Fords clay is actually primarily a combination of waxes and oil with filler and does not contain water like traditional ceramic clay

Ford's 'clay' is actually primarily a combination of waxes and oil with filler and does not contain water like traditional ceramic clay

Ford announced it is now recycling almost 2,300kg of its modeling clay each year.

Despite digital design technology, the automaker still builds full-size clay models of its vehicles.

"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 the 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."

Ford uses around 90 tonnes of clay each for its models. Once, nonce was reused but, during the last five years, the company has used a proprietary machine to recycle about nine tonnes, keeping it out of landfill.

That is the equivalent of a dozen full size clay model exteriors. The model built to design the new Raptor was composed of over 850kg of clay – and designers spent 20,000 hours modeling it over four years.

Most of the clay that Ford recycles comes from the milling process, during which designers use a machine to help them shape the silhouette of a vehicle. Since even a grain of sand can affect the finish quality of a model, only clay chips that fall into bins surrounding the vehicle are recycled.

Once gathered, these clay chips are placed in the recycling machine – designed to process only the automakers's unique clay material. The machine compresses and churns the clay with multiple blades, removing all the air. The clay is then passed through a nozzle that is heated sufficiently to return the clay to a consistency so that it can be reused.

Ford insists clay is still the best medium for tackling changes in car design. When a small or digital model is scaled, there are some aspects that may not translate to full-size models, replicating a full-size model in clay helps to identify issues that may not have been apparent otherwise – such as depth issues on belt line edges.

Clay complements the design process. Designers create models on a computer, milling the surface design onto a clay model, making changes by hand before scanning them back into computers.

"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 to develop a great-looking model."

Clay consistency has changed over the years. Sulphur used to be a prominent ingredient but the element would escape once clay was heated and eventually force electronics to malfunction. It was phased out in the 2000s.

Ford's 'clay' is actually primarily a combination of waxes and oil with filler and does not contain water like traditional ceramic clay.

It once contained blubber until the hunting of whales was banned.