Monday 8 April 2013

World's first CGI gasoline engine

The world’s first high-volume gasoline engine with a compacted graphite iron (CGI) cylinder block will be launched within 12 months.

The new engine will be the world’s first highest-volume CGI engine. It will also establish a new benchmark for packaging, size, performance and refinement.

SinterCast, which develops and produces specialised process control technology that enables production of high-quality CGI material, has confirmed what many in the powertrain industry have suspected for some time – that a major OEM is about to launch a gasoline engine with a CGI cylinder block.

In his CEO’s Message accompanying SinterCast’s 2012 Annual report, president and chief executive officer Dr. Steve Dawson tantalisingly lifts the lid of Pandora’s Box by just 1cm to glimpse ‘The Future’ and so keep shareholders on board.

“I can’t remember a more exciting time in our history…..the start of production of the first-ever high volume CGI petrol engine,” he declares.

First revealed to shareholders on 24 May 2012, the engine has since continued its development ‘on schedule’ throughout the year, with pre-production beginning in January 2013, according to Dawson.

“We look forward to the formal start of series production this year,” adds Dawson.

No hint has been given in the annual report of the OEM’s identity, but Dawson’s comments are the first real signs of a breakthrough.

                                Widely recognised

Higher-strength iron CGI has long been recognised as essential to modern-day diesel engines for both passenger cars and commercial vehicles.

But while there are undoubted benefits also for higher performance gasoline engines, OEMs have been slow to grasp the nettle – at least publicly.

Happy to extract the very last ounce of performance from tried and trusted grey iron engines, gasoline engine makers have put off the day when they need to commit to CGI.

“If it ain’t bust, why change it” might be taken as their watchwords.

But now the dam is about to burst and it is possible that once one engine maker commits to CGI, others will follow too.

Persistent rumours have abounded in Europe and North America that Volkswagen AG will be the first to use CGI in gasoline engines. But the whispers have remained whispers – they have not prised the rabbit out of the hat.

Likewise, other whispers suggest it could be Ford Motor Company. Again, silence.

Certainly, for truth, Audi (part of VW) and Ford together raced to be first to use CGI for vee-diesel engines for passenger cars. That race could be repeated for gasoline engines.

As before, leading foundry Tupy SA of Brazil could play a vital part in the history of the new gasoline engine. At the present time, the new SinterCast System 3000 Plus technology is being commissioned at Tupy’s Saltillo foundry in Mexico and it will support the production of 15 ladles per hour of CGI material with more than nine hours of series production per day. Could this foundry supply the mysterious OEM?

                             Light-duty trucks

Meanwhile, in his 2012 ‘end of term’ report, Dawson highlights another ‘breakthrough’ in 2012, namely the start of production of CGI diesels in light-duty pick-up trucks with the anticipation of the market’s response to these new engine launches.

In terms of pick-up trucks, the highlight of the second half of 2012 for SinterCast was the ramp up of the VM Motori 3-litre V6 diesel engine cylinder block and bedplate at the Brazilian foundry of Tupy SA.

The increase was the result of Chrysler’s decision to offer diesel options in the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ram 1500, providing the second SinterCast CGI diesel engine in the American SUV sector and a breakthrough for CGI diesel engines in the high-volume light duty pick-up sector.

Adds Dawson: “The Jeep and Ram 1500 applications provide the opportunity for the VM Motori diesel engine to become our fifth engine to crack the 100,000 engine equivalents per year barrier, but more importantly it poses a fascinating challenge in Detroit which we will watch with great anticipation.”

Assuming 50kg per engine equivalents this suggests that Chrysler could be taking 100,000 CGI engine a year from VM Motori.

However, there was some disappointment in various quarters that Chrysler did not ‘bite the bullet’ and introduce its Dodge Durango with same Italian-built 3-litre V6 VM Motori diesel at the New York Auto Show earlier this year. But that day may soon come although the volumes will be small.

So what will happen now? Many are eagerly awaiting the response from Ford and General Motors to the arrival of the diesel Ram 1500. Will these companies ignore the development until the early adopters have played their cards? Ford is seldom one to jump in at the deep end – though it did with its CGI Vee-diesel.

Or will they resurrect respectively their 4.4-litre and 4.5-litre V8 diesel engines (both with CGI blocks)? Or could they too move down the scale to the next point, namely the 3-litre V6 engine, to challenge the Ram with the same displacement.

Ford has a 3-litre V6 currently is use by JaguarLandRover and of course, as regular readers of this newsletter will know, GM has a half-stake in VM Motori.

Quite what will happen in this sector is anyone’s guess. But there is some excitement among engineers as they watch to see how events will unfold.

                           Major development

Meanwhile, somewhat ironically, Dawson carefully skirts around other major 2012 developments for SinterCast without mentioning the OEM customers: namely, mention of truck and engine maker Scania and Volvo Trucks, although the words can be found in ‘small print’ in the 2012 report. In particular, Dawson has been constrained from linking SinterCast’s name with that of Scania (both Swedish companies) in any press release.

Dawson diplomatically notes: “Our new European commercial vehicle series production installation, announced on 11 February 2013, provides a further opportunity for commercial vehicle growth.” That press release did not name the customer.

In another oblique reference, Dawson notes: “The resumption of Navistar production during January 2013 (It had been halted in June 2012 when Navistar confirmed it could not meet EPA emissions standards with its EGR technology – Ed.), and the announcement of our new commercial vehicle series production on 11 February 2013 provide opportunities for increases in the commercial vehicle wave (Dawson has long forecast a strategy of five waves of CGI introduction in engines, namely vee-diesel passenger vehicles in Europe; commercial vehicle engines; in-line diesel passenger car engines; vee-diesel passenger vehicles outside Europe; and gasoline engines. Of these, in-line diesel passenger car engines and gasoline engines have yet to materialise – Ed.)  

Scania and Volvo nevertheless are without doubt important and valuable additions to an already long list of blue-chip companies that SinterCast has on its reference list.

In conclusion, one might be entitled to ask, when will the new CGI gasoline engines actually appear before the public? That too is anyone’s guess? However, industry insiders expect the OEM will make an announcement this autumn or, at the very latest, at the Detroit Motor Show next January. For many that date cannot come soon enough.