it a slow process.

          It might work for aviation because they make a relative handful of airplanes, at least compared to the production numbers on even stuff like McLarens and Ferraris.

          I typically print at 0.15mm per layer. One of the parts that I print is roughly 5 inches by 3 inches by about 2 inches tall. It takes almost 13 hours to print it.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            I read a great article in relation to 3D printing. Some experts think 3D printing could create a resurgence in cottage industries.

            Cottage industries lead to the industrial revolution. So, we might be going back to the future.

            What about the design side? Would a person be able to design and print miniature cars, homes, people?

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            There are several things that are often called 3D printing. Most people think of FDM or Fused Deposition Modeling where a filament is melted and extruded by a print head and deposited in the desired shape. It is pretty much a fancy hot glue gun. However there is also SLS or Selective Laser Sintering. In that case the material starts off as a powder and the Laser selectively melts the powder into the solid. This can be done with metals as well as plastics.

            SLS is suitable for production purposes when volumes are not too large.

            There are several other Additive Manufacturing methods too. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3D_printing

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            @ Big Al you certainly can design something like a miniature houses, cars, people ect and 3D print them. Chances are for many things people have already created them and shared the files for anyone to freely print. However printing isn’t really cheap and is quite time consuming to produce a small part.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al from Oz

            Thanks Scoutdude,
            Sintering is used in the production of aviation parts.

            I watched a video of 3D sintering and it was amazing. It was time lapsed.

            I was thinking of those cheap “glue gun” 3D printers you can t buy them quite cheaply.

            Scratch building is very time consuming and unboubtedly I’ll need to scratch build some objects.

            But, if you can let the printer run over night would be great. All they need now is to design some kind of surface finishing “printer” to paint the objects.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            Big Al, here you go a “3D Selfie” created with yet another type of 3D printing where the design was created from a series of 360 degree photos. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapeways#/media/File:3D_Selfie_in_1_20_scale_scanned_at_Madurodam_and_printed_by_Shapeways_IMG_4824_FRD.jpg

            Having experience with the inexpensive DIY grade units and industrial grade units, I don’t know if I’d leave the DIY unit running unattended for long periods of time, while the good industrial grade unit doesn’t concern me.

        • 0 avatar
          Cymen

          Al,

          I picked up a relatively inexpensive filament-based (FDM) printer for my N gauge layout work. It’ll work for buildings and maybe rough rail cars and parts that will be post processed. It doesn’t work well for 1:150 people. Now you can print that small if you pick up a resin-based SLA printer like the Peopoly Moa. That’s a solid $1250 USD at the moment though. But it can print amazing detail at very small sizes from what I’ve read and watched. But I haven’t tried it myself yet. Resin is also not very nice to work with — it’s basically like working with epoxy resins. Also requires curing and other work whereas the filament-based prints are good to go right off the print bed unless you want to process them further (sand/paint/etc).

          I’m trying to figure out a way to make purchasing the Moai seem reasonable but I’m failing so far. Hopefully, the prices will keep coming down on the SLA printers.

  • avatar
    carve

    This seems like the last place you’d want to move to composites. If they want to save aluminum in F-150’s, start with the body and make that composite. Body’s don’t have to endure the heat and stress of an engine, plus the composite will be dent resistant. They could make it quite light if they mold it in an exogrid style.

  • avatar
    alff

    It will be interesting to watch the durability story unfold, particularly when composite heads are combined with turbo heat/cool cycles. I don’t think I’ll be the guinea pig.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Why is Ford bothering with combustion engines? According to “everyone” we are all going to be driving electric cars powered by sunshine and hot air in only a couple of years.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    What could possible go wrong?

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The Brits wanted to make an aircraft carrier out of ice and sawdust during WWII. Ford could use that technology to shore up those aluminum beds.

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