Tuesday 18 March 2014

Delphi to move into natural gas

Delphi Automotive PLC in the UK has won an important contract to work with Westport Innovations Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia to co-develop and manufacture high-pressure natural gas (NG) fuel injectors designed for multiple engine original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

This important contract takes Delphi into new territory, up to now it has been manufacturing heavy-duty truck diesel fuelling systems for Daf in The Netherlands and Volvo in Sweden at its state-of-the-art, sub-micro machining facility at Stonehouse, Glos.

Now, through the leverage of both Westport and Volvo the facility will expand its capability into a new market area.

From Westport’s perspective, the joint venture aims to further entrench Westport’s high pressure direct injection as the leading NG technology platform for heavy-duty engine applications.

The two firms will combine their intellectual property and engineering strengths to co-develop and manufacture a family of NG injectors.

The first to be developed will be one of the core components of Westport's recently announced HPDI 2.0 fuel system.

Delphi is one of few global injector manufacturers capable of producing fuel system components demanded by class-leading heavy-duty diesel engine OEMs.

Westport says it will combine over 20 years of NG high-pressure direct injection research with Delphi's “deep, comprehensive and innovative powertrain technology portfolio” to create and manufacture a “mass-market-ready” NG injector to power multiple engine platforms.

The aim presumably will be to spread Westport’s NG injector technology across a number of different engine size platforms.

Westport is to invest in critical equipment including but not limited to tooling, manufacturing, assembly, and end-of-line test equipment within Delphi's state of the art, global production footprint.

The investment will enable Westport to deliver high volumes of injectors for multiple OEM applications ranging from trucks to trains.

For its part, Delphi will provide injector designers and engineering resources to work with Westport's experts to optimize design, development, manufacturing, and assembly of the injectors.

Delphi's Stonehouse facility initially became well known for its electronic unit injector (EUI) design but more recently has moved into unit pumps for common rail systems, both of which demand the highest possible manufacturing standards. The facility has a long history in unit injector manufacture dating back to the time it was part of Lucas Diesel Systems when it had business with Volkswagen in Germany, Volvo in Sweden and Caterpillar in the US. It offers high-tech manufacturing facilities and cutting-edge research.

The solenoid-operated electronic unit injector (EUI) was developed initially by Detroit Diesel in the US. The idea was taken up by Lucas Industries in the UK which developed the system for passenger acr  and truck engines. Lucas Diesel Systems built the Stonehouse facility and Volvo was the first company to use the heavy duty EUI for it commercial vehicle diesel engines.

Later Daimler-Benz acquired Detroit Diesel and at much the same time Bosch acquired Diesel Technology, a company set up by Detroit Diesel to make EUIs. 

Meanwhile, based on current OEM projections, Delphi and Westport are intending to invest in and develop annual production capacity in excess of 100,000 injectors within the next four years.

Intellectual property rights arising from the development program will be jointly owned by Delphi and Westport and maintained by Westport.

The new design and smaller footprint of the single actuator design allows for simplified adaptability to multiple engine OEMs for various applications, resulting in lower development and product costs.

The superior actuator performance obtained by using Delphi's high-performance twin valve technology results in increased flow capacity and compatibility with high power and high power density applications.

The combination of optimised design and proven Delphi technology will result in industry-standard reliability and durability, while the cost of the new injector is expected to be significantly lower than current HPDI injectors, meeting both the commercial and performance demands of diverse markets globally from Europe to North America to China.

But who brought these two partners together? Although Westport makes no mention of the subject in its press release, it has to be assumed the most likely catalyst for the deal was Volvo which is well versed in Delphi’s technology, including for its Euro 6 diesel engines.  Delphi Diesel Systemsis a long-established supplier to Volvo of its heavy-duty diesel fuel systems (initially unit-injectors but now with common-rail systems as well).

Interestingly, the only HPDI-equipped engine seen so far, based on the Cummins 15-litre ISX model, was withdrawn from production in January due to limited demand. Some observers suggest this could be due to the unacceptably high cost of converting the base diesel engine.

The complex logistics involved in transporting Cummins engines to Westport’s Vancouver facility, including introducing a new cylinder head with its the six sophisticated HPDI gas injectors, most likely proved too financially burdensome for the market.

Westport, anxious to avoid similarly unacceptable cost penalties with another potential customer, discovered that an alternative could be on offer if the HPDI hardware could be installed in the engines in Volvo’s own production facilities at Skövde in Sweden or Hagerstown in Maryland, in the US.

Such a strategy would allow production costs to be contained to match competitors’ (like Cummins) offerings from spark-ignited NG engines.

It is rumoured Volvo has its sights set on producing over 30,000 HPDI engines a year by 2018. To achieve this, it was logical that Delphi and Westport should join forces to meet Volvo’s needs. And the way could be open for Delphi to serve other OEMs too. This would be good news for Dephi in the UK.

As the announcement suggests, the deal is between Westport Innovations and Delphi’s UK operations. The implication must be that Delphi’s heavy-duty fuel system capability at Stonehouse, could soon begin manufacture of HPDI injector components.

Delphi’s heavy duty business with operations in Stonehouse, Sudbury, and Park Royal, north London, is part of Delphi Automotive PLC which recently posted 2013 full-year revenues up 16 per cent of $16.5 billion giving an operating income of $1.844 billion. The company generated $1.8 billion in cash. Delphi Automotive PLC is headquartered in Gillingham, Kent, UK. The company was founded in 1997 in Troy, Michigan, USA, from various break-out companies within General Motors.

Delphi is a leading global supplier of technologies serving the automotive and the commercial vehicle industries. It also serves the aftermarkets of these industries and offers testing facilities in Germany, Mexico and the US, and has a licensing operation, Delphi Technologies.

Delphi has regional headquarters in Bascharage, Luxembourg; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Shanghai, China; and Troy, Michigan, USA.  

Executives at Delphi in the UK will now suddenly become increasingly aware, if they are not already, of the appearance NG as an important alternative fuel for heavy-duty trucks and buses, especially in North America.

They will no doubt also observe now with more than passing interest, the upcoming battle between spark-ignited NG engines and the innovative HPDI configuration with its diesel ‘pilot’ that supplies up to five per cent of the fuel energy requirement.

Quite how the battle will unfold remains to be seen.  Much will depend on fuel prices, amongst other factors. But the HPDI approach offers a unique advantage: an HPDI engine retains the all-important torque-based performance characteristics of a diesel with its added fuel economy bonus.

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