Friday, 29 May 2015
Tear-downs: paving the way for CGI growth
How will OEMs respond to Ford’s 2015 F-150 pick-up truck with its intensive use of aluminium and a gasoline engine with a CGI block?
Tear-down exercises focus on every minute detail of vehicle design and construction. The largest single items often command most attention, like the powertrain and inevitably this can be the focus of particular attention.
The powertrain helps to determine the vehicle’s emission’s characteristics as well as of course fuel economy, power and torque availability. It also is a focus of customer attention.
Every item of the engine will be scrutinised, from the five Cs – cylinder block, cylinder head, crankshaft, camshaft and connecting rods – to the turbocharger configuration, the fuelling system. Even the method of construction of the camshaft can leave no stone unturned.
In the case of the 2.7-litre EcoBoost, the engineers of OEMs involved in tear-downs will know of the use of compacted graphite iron (CGI) for the cylinder block. Inevitably this will be a focus of their special attention.
Scrutiny will focus on various casting radii, draw angles, wall thickness, and above all weight. Inevitably tear-downs raise questions: Why did they do it this way? Why did they choose that material? Why did they select that supplier?
Another crucial aspect of tear-down arrives when the engine goes on the dynamometer to reveal just how well it ticks the all the boxes: how well does it start, what’s the noise level, and how well does it perform over the rev range. The resulting power and torque curves, not to mention the fuel economy maps will set minds thinking.
For the reality is that tear-down, bench-testing and re-assembly (with even possible test-to-destruction procedures) can change initial perceptions.
For it will not have escaped those OEMs which have already minutely inspected the 2015 F-150 that the US pick-up truck, with its aluminium bodywork has achieved a five star rating compared with a four star rating for the previous generation model with its steel bodywork.
The adoption of a CGI block has made a contribution to this safety improvement.
Inevitably, at Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters, senior engineers in their various presentations had to justify the use of CGI for the vee cylinder block of the new engine. After all, this was a ground-breaking decision – it would be the first time that CGI has been used for a high-volume gasoline engine.
No such decision could be taken in Ford without every single aspect of the engine being examined, re-examined and re-examined from every possible angle. Just like the switch from steel to aluminium for the truck body.
Pioneered in Europe
Ford group staff are of course familiar with the use of CGI in diesel engines – that technology was pioneered in Europe (in the UK and Germany) and has spread to the company’s North American 6.7-litre PowerStroke diesel used in large F-Series pick-ups.
Such is the success of this engine and pick-up combination that Ford is asking its foundry supplier for even more capacity of the large CGI cylinder block castings as demand for the 2015 F-150 pick-up is reported by Automotive News to be "sky high".
Added to which, Ford’s pick-ups are top of the tree when it comes to North American sales – in fact, two of the top three pick-up brands in the US are powered by CGI engines with the Dodge Ram in third spot. (In the first four months of 2015 the sales figures were: 240,139; 172,672 and 139,432 respectively.) Chevrolet’s Silverado, in second spot, does not have a CGI block. (In Australia, Ram sales could increase following two new agreements, including one directly affecting the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel with its VM Motori V6 diesel.)
Automotive analysts assess that these three vehicles will hold their present station for at least the next three or four years, implying that in two of the three trucks CGI engine components will continue to play their dominant role in foundry supply, and will therefore maintain a stable and steady growth.
In their presentations, Ford engineers homed in on the 2.7-litre EcoBoost’s USP: the vee block is some 40mm shorter than an aluminium vee block.
This means that not only is less material used in the block and heads, but every component in the engine influenced by the length of the engine is also shorter – thus crankshaft, camshaft, fuel rails, electrical harnesses and so on are shorter. These reductions bring their own weight reductions.
That there is less material in the engine also impacts on machining and assembly processes and the energy consumed.
The choice of CGI in favour of aluminium also implies a stiffer engine; a stiffer engine also has reduced vibrations. The knock-on effect of this is reduced NVH: a quieter engine and a quieter vehicle – something that Ford dealers have been quick to latch on in their sales pitch to prospective buyers.
A smaller engine offers improved packaging - the smaller the engine the easier the packaging; but a smaller engine also has implications for the crash case. The engine acts as a bridge to transfer the energy from a front impact into the rest of the vehicle. The smaller the engine the lower the energy level that has to be transferred into the vehicle and thus the greater the safety of the vehicle.
Cost control and cost analysis are ever uppermost is Ford thinking and planning and in this regard the latest gasoline 2.7-litre turbocharged engine, when compared with a similar aluminium engine raises one vital question, especially as the 2.7-litre engine has a similar weight to an aluminium gasoline engine as a result of the downsizing effect of the 40mm reduction in engine length.
Why pay more?
So Ford group staff, in justifying their move to CGI, ask: “If you can have the same weight as an aluminium engine why would you pay more for a less strong material?”
This was their business case for justifying the introducing CGI into their first high-volume gasoline engine with a CGI block – the cost-performance benefit.
The engine - seen in some quarters as an 'aluminium fighter' - not only brings with it compelling power and torque figures, but benchmarking fuel economy and noise levels. The 2015 F-150 with its 2.7-litre EcoBoost is reputed to have the best fuel economy of gasoline-powered trucks in the pick-up sector.
So the net result is that tear-down exercises are likely to motivate other OEMs to rise to the challenge, the more so as the 2.7-litre EcoBoost is likely to be just the tip of a very large iceberg.
Ford is never satisfied to produce one single engine configuration. So other derivatives and power/torque levels, possibly swept volumes, are likely to emerge as the Ohio, Lima Engine Plant plays an increasing role in Ford’s powertrain strategy. High-strength CGI offers design and marketing staff great scope to push out the boundaries.
But when it comes to Ford's next new product, OEMs in particular will be most anxious to lay their hands on the powertrain in the upcoming Lincoln Continental (below) due in 2016.
No details of the 3-litre engine that is set to power the car have been released. Nor will anyone talk about it. A Ford spokesperson, in response to questions, tantalisingly let slip to this newsletter that it will be a “unique” 3-litre engine, but refused to say more with the exception that engine details could materialise "in early 2016". No doubt there will be plenty of rumours in the US about the new Conti and its "unique" engine before it surfaces early next year; these will do no more than whet the varatious appetite of competing OEMs anxious to take the mysterious powerplant apart as they grimy their hands in the process.
If it is truly “unique” then this will raise expectations – and implications, moving the benchmarking goalposts and making it even more vital for OEM tear-down and benchmarking teams to lay their hands on it. They will be anxious to find out for themselves just what makes this “unique” engine ‘tick’.
Again, if it is “unique” then it will move Ford further up the league table of world-leading gasoline and diesel powertrain manufacturers.
The result is that CGI, which started its journey in Europe in Audi and Ford engines, is one material where other OEMs in the US and the Far East are likely to follow suit.
Meanwhile, in the commercial vehicle world, European OEMs are using more CGI components than in any other part of the world. And indeed, most countries in the world are now adopting Euro-style emissions legislation and so, as they come to Euro-style challenges, they are also likely to adopt Euro-style solutions. This could include CGI blocks and heads – and other components.
European truck makers largely manufacture and supply complete engine-in-vehicle units for their customers, but as these firms have spread their wings into North America, so the practice of selling wholly own-made vehicles is making headway there even though some people state-side said it 'would never happen'.
In the US, an owner-operator might previously purchase an engine separately for his new truck from Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel (for some time part of Daimler Trucks North America) or Navistar International. But this practice for buyers to purchase the truck and engine separately is changing, albeit slowly.
This change in purchasing practice may even affect the destiny of giants like Cummins Inc., especially of the so-called “whole-vehicle” fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions requirements migrate from Phase 1 of 2014 to Phase 2 that set in place for 2017 as planned. Cummins is resisting these “whole-vehicle” proposals both in Europe and the US. If adopted they could further serve to bolster the spread of European powertrain technology in North America.
Consequently, there has been a migration of European truck technology into North America. This has seen Freightliner (also part of Daimler Trucks North America), Paccar (through Daf) and Volvo introduce European technology.
Paccar, for example is building Daf-designed 12.9-litre MX13 I6 diesel engines in Columbus, Mississippi with plans to begin manufacture of the more recent design of 10.9 litre MX11 I6 truck diesel. Both engines have CGI heads and blocks (shared with two foundry suppliers), and they benefit from fuel systems design and manufactured by Delphi Diesel Systems of Stonehouse, Glos., UK. Some readers will be aware that these fuel systems have their origins in Lucas Diesel Systems before it was acquired by Delphi Corporation.
Both these Daf Euro 6 engines have common rail fuel systems in which the rail is pressurised by two unit pumps driven off the camshaft. The previous engine arrangement used six unit pumps – again driven from the camshaft.
As an aside, Daf is the only European truck manufacturer which fits diesel engines from Cummins Darlington (UK) to its trucks in addition to those manufactured in-house in Eindhoven.
By the same token, Volvo is building European-design truck diesel engines at its Hagerstown facility in Maryland. As if to reinforce the European connection, Volvo is importing some components for its US-built engines from its Skovde plant in Sweden.
In a similar parallel to Daf, Volvo also uses two out of six Delphi unit pumps to pressurise the fuel system common rail, but this time driven from the overhead camshaft.
Navistar International, on the other, needed to import both European engine technology and European CGI technology from MAN in Germany. Navistar sources blocks and heads through its subsidiary MWM in Brazil which pre-machines the cast components sourced from Tupy SA, the world's leading CGI foundry, which in turn employs Swedish SinterCast process control technology to produce its high quality CGI castings. MWM then sends the compnents to Navistar's facility in Huntsville, Alabama for final machining and assembly.
Daf also uses CGI for both cylinder blocks and heads while Mercedes-Benz uses the material for cylinder heads and Scania in Sweden uses CGI for V8 cylinder blocks.
The spread of European powertrain technology into commercial vehicles is also boosted by the design support offered by consultants such as AVL, FEV, Lotus and Ricardo. The arrival of European technology consequently sets new benchmarks in North America and elsewhere which others have to follow as the technology, such CGI, is needed by the marketplace. This in turn sets off further volume growth prospects for the material with the result that this year could see some interesting new applications. Some firms in China have taken more than a passing interest in the benefits of CGI, even to the point of one adopting it for a new diesel engine concept.
The total annual potential market for CGI engine components (based on five-year customer predictions based on programmes they have in development) is put at 15 million engine equivalents (750,000 tons), of which 6 million (300,000 tons) is taken up by China; the western world of Europe and North America offers a further 4.5 million (225,000 tons), with the rest of the world being put at 4.5 million (225,000 tons) also. (Typically, 20 engine equivalents equates to 1 tonne or 50kg per engine block.)
Of the components that use SinterCast CGI components, passenger car applications account for 54 per cent, commercial vehicles 37 per cent and others nine per cent. The others include non-automotive work, such as the bedplate for the VM Motori V6 engine and various exhaust manifold business which has benefitted from the economy in Europe. This sector of business has grown 14 per cent.
The company recently passed the accumulated 2 million engine equivalent figure. What looks certain is that before too long that number will have risen by 50 percent. And indeed, with contracts in the pipeline, there is the potential to go beyond the 3 million mark.