Ford Motor Co. engineers are taking recyclability to a whole new level by borrowing leftover steel from the F-150 pickup to craft noise-dampening fender baffles for the new ’11 Explorer.

The idea evolved from the large pieces of steel left over from stamping door openings for the pickup’s body sides at Ford’s Woodhaven, MI, plant.

Instead of sending the scraps back to the steel mill to be melted down, they are trucked to nearby Monroe, MI-based supplier Midway Products Group Inc., where they are modified to fit the Explorer, says Mark Courtright, a Ford product design engineer.

“(Midway) stamps it into an (Explorer) part and, with a robot, applies some noise, vibration and harshness sealer around the edge,” he tells Ward’s.

Ford says the recycling process reduces the use of virgin steel and the level of carbon-dioxide emissions used to manufacture the metal by an estimated 119 tons (108 t) per year of Explorer production.

That equals the same amount of CO2 emitted by a midsize car driving the circumference of the Earth 14 times, according to the auto maker.

Courtright says Ford has been striving to implement similar processes across its other vehicle lines, but not all scraps left over from the stamping process fit the bill. “It needs to have the correct thickness and material grade.

“Our stamping engineering group is always keeping track of scrap opportunities to find a part that works.”

Ford has used the method before but never on this scale, Courtright says. Typically, the parts formed from leftover stamps are smaller, such as reinforcement parts and brackets.

The recycling process not only cuts down on energy and emissions but reduces costs. “It’s basically a free part” sent to Ford’s Chicago assembly plant where the Explorer is produced, he says.

The auto maker uses virgin materials in other parts of the Explorer, which it says is 85% recyclable. For example, the SUV uses 25% recycled fiber in its interior fabrics, including seat upholstery and bolsters and carpeting.

The use of recycled fibers for seating materials results in an estimated 20% cut in energy consumption, 17% waste elimination and 14% reduction in CO2 emissions.

Additionally, the Explorer’s seat cushions and seatbacks are made of 40% soy-derived polyurethane foam, which reduces petroleum usage. Ford plans to use the bio-based material in nearly 100% of its North American lineup by year’s end.

To date, the auto maker’s use of soy foam has cut its annual petroleum usage by more than 10,500 barrels and reduced CO2 emissions by 11 million lbs. (4.9 million kg).

bpope@wardsauto.com