Military Grade Aluminum? The Ford F-150 Debate Continues

by on

No greater debate has ever roiled our virtual pages than the one about Ford Motor Company and its use of the term “military-grade aluminum.” This post from last May is just one of several posts we have written about Ford’s ad campaign for the aluminum-bodied F-150 pickup and all not only rank high in our site stats but also seem to draw the most commenters willing to lend their expertise that, mostly, rejects Ford’s use of the term.

Enjoy this look back and feel free to post if you have any strong feelings about “military-grade” yourself as we look back at the year that was. — Jeff Yoders, editor

No term has brought up more discussion in the pages of MetalMiner than Ford Motor Company‘s insistence that the F-150 pickup truck is made of “military grade” aluminum.

MetalMiner Price Benchmarking: Current and Historical Prices for the Metals You Buy

On this Memorial Day, we thought we’d revisit whether military grade was actually a specification or a simple marketing ploy on Ford’s part. Since the aluminum-bodied F-150 was introduced in the 2015 model year, more information about its actual construction has been shared by Ford.

Individual dealers are now touting the strength and research that went into the cab and other body parts of the F-150. “Military grade” is still sprinkled throughout the the video, but they also concede the alloy is also part magnesium and silicon. Ford also mentions that a large portion of the F-150 is, in fact, high-strength steel.

Ford has also admitted that the F-150 is primarily built from 6,000 series aluminum alloy, the strength of which is increased by heat-treating after it is formed.

The “military grade” refers to the specs that military applications of 6,000 series alloy is used in. In fairness to Ford, manufacturers and fabricators have been promoting their products as “military grade” for decades, and that’s really no different than Ford’s use of the term.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

We certainly wouldn’t recommend that anyone take an aluminum-bodied F-150 into a war zone to test just how “military grade” it really is, but, from a specification standpoint, Ford seems to have good reason to be proud of the rigor of the processes it uses to produce the F-150.

Comments (31)

  1. David says:

    As a metals distributer and consultant that has done business with the military and military subcontractors for 45 years

    This is a marketing ploy All alumnium grades have multiple specifications from many agencies to cover all applications from commercial to aerospace

    The same grade can be used from a purely commercial non critical use to military and aerospace

    When one speaks of military grade. The severe applications use 7000 series aluminum and not 6000

    And naval military applications use 5000 series but each series has multiple chemical compositions that are critical for end use

    And even more critical is the Temper

    This is a blatant marketing ploy to confuses the consumer

    But what is most important is the

  2. Bill says:

    Can confirm what David is saying. I’m a stress analyst in the aerospace industry and these commercials annoy me to no end. I’ve worked on many projects for the DOD over the years and have never heard of military grade alloys. Aluminum alloys are aluminum alloys. Like every other metal they’re listed in Mil Handbook 5 (the historical name for the mmpds) but the military doesn’t mandate any better properties than any other industry. And if they are using 6000 series then that’s not even that strong. 6000 series alloys are typically selected for corrosion and weld ability. 7000 are your strongest alloys or 2000 for fatigue-critical applications. I’m sure Ford engineers are competent enough to pick the right alloy for their application but they’re not doing anything special here. Make the truck out of Titanium, maraging steel, and/or composites if you really want to brag about something.

  3. Chuck Ross (RCAF Ret) says:

    Most of the arguments I’ve read fail to discriminate between a ” specification”, a “standard” and a “grade.” That said, after almost 40 years in the manufacturing, repair, maintenance and overhaul of military aerospace products ( read : airplanes painted gray), they ain’t no such thing as military grade anything. A specification guided by a standard will identify a material developed by the industry and accorded the characteristics needed and an appropriate identification assigned by the responsible body ( eg SAE, ASTM, etc).
    I wish Ford would quit messing with our understsnding and just advertise the truth and tell us if the truck is made from 5XXX, 6XXX or whatever cheap tin they’re using now. GMC FOREVER (oops- a little parochialism there!)

  4. R. L. Hails Sr. P. E. (ret.) says:

    This is just salemanship, nothing more. If you are a huge buyer of anything and have an engineering expertise, it is more efficient when purchasing, to draft a standard for your specification(s). The Society of Automotive Engineers, SAE, have a number of standards, common to this industry. The biggie is ASTM but military specs are close as they buy billions of dollars of things. There probably is a military grade rubber band.

    Engineers use the appropriate grade for their design purposes. The big issue is Ford’s use of aluminum as a replacement for steel. It is a common design decision between trade offs, e.g. will not rust, light weight, less strength than some steels. (Aluminum is an amazing metal with wide ranging material properties.)

    The question for the civilian buyer is whether the decision was a good one, or not for me.

    1. Aluminum is a great metal and has many great attributes. It also has its down falls. It easily fatigues compared to steel. It does not rust but it does corrode, particularly when exposed to weather and electrical current. it is usually easy to form/mold.
      It has a phenomena that is called cold flow which is inherent to aluminum.. When put under pressure such a a bolt and nut it will actually flow out from under where the pressure i applied causing the connection to become loose or thin out and eventually crack or break.
      It is also a lousy thing to use for DC current in an outside environment. Think of your battery how it corrodes at the terminals. Aluminum will do the same thing when attached to a dissimilar metal such as a steel frame or other steel parts. It will actually turn to an oxide powder. There is a reason why there are special installation procedure when using aluminum electrical wire. When maintained Aluminum is a great electrical conductor but it has to be maintained, unlike copper which will far out live the person that installed it properly. Aluminum needs the maintenance no matter who or how it is installed.
      I will wait about 6 or 7 years and then see how the aluminum bodies and electrical systems are holding up on an aluminum truck.
      If you like light weight buy an aluminum Ford. If you want dependability buy a GM or Mopar.
      Ford maybe the best selling truck but has never been the longest lasting truck.

  5. Tannim says:

    Who really cares? Besides Ford for their marketing and GM for their jealousy and garbage trucks and inane advertising?

    Bottom line is Ford is still the superior product.

  6. i thinks so Individual dealers are now touting the strength and research that went into the cab and other body parts of the F-150.

  7. Michael says:

    Does the Aluminum in the Ford F-150 meet the standards for any of the specifications for military equipment?

  8. Gary Cummings says:

    I just want to know when everyone is using aluminum to build vehicles. Which paint will be optional ? Coca Cola, Pepsi Cola or Dr Pepper.

  9. I think so Enjoy this look back and feel free to post if you have any strong feelings about “military-grade” yourself as we look back at the year that was. — Jeff Yoders, editor

  10. Since mid-August the dollar started a bull run that is still in play. Three main factors are propelling the dollar’s bull run – so great your post before

  11. Dan Tate says:

    What military grade is a pop can

  12. Joe says:

    The BIG question is: Who’s military are they referring to?
    I have been a Ford customer for years until the Ecoboost V6 was introduced and the aluminium body. Won’t buy new, just keeping the old.

  13. Mr. G.G. Pence says:

    I have doubts regarding Ford’s use of aluminum in a vehicle which will travel over roads coated with salt in the winter. aluminum is known to be at risk from corrosion from salt, and I wonder how long it will take the aluminum equipped vehicle to fail from the corrosive damage. Might be nice to know the specs of the aluminum they use. any ideas?

  14. MarkP says:

    Mr Pence, can you offer any links to any documentation about aluminum corrosion from salt? To my knowledge aluminum is generally good for corrosion resistance due to salt. Aluminum forms a layer of Al2O3 aluminum oxide that is just at the surface that prevents further corrosion. That is why aluminum normally looks a matte grey colour but if you scratch it is is a very bright shiny silver colour. If you come back to that same scratch in a day or two it will have become the same matte grey as the rest of the aluminum in your test piece. I haven’t seen anything that specifies the grade or composition of the aluminum used in Ford trucks.

  15. Jim pitman says:

    Airports don’t use salt for deicing due to the damage it does to aluminium bodied aircraft. Urea urea fertilizer is the preferred alternate.

  16. joffroy boutin says:

    Yes i’ve worked as a machinist way back.
    Mr Pence is both right and wrong.
    There is a procedure called anodizing witch consists ” basically ” of passing an electric current threw the part (made of aluminum) . This induces a thin barrier of oxidation with serves to protect the material witch is in this case … you guessed it …
    The same principle applies to other metals such as titanium with happens naturally ..
    Witch in turn is what makes titanium so difficult to work with. Isn’t it ironic?
    Is there a “military grade titanium or aluminum oxide ?

  17. Joffroy boutin says:

    Oh and i forgot.
    When aluminum oxidizes naturally it does not protect the metal because that oxidization is uneven creating fault lines and potential metal failure.

  18. Kris carr says:

    I have been an auto body tech for almost 20 years and was fairly excited to see Ford’s aluminum truck in person. When I did I was sorely disappointed. The body panels are too thin to have any real strength and the truck I was working on have significant cracks throughout the body. The truck have been used as a forestry vehicle and had about 140k one on it but, it is a truck and should be meant to be treated as such. Aside from requiring new specialized tools and training to work on them there is an added cost to repairs. This is a scam. It’s a way to make the truck lighter so they can put a smaller engine in them to promote fuel efficiency while at the same time shortening the life expectancy of you truck so that you have to buy a new one sooner. All it military grade all you want but it’s junk!

  19. Shawn Desjardins says:

    So aluminum built by the lowest bidder is what we’re talking about?

  20. Warren says:

    Ford out smarted the other competition and beat them to the use of aluminum. They will be using very soon also! My Ford 150 is just as tough as it needs to be and a V-6 with 375 hp., and 425lbs. of torque in not too shabby. Ford is the # 1 selling truck for decades now and they are always the one that engineers new concepts and designs. Built Ford Tough is the trademark that will last forever. The others are over-priced and over-rated.It’s just that simple!

  21. Will says:

    The new ford F150 body is made from 6000 series aluminum. The primary annealing elements are magnesium and silicone. The navy primarily uses 6000 series aluminum on the new littoral combat ships. Magnesium is unique among elements when it is exposed to hot weather, magnesium expands and does not shrink back to its original size. This causes the magnesium to migrate is the aluminum structure and cause sensation ( granular cracking)

  22. Mickey says:

    A truck is usually a work horse and built to with stand-some dents and scratches. Putting magnesium as an alloy is like putting acid inside it. Most all military bases have a water sprayer for aircraft to taxi through as they taxi to their ramp or parking spot. That is done because they are susceptible to corrosion. Corrosion is an enemy to aircraft. Aircraft wheels were made of magnesium and salt will destroy them. Military aircraft are mostly made of 7075-t6 and some 2024-t3 coated on each side with 8% pure aluminum and as I said before salt is an enemy of aluminum either on the ground or in the air. Also you get entergrandular corrosion plus disimular metal corrosion when in contact with another type of metal or steel. I’m speaking from over 30 years of aircraft sheet metal journeyman experience.

  23. Manny says:

    Why is Ford the #1 selling truck year after year? Because they don’t last and constantly have to be replaced. Nobody wants to sell there Chevy because the Ford is always being repaired.

  24. Mike says:

    I remember a very soft and machinable aluminum alloy being 6061. I am sure Ford is using a soft easily stamped alloy for their pickup body and bed panels.

  25. As one who has over 40 years in the aerospace industry working with aluminum of all types I can tell you Fords’ claim of “military grade aluminum” is a marketing ploy designed to mislead. 6061 aluminum is typically tempered to a hardness rating referred to as T6 in the industry. That particular material is subject to cracking, since the temper is hard for aluminum, and can make it brittle. There really isn’t any such thing as “military grade aluminum”. Ford will regret the decision to use it over time.

  26. Bob says:

    Ford makes their trucks lighter and weaker with “Military Grade” aluminum so that their Fanboys can load them up more and hook a 40 ft 5th wheel toy hauler to them. Just add some air bags and you will be OK. When they cook the Ecoboost, transmission, transfer case and differentials they sell them to some younger F150 fanboys and buy a new one and start the cycle over. That is why it is the top selling truck. Thanks Ford, Henry always knew how to con people out of their money and has passed it on through the years.

  27. The Outlaw says:

    Who the heck wants a LIGHT truck. Trucks should be beasts that can take a pounding and ask for more.

  28. Olmstead Runyon says:

    II don’t think I’ve ever seen so many spelling and grammar errors in a single comments thread. It’s like you’re all speaking a different language. Plenty of interesting info here…if you can read it!

    1. Daniel Meyers says:

      Look at the longevity of the older Land Rover Series 1-3 and remember that they are an Aluminum alloy with 3-7% Magnesium and <2%! Mangenese think about how well they lasted. Other than the steel bulkheads that rotted out they held together quite well.

  29. Dennis Huey II says:

    I was a machinist for 14yrs and have worked with aluminum quite extensively. Aluminum is aluminum, it will never compare to the strength and durability of steel. From where I stand on this, the only advantage to using aluminum is the ability to resist rust.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.