Sunday 4 November 2012

Ford Ecoboost engine set for CGI block?

Speculation amongst some observers suggests there would be no surprise if the “sensational” engine using compacted graphite iron (CGI) block, due to bow in the 2013/2014 time frame (see last post), comes from Ford Motor Company; the engine lying within the company’s Ecoboost family.

Speculation is ignited through the announcement 29 October by global foundry Tupy SA of Joinville, Brazil, that it has placed a contract against SinterCast for its System 3000plus process control technology to use for the production of 300,000-plus high-quality CGI castings a year.

Industry insiders suggest the projected annual volume of over 300,000 a year of the new CGI blocks from Tupy SA is too high for a vee-diesel production run. This implies either an in-line diesel or a gasoline engine.

IF the new application is for a gasoline engine, the block could be in-line or vee configuration. For an in-line engine, Ford is one speculated OEM customer to take such high volumes.

But, on the other hand, IF the new CGI block is intended for a vee gasoline engine, then General Motors could be the customer. However, GM has no previous experience of machining CGI on such a massive scale. And over 300,000 blocks a year is ‘big scale’. All IFs and BUTs.

The EcoBoost is a family of direct-injected gasoline engines developed by Ford in association with FEV Engineering. They range from the three-cylinder I-3 of 100-123bhp, through the 1.6-litre I-4, the 2-litre I-4 and up to the 3.5-litre V6 giving 350bhp.

The speculation would fit in with suggestions (in the previous post) that the cylinder block of the upcoming engine is an I4 of around 1.6 to 2-litres and not a vee diesel engine configuration. Indeed the idea could be taken a stage further – the engine could be an I-3 three-cylinder 1.6-litre or an I-4 four-cylinder 2.2-litre gasoline engine.

The benefits of CGI have now become well established and well-proven through the efforts of numerous OEMs, with Audi and Ford leading the pack in passenger vehicle applications: lighter weight, higher strength, higher stiffness, and improved rigidity and NVH. In theory, a CGI block can be as light as an aluminium block and would be of great advantage in the Ford Focus or light duty truck use in the US.

CGI would assist with Ford’s programme of down-sizing whilst retaining improved performance and fuel economy. For example, a 2.2-litre I4 gasoline engine with a performance of 125bhp/litre could deliver 257bhp and 300ftlb torque. With 150bhp/litre this would give 330bhp. Eventually, around 380bhp might be possible with 2-litres being seen as a possible company in-line capacity limit in years to come.

In the absence of mature information at this stage, speculation further fuels the nature of the upcoming engine family. For example, it is known that Ford has carried out work over the years on HCCI (Homogeneous Charge Ignition Engines) in partnership with PSA in France on the 2.7-litre V6 engine with a CGI block. Both companies have experience of machining CGI cylinder blocks. Could HCCI be a step too far for Ford at this stage?

In an HCCI engine, fuel and air are mixed and injected into the cylinder. The piston compresses the mixture and spontaneous combustion occurs. (In HCCI, the engine combines the fuel and air pre-mixing of a spark ignition engine with the instantaneous combustion of a diesel engine.)

Ford also has supported HCCI research through Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and oil giant BP. Ford executives believe an HCCI engine can give near-diesel engine fuel efficiency but with the lower cost of the gasoline engine. However, to be successful, the conventional gasoline cylinder block must be strengthened and this is where a CGI block could be of advantage.

Ford is not alone. General Motors too has tested HCCI in Aura and Vectra mid-sized cars. But GM has not machined CGI blocks before in production-environment volumes. It has yet to introduce its own CGI engine, though GM Europe, must have ‘looked over the shoulder’ of VM Motori in Italy with its vee diesel. GM has plans for a CGI V8 diesel but they are believed to be still on the back burner.

Another variation is GDCI or Gasoline Direct-Injection Compression Ignition where low emissions are combined with high efficiency. In 2010, Delphi Corporation with Hyundai America Technical Center and academics from Wisconsin University won a US$7.48 million grant from the US Department of Energy to develop a GDCI engine; details were presented at the 2012 SAE World Congress in Detroit.

In GDCI, air is compressed in the cylinder before partially pre-mixed fuel is injected into the cylinder. As air is compressed, the heat generated is sufficient to ignite the mixture without need for a spark plug.

GDCI differs from HCCI in that with the latter, air and fuel are mixed before compression begins. Compression of the air/fuel mixture causes self-ignition, rather than introducing air/fuel into the hot compressed air at or near top dead centre, as with GDCI. GDCI would benefit also from a CGI block.

Among those working on advanced powertrain systems in the UK is CAFDR, the Centre for Advanced Powertrains and Fuels Research at Brunel University, Uxbridge. Sponsoring companies include Ford Motor Company and Delphi Diesel Systems.

Global machine tool supplier MAG IAS LLC of Erlanger, Kentucky, is probably the pack-leader in terms of most experience of developing and supplying machining centres for CGI, though Grob-Werke GmbH of Mindelheim, Germany cannot be discounted through its association with Audi. This year, Grob-Werke opened a production base in Liaoning, China – its fourth. MAG claims to have successfully used cryogenics to machine CGI, and has supplied Ford with machine tools for its latest V8 diesel engine lines in Chihuahua, Mexico. The Chihuahua Engine Plant (CEP) makes engines for Ford’s F-series trucks. These vee engines use CGI blocks from Tupy SA.

Specialist CGI foundry Tupy plans to supply the 300,000-plus CGI cylinder blocks from its newly-equipped foundry in Saltillo, Mexico.

Meanwhile, back to square one – all IFs and BUTs. But whatever, this will prove to be a “landmark” CGI engine application – the biggest-ever single order for such a prominent and vital engine component.