Looking to Save Weight, Ford Reinvents the Windshield
It seems like our piece on cars of the future being made with next-generation glass went live so recently, and now look at what we have here: After some extensive testing, Ford says that its next iteration of the iconic GT supercar will debut with the latest advancement from Corning’s Gorilla Glass division. Referred to as the “hybrid windshield,” this durable scratch-resistant and lightweight window is about 32% lighter than traditional glass. Designed to adorn the windshield and rear engine cover of the Ford GT, this often overlooked component offers a fresh angle on boosting handling characteristics and fuel efficiency, while reducing any risk of glass damage. It’s a win-win.
“Gorilla Glass hybrid is a great example of how Ford works with suppliers to innovate in every area of our business,” Hau Thai-Tang, Ford’s vice president of Global Purchasing, said in the company’s statement. “Ford GT is setting new standards for innovation through performance and light-weighting, and we’re excited about exploring other applications for this great new technology.”
Testing was a rigorous affair, as prototypes were hammered over a multitude of rough road conditions and against all manner of projectile, as well as in real world rollover conditions and in a wind tunnel to help guarantee aerodynamics and noise cancellation. All of this research involving Ford’s supercar concept reinforced the fact that the Corning team is actually onto something and that there are a plethora of real-world applications for hybridized automotive glass. Within just four months, engineers were seeking program approval to move on to production.
“This successful collaboration is one of the reasons we spend R&D resources to develop new innovations and solve tough problems,” said Wendell Weeks, chief executive officer over at Corning. “Ford recognized the significant value of these innovative light-weighting technology and committed significant resources to quickly get it qualified for production applications. We worked with Ford to develop a glass that successfully withstood thousands of hours of durability testing and is now being used in a Ford production vehicle. We are excited to introduce this game changing technology to the market.”
For those of you not familiar with automotive laminated windshields, it’s worth noting that traditional designs typically consist of two layers of “annealed glass” on either side of a clear, thermoplastic interlayer binding agent. First introduced by Henry Ford, this technology has since been used in the auto industry the world over for nearly a century, and it seems only appropriate that the company that brought us the original design should replace it with an even more superior one.
This new hybrid glass reportedly uses a multi-layer approach where a sheet of toughened automotive-grade formed “hybrid glass” serves as a strengthened inner layer, while an advanced noise-absorbing thermoplastic inter-layer gets sandwiched in the center so that a type of annealed glass can be applied to the outer layer. It’s a time consuming and expensive process, but the end result is a product that will likely redefine the future of automotive glass. Paul Linden, a Ford body exteriors engineer, explains: “We learned, somewhat counter-intuitively, that the strengthened interior layer of the windshield is key to the success of the hybrid window.”
Gorilla Glass hybrid window laminates are about 25-50% thinner, while retaining strength levels that are equal to or greater than traditional laminates. Such a sizable reduction in thickness significantly cuts down the weight of each sheet. Hybrid glass has been made more robust by an advanced contaminant reduction process, additional chemical strengthening stages, unique edge treatments, and specialized laminate construction techniques so that safety levels spike considerably when comparing it to modern automotive glass. But it doesn’t just stop on the exterior: Much like the screen on the cell phone you are looking at now, Gorilla Glass can be morphed into almost anything.
“In addition to the new hybrid technology for the exterior glass of Ford GT, we’re using a unique glass combination for the bulkhead panel between passenger cell and engine bay,” Linden said. “We’re excited that we can use tailored glass applications to meet specific needs and provide maximum weight savings.”
All of this reduced weight from the use of next-gen glass on Ford’s GT means that acceleration, fuel economy, and braking performance will all likely improve, with the most important benefit being a noticeably favorable bump in handling characteristics — if not but minimally. By removing unnecessary weight in key places, engineers are subsequently able to lower the overall center of gravity of a car, thus improving aerodynamics and agility. Mark our words: This is just a prelude of what is to come, as glass, carbon, and other advanced materials replace traditional plastics.