Design Engineering

Ford finds a way to recycle clay used for modeling vehicle design


General Automotive Ford

On average, Ford uses 200,000 pounds of clay every year for design purposes.

Although Ford has embraced digital design and new technology, the automotive manufacturer still sticks with traditional clay modeling techniques. Building a full-size clay model of a vehicle remains an important part of the company’s creative design process.

Ford clay design model

Ford continues to improve sustainability, recycling nearly 5,000 pounds of car modeling clay last year – or enough to create up to three full-size clay vehicle models

“We are constantly being influenced by new technologies, but when we want to view physical properties early in the process, we still turn to clay,” said Lloyd VandenBrink, modeling manager at Ford’s Truck Studio in Dearborn, Michigan. “When a design is still fluid, clay allows immediate reviews and feedback so necessary for working in a collaborative atmosphere.”

On average, Ford uses 200,000 pounds of clay every year for this purpose — that’s a lot of clay.

For the most part, once a project is complete, the clay would be sent to the landfill. However, over the past couple of years, Ford has focused more on its environmental footprint and now uses a machine to recycle more than 10 per cent (20,000 pounds) of the clay it uses.


That’s the equivalent of a dozen full-size clay model exteriors. For example, a full-size model built to design the new Raptor was composed of 1,935 pounds of clay – and designers spent 20,000 hours modeling it over four years.

The design process has been greatly improved by digital software and scanning technology. However, the automaker still relies heavily on clay to tackle changes in car design. Ford constantly creates models on a computer, milling that surface design onto a clay model, making changes by hand before scanning them back into a computer.

ford-gt-design-out-of-clay model“Computers tend to have a more single user work flow, where clay models tend to be much more collaborative,” said VandenBrink. “A group conversation is a great tool for collaboration and consensus, and clay models do that same thing with design. Everybody can see and explore possibilities together with a better chance of developing a great-looking model.”

As for the recycling process itself, only clay chips that fall into bins surrounding the vehicle are recycled, as any contaminants can affect the finish quality of a vehicle. The chips are placed in the recycling machine, where they are compressed and all the air is sucked out. The clay is then passed through a nozzle that’s heated just enough to churn it out with the proper consistency so that it can be reused for the next clay vehicle model.


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