TBT: How a Fleet of Moving Trucks Once Helped Ford Test a ‘Wet’ Paint Technology

Nov 30, 2023

Nobody likes waiting for paint to dry. So, in 2007, Ford created a newer, faster way to get the job done while also helping combat one of the auto industry's biggest environmental challenges.

Ford became the first automaker to paint its vehicles using a then-new 3-wet, high-solids-based system. The new paint formulation allowed for three layers of wet paint: primer, base and enamel; to be applied one after another, while each layer is still wet, and “baked” once all three are applied, rather than individually. The new process resulted in a smaller, more energy-efficient paint shop and reduced the amount of time needed to paint vehicles by nearly 20%. It also reduced the size of the traditional paint shops by nearly 15%. Those factors helped lead Ford to a savings of approximately $7 per vehicle. 

In addition to the time and cost savings, there was also an added environmental benefit. The paint’s formulation produced 10% fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which are powerful chemicals that can adversely affect human health and the environment, and 15% less carbon dioxide emissions than other paints, which were commonly used in the industry at the time. Those earlier water-based paints also required more energy to be spent on cooling, which also increased carbon dioxide emissions. 

The paint formulation contained more pigment (the “high solids” part of the process), which in turn meant Ford was using less paint to cover each vehicle. It was also more resistant to chips and scratches than waterborne paints.

After three years of development and another year-plus of testing in our manufacturing plants, the paint was put to the test in a 2007 pilot program as part of a fleet of U-Haul rental trucks. The approximately 200 E-Series vans racked up some 400,000 miles in their first month alone, giving Ford real-world data on the paint’s durability during their yearlong observation period. 

The paint process made its debut at Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant and was quickly expanded to other manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and globally. The technology earned Ford the Best Technical Prize at SURCAR: The International Conference on Automobile Body Finishing in France. Ford employees who worked on the project were also honored with the Henry Ford Technology Award, the company’s highest technical honor.

Love Ford history? Access fordarchivesonline.com with your CDSID to search your favorite topics. Or visit fordheritagevault.com, where no CDSID is needed, to browse and download product history.

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