One of Formex Industries’ original equipment manufacturer (OEM) customers, Ford Motor Company, is paving the way for sustainability in the automotive industry. Ford recycles around 1.2-billion plastic bottles every year to manufacture underbody vehicle parts. The main use for the recycled plastic is the underbody shield on Ford vehicles.

“The underbody shield is a large part and, for a part that big, if we use solid plastic it would likely weigh three times as much. We look for the best materials to work with to make our parts and, in this case, we are also creating many environmental benefits,” says Ford design engineer Thomas Sweder.

Ford first started using recycled plastic on its vehicles in the 1990s. Since this time, underbody shields have been developed for aerodynamic purposes and their use on modern vehicles has grown significantly. It takes around 300 plastic bottles to make the underbody shield for each vehicle.

How the plastic is recycled into car parts

The plastic bottles needed for the underbody shields are collected from recycling bins and municipal waste streams. They are cleaned, dried and shredded into small fragments. These small pieces of plastic are then melted and extruded into long fibres. 

The manufacturers buy these fibres and mix them with other materials in a textile process to create a sheet of lightweight recycled plastic composite. This composite is durable and perfect for certain automotive components, such as the underbody shield, engine shield and wheel arch liners. 

Environmentally-friendly use of plastic parts

Using recycled plastic is the best way to reduce the volume of plastic waste in our landfills. Plastic is a highly valuable material with important properties. It is also produced and sold at an affordable price, making it an ideal material for manufacturing. However, Ford has decided to make use of recycled plastic, instead of raw material, for the benefit of the environment.

“Ford is among the leaders when it comes to using materials such as this, and we do it because it makes sense, technically and economically, as much as it makes sense for the environment. This material is very well suited for the parts we’re making, and is extremely functional,” explains Sweder.

In South Africa, Ford has established numerous recycling programmes at its manufacturing facilities and dealerships. This has helped to significantly reduce the volume of recyclable waste that ends up in South African landfills. The company also chooses suppliers that use recycled plastic in their components, such as the batteries.

Formex Industries is a metal forming and assembly company that supplies a variety of complex products to the local automotive industry and the export market. The company is based in the Nelson Mandela Bay metropole, South Africa’s foremost region for automotive manufacturing and export.

Formex specialises in producing components for the catalytic converter industry, as well as metal components and assemblies for the various vehicles. Formex aims to become one of the foremost suppliers for the South African automotive industry by 2035, aligning itself with the South African Automotive Masterplan (SAAM) which takes effect in 2020.

Formex is a Level 2 B-BBEE supplier with over 80% black ownership, of which more than 40% are black women. The company is owned by Deneb Investments Limited – a subsidiary of Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited (HCI) – one of South Africa’s biggest true B-BBEE companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

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