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.                                        

Friday, 26 October 2012

End of UK Ford Transit

As  many in the industry have been forecasting, Ford is finally shuttering its Southampton plant where over two million Transit vans have been built.

It seems only yesterday that Ford Motor Company was making plans to turn the company’s Southampton, UK plant from making Transit vans to chassis- cabs in readiness for the launch of Transit 6.

That was in 2008. Since then, with Transit 6 now launched, the market in Europe has changed. The euro crisis and the economic downturn have forced Ford to “restructure”, as vehicle demand declines. The result is that Ford’s 2008/9 plans to ‘save’ its UK Transit plant in the wake of the 2012 run-out of Transit 5 have been ditched.

Even as close as August 2010, Ford was still preparing for the Southampton upgrade that would see the removal of the present body framing lines and robotised body-in-white production. There was even talk earlier this year Transit 6 chassis-cabs still being built at Southampton. Ford even extended the run-out of the Transit line from 2011 to 2012 in readiness for the launch of Transit 6 in 2013.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Torotrak: where to now?

Torotrak has a new CEO. Is the company now about to deliver the goods, or is a long wait still in prospect?

Many are the explanations why chief executive officers leave their companies. Some, like bankers, do so after feeling the ire of public, shareholders or government. Others feel they have reached the end of the road in what they can achieve. Others are tempted by the prospect of new challenges.
Only Dick Elsy knows the real reason for leaving transmission innovator Torotrak plc to join the High Value Manufacturing – Catapult from the first of  this month as chief executive officer, replacing the interim CEO. This particular Catapult first opened in October 2011.
Elsy is replaced as CEO by Jeremy Deering, Torotrak’s finance and commercial director; he has been with Torotrak since 2006.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Vauxhall Van Plant prepares for change

The Vauxhall Van Plant at Luton, Bedfordshire, is undergoing exciting changes in preparation for the launch of the new X82 van in second quarter 2014.

Introducing a new vehicle onto the manufacturing floor is never easy; the more so if it is a van. Unlike cars, new van models are rolled out only once every 12 years or so; the team that launched the last one is unlikely to be that which launches the next.

And so it is at the Vauxhall Van Plant, Luton where engineers are making ready for X82, scheduled for 2nd quarter 2014. According to plant director Mike Wright, it is important for the project team to be in place well ahead of launch. The X82 replaces the current X83 design.

‘We have to make sure the team we have is capable of building the vehicle. Very soon, we will be off to France with a hand-picked team of our most experienced people,’ he said. ‘They will see the vehicle for the first time. In November they will see prototypes when they go to Sandouville, near Le Havre. We expect our first build vehicles here in June 2013. We have seen computer-generated images of the new vehicle. It looks fantastic.’

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Millbrook Proving Ground up for sale?

Word on the street suggests General Motors is on the point of selling its UK Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire.

Rationalisation of GM’s future requirements for test and development activities suggests that demands for the well-known proving ground are likely to diminish, paving the way for a transfer of ownership. About 60% of Millbrook’s business is thought to have its origins in GM; the remainder is generated by outside interests.

Several parties have expressed interest but the most likely future owner could be JaguarLandRover (JLR) which has increasing demand for Millbrook’s extensive resources and is in the throes of reorganizing it UK operations.

JLR is also in the midst of an aggressive new model programme which places huge demands on facilities and people.  

Of particular interest to JLR are Millbrook’s proving grounds, most notably the secure high speed test track capable of 150mile/h (240km/h). An added bonus is Millbrook’s own description of offering ‘extreme testing for extreme conditions’.

Not to be discounted either is Millbrook’s ample, secluded environment which would make it easy to extend engine and vehicle test facilities. Also, Millbrook already employs many highly skilled engineers of which JLR is currently short.

In addition, JLR is revamping its engine test facilities in the light of ever-unfolding emissions regulations especially in the USA. For example, Horiba Automotive Test Systems of Northampton is working through a £7 million contract at Jaguar to update five engine emission test cells having recently completed a £5 million contract at Land Rover.

Compliance with California’s upcoming regulations is important to the SUV, sports and luxury car maker as the UK business, owned by TATA Motors of India, knows full well that without such clearance JLR would be unable to sell vehicles in the state.

JLR has six principal sites: Gaydon, Oxfordshire and Whitley, Coventry for design and engineering; manufacturing sites at Halewood on Merseyside, Castle Bromwich and Solihull in the West Midlands which has for many years been the home of Land Rover production. Finally, JLR (TATA) is building a new engine plant in Wolverhampton.

It is expected that a new upcoming cross-over vehicle, could be built at the west Midlands site. Halewood is the home of both Freelander and Evoque, the latest product from JLR. Castle Bromwich symbolises JLR’s expertise in aluminium vehicle production and will be production location for the new F Type.

JLR’s centres for design and engineering have traditionally been located at Gaydon and Whitley. But the addition of a site like Millbrook would offer the company additional engine and vehicle test facilities. The extensive test tracks on offer in the Bedfordshire countryside would provide JLR with unique secure facilities to conduct all-round development, particularly off-road development.

GM has found that it no longer has the need for Millbrook, some 40 percent of the work of which is taken up by third parties, including Transport for London. Just how many of its existing customers JLR will be able to retain remains to be seen. However, it is almost certain that Millbrook will continue to work for GM under the terms of an agreement that will be made with the new owner. Transport for London and the Ministry of Defence are also likely to continue as customers.

Other UK vehicle manufacturers include BMW, Honda, Nissan and Toyota. Such companies are unlikely to want to discharge any work to Millbrook which might be confidential in nature.

This not to suggest they would not use Millbrook for more general work. Indeed, the extensive nature of Millbrook’s facilities provides plenty of options to attract a whole range of test and development work, including safety, systems test and vehicle conversion.

        Among recent work at Millbrook has been development of X82, the next generation Opel/Vauxhall Vivaro van built at Luton, Bedfordshire.

The idea for Millbrook blossomed in the mid-1960s when Vauxhall and Bedford began developing ideas for a proving ground based on their parent General Motors facilities in the US. Construction began in 1968 and following GM’s acquisition of Lotus Millbrook became Millbrook Proving Ground Ltd, a subsidiary of Group Lotus.

However, the facilities were separated out from Lotus in 1993 and became part of GM holdings UK Ltd, effectively “privatizing” them. Subsequently,  Millbrook has developed a world-wide client base. It describes itself as one of Europe’s leading locations for the development and demonstration of every type of land vehicle, from motor cycles to passenger cars, and heavy commercials to military and off-highway.

Millbrook employs some 300 highly skilled engineers suggesting the business has an effective sales turnover of £30 million a year.

        Meanwhile, in Germany GM has invested 28.5 million euros enhancing its Opel/Vauxhall Dudenhofen facility. The work includes a new high-speed circuit and full electronic control and measurement technology.

A statement from the purchaser is expected in the near future.