Wednesday 31 October 2012

Sensational CGI cylinder block breakthrough

The biggest contract ever placed by an OEM for a compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block has been placed against the foundry Tupy SA of Joinville, Brazil.

The contract calls for production to ramp up to over 300,000 passenger car cylinder blocks a year, starting 2013. Production will be based at Tupy’s North American base in Saltillo, Mexico.

The contract makes the programme the highest-volume CGI block in the world. The block will be Tupy’s eighteenth CGI component, further reinforcing the company’s global leadership in the production of these components.

Rumours in the automotive industry point to the castings being employed in a “sensational” engine that will mark a “new era”, reflecting “new thinking” in engine technology. The rumours further point to Ford Motor Company as the OEM, however the identity of the OEM will be released, it is expected, in March/April 2013.

Meanwhile, to produce the new castings in Saltillo, Tupy is ordering SinterCast’s System 3000Plus process control technology to automatically control the base treatment, process control measurement and final adjustment of magnesium and inoculant prior to casting.

This will be SinterCast’s most comprehensive installation with a capacity of 15 ladles per hour and over nine hours of production a day.

Tupy is tantalisingly vague as to the OEM and the nature of the engine configuration that will use the CGI block.

However, SinterCast claims the contract will yield over 300,000 engine equivalents a year. Insiders who follow SinterCast closely well know that each engine equivalent weighs 50kg. So, on the basis of matching volume to the equivalents, suggests a cylinder block weight of 50kg.

Up to the present time, all of SinterCast’s current production passenger vehicle cylinder blocks are vee-diesel configuration.

Interestingly however, a production volume of 300,000 a year is too large a production run for a vee-diesel engine. The implication therefore is that the contract is for either an in-line diesel or in-line gasoline engine.

However, those who follow SinterCast’s activities with more than passing interest, will be aware that at the May 2012 Annual General Meeting, Dr. Steve Dawson, chief executive officer of SinterCast referred to a “pending petrol engine order”.

To put the single-order, one-block 300,000 volume into context, one only has to refer to comments made by Dawson at a conference in 2007 on the benefits of CGI. Dawson noted that “today, 40,000 CGI cylinder blocks are produced each month for OEMs,, including Audi, DAF, Ford, Hyundai, MAN, Mercedes-Benz, PSA and Volkswagen”. That figure covered both passenger car and commercial vehicle applications.

 Dawson pointed to the weight-saving benefits of CGI, namely the material offers double the fatigue limit of conventional grey iron (and aluminium alloys), while the improved strength and stiffness of CGI enhances dimensional stability to reduce piston slap, bore wear, oil consumption and blow-by; as well as NVH performance.

In addition, CGI can help engineers as they deal with increasing cylinder pressures, though in the case of a gasoline engine this is less significant.

The benefits of CGI’s weight-saving characteristics to the current Tupy contract can be seen from figures Dawson released in 2007. He noted that a 2-litre I4 gasoline engine would weigh 31.8kg in grey iron but only 26.6kg in CGI, a reduction of 16.4%. In another example, he cited a 2.2-litre I4 gasoline engine could yield a 28% weight reduction.

Likewise, he noted that a 1.8-litre, I4 diesel engine of 38kg in grey iron would weigh 29.5kg in CGI – a reduction of 22.4%.

Highlighting all-round benefits, Dawson noted that a fully-assembled CGI engine can be 5% lower, 5% narrower, 13% shorter and 9.4% lighter. These figures highlight the contribution made by CGI to downsizing and power-up objectives, indicating some of the reasons why CGI was selected by the OEM for this application.

The high-volume nature of the contract (300,000 a year) suggests a single facility working nine hours a day, five days a week for 48 weeks a year, would deliver the equivalent of 140 jobs an hour. On double shift this would be 70 jobs an hour.

These figures suggest that any manufacturing implications that might have been associated with the choice of CGI have now been eliminated, or can be accommodated

As to the blocks' eventual destination, it is known that Tupy exports a significant amount of its production to both North america and Europe.