ONCE it was a technique that helped protect knights in armour from the crashing blows of their rivals but now Ford is applying a cutting-edge version of the same technology to help make its cars safer.
The first fully automated hot-forming process shapes and cuts parts of the car - which are integral to protecting drivers and passengers - using giant furnaces, robots and 3,000 degree centigrade lasers.
The hot-forming line - fully integrated within the company's Saarlouis Vehicle Assembly Plant in Germany - was built as part of a recent Â£550 million investment in the facility.
Hot forming is an integral part of the production of the all-new Ford Focus that has seen the car be awarded a maximum five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
The all-new Focus makes extensive use of boron steel - the strongest steel used in the auto industry - within the car's safety cell.
This helps to create a survival space in the event of an accident. In addition, the use of boron, also found in skyscrapers, helps the new model to achieve a 40 per cent improvement in the car's capability to withstand headâon crashes.
Hot-formed steel pieces are subjected to temperatures of up to 930 degrees centigrade; unloaded by robots into a hydraulic press that has a closing force up to 1,150 tonnes; and then shaped and cooled in just three seconds.
The boron steel is so strong by this point that a laser beam hotter than lava is used to precision-cut each piece into its final shape.
DaleWishnousky, vice president for manufacturing withFord of Europe, said: "We are building on techniques used to strengthen steel for thousands of years, incorporating modern materials and automation to speed and refine the hot-forming process. The resulting boron steel safety cell helps to make the all-new Focus one of our safest vehicles ever."