Monday, 24 December 2012

Nissan Etherea set for UK

Nissan is investing £250 million in manufacturing facilities at its site in Washington, Sunderland, to build the new Infiniti Etherea hatchback from next year.

The project will create an extra 1,000 jobs in the UK, including some 280 in the North-East. The Etherea is seen by Nissan as competition for the Audi A3 and the BMW 1-Series.

Etherea will be manufactured only in Sunderland and production, when it gathers momentum, is expected to hit at least 60,000 a year. Additional contributions will come from Nissan’s London design centre as well as the Nissan European Technical Centre (NETC) at Cranfield, Bedfordshire, which also handles design work as well as component and vehicle development.

Nissan’s Infiniti ‘luxury’ brand is the equivalent of Toyota’s Lexus.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Volvo set to be first with KERS?

Volvo could be set to introduce KERS-based technology in 2016, making it one of the first automakers to offer the system to customers.

Flybrid Automotive Ltd., a small, innovative and privately-owned company with a hand-picked team of engineers at Silverstone, UK, has been working on flywheel-based kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) for a few years with leading vehicle- builders, including JaguarLandRover (JLR).

In the case of JLR, the KERS has been linked to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) activated at the rear axle. The work has proved particularly beneficial and is now being extended. Initially commissioned to demonstrate fuel economy gains, the technology, still using the same basic rear axle mounted flywheel and CVT, is being directed towards enhancing vehicle performance.

However, at this juncture, JLR does not appear to have a platform that is design-ready to accept a flywheel-based KERS. In any case, Jaguar has a number of other vehicle programmes it is anxious to bring to market more quickly.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Aluminium is key to JLR’s future success

ACCESS to aluminium could become an important element of a new link between JaguarLandRover (JLR) and the Saudi Arabia government in Riyadh.

The UK-based vehicle builder, owned by Tata Motors of India, has signed a ‘letter of intent’ with the Saudi Arabia government that could pave the way for the company to build vehicles in the Middle Eastern region.

Aluminium has already become an important element of some Jaguar models and the signs are that it will become even more so as increasing attention is focused on ‘light-weighting’ of body-in-white (BIW) structures.

Jaguar already has one of the most up-to-date aluminium stamping lines in the UK at its Castle Bromwich facility in the West Midlands. The Schuler press lines are exclusively used to press skin panels and other components in aluminium.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Iveco needs CGI to meet Euro 6

Fiat Group subsidiary Iveco is set to embark on a programme to adopt compacted graphite iron (CGI) in the engines of its commercial vehicles.

Diesel engine specialists and foundry men within the Fiat organisation are already familiar with CGI, following years of development work both at Fiat’s Teksid foundry division and by the group’s diesel engine maker Iveco.

But the time is drawing near for a decisive step to be taken if commercial vehicle maker Iveco is to meet tougher Euro 6 emissions legislation. Euro 6 will emerge in two stages: newly type-approved vehicles from 1 January 2013, and all newly-registered vehicles from 1 January 2014.

The focus of attention centres on Mexico where the Teksid foundry in Monclova has ordered a full refurbishment of its SinterCast CGI process control technology, including an upgrade of its System 3000.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

‘Cut and paste’ Hotfire engine plant for JLR

The secret plant for JaguarLandRover’s next-generation Hotfire engine, now in the early stages of construction adjacent to the M54 in Wolverhampton, will effectively be a ‘cut and paste’ job of an existing UK engine facility.

The implications of this will be revealed in the nature of the machine tools and other manufacturing equipment, most of which will be sourced from Germany.

In today’s computer-generated industrial world, it almost becomes second-nature to ‘cut & paste’ individual machining cells and other process equipment to create a manufacturing hinterland. Cells for the five-Cs – cylinder heads, cylinder blocks, crankshafts, camshafts and con-rods – are all well defined in machine tool vendors’ CAD goody boxes; though today camshafts and con-rods will likely come direct from component suppliers.

It is most likely, in this respect that the £355 million Hotfire engine facility due to come on-stream in 2014 could bear a close similarity to various aspects of Ford’s Bridgend Engine Plant (BEP) - or indeed various individual aspects of other engine plants in Europe or the US. Earlier this year Ford announced plans to boost output at the South Wales plant of its 1.6-litre EcoBoost four-cylinder engine. The move effectively will triple the production of vehicles with EcoBoost engines to 480,000 a year by 2015 up from 141,000 in 2011.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

A more aggressive Torotrak?

“The time is now right for us to adjust our approach to one of more aggressive, accelerated growth in order to capitalise on the substantial opportunity ahead that will allow us to introduce our clean technology into mainstream commercial and passenger vehicles world-wide,” Jeremy Deering, chief executive of Torotrak plc, told us today, after announcing the company’s latest half-year results.

This suggests that following the departure of former chief executive, Dick Elsy, Deering’s arrival will herald an emphatic change of direction; one that aims to steer the business in a direction that will bring returns more quickly than before.

With a period-end cash balance of £10.7 million, Deering said Torotrak would now “put its hands in its pockets” to push forward more aggressively a number of its programmes.
Torotrak has three main product areas: infinitely variable transmissions (IVTs), MKERS or mechanical energy recovery systems and V-Charge, an induction boost system. Together the value of the latter two lines is roughly equivalent to that of the IVT business, according to Deering.  At the moment IVTs are directed principally at commercial vehicles and off-highway applications.

On the V-charge front, Deering expects to spread the technology across four platforms, from small cars like the Renault Clio, into sports utility vehicles (SUVs) with 1.6-litre engines, premium vehicles that might require a two-stage device, and one other.
The aim is to build more prototypes and develop simulation tools with the aim of spreading wider an understanding of the performance and economy benefits.  There is an aim too to break the supply route issue: OEMs trying out the system want to know if there is a Tier 1 supplier standing in the wings; and Tier 1 suppliers want to know if Torotrak has an OEM customer lined up.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

£1bn China boost for JaguarLandRover

JAGUARLANDROVER (JLR) has clinched a deal with Chery Automobile to build a new vehicle manufacturing plant near Shanghai, due to open in 2015.

Significantly, the vehicle manufacturing facility at Changshu will be alongside a state-of-the-art research and development facility and a new engine plant that could be modelled on the new engine plant now in the initial stages of construction in Wolverhampton, UK to produce the ‘Hotfire’ engine range.

Chery Automobile is China’s sixth largest car manufacturer but the country’s largest exporter.  Last year it sold 650,000 units. Total car sales in China last year was 18.5 million.

JLR is owned by TATA Motors which has revealed plans for a £10 billion expansion plan over the next five years; the link with Chery is part of that expansion plan. JLR has said that the output from the plant, which in the first phase is set to make 130,000 units a year, will be in addition to existing output – and not a replacement for any UK production unit. It is understood that 60 per cent of the plant’s output will be Land-Rover-badged vehicles.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Navistar Big Bore engines to restart in 2013

Navistar International Corporation expects to announce this month the date of start of production (SOP) of its Big Bore engines that have been found to be non-compliant with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations.

The US engine builder has been forced to halt production of MaxxForce 13 and 15 diesel engines following the EPA’s decision to oppose the company’s type of engine emissions technology.

So, in an embarrassing about-face, Navistar will adopt SCR technology and is working closely with Cummins to resolve its current issues. Navistar, based in Lisle, Illinois, has opposed SCR technology for years and is now paying the price.

Navistar has come to a long-term supply agreement with Cummins Inc. of Columbus, Indiana to use its heavy-duty diesel engines and “emissions after-treatment systems” for Big Bore engines.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

£80m EU loan for Turkish Transit plant

It is curious that in the year General Motors confirmed Luton, UK as the focus of its European Vivaro van production, Ford elected to vacate its Swaythling, Southampton plant in favour of centralised Transit van production in Turkey where costs are lower.

The interesting difference is that Turkey is effectively outside the principal European trading community. However, it cannot be ignored that in June this year, the European Investment Bank (EIB) approved a £80 million loan to help ramp up production of Transit vans at the Ford Otosan facility at Kocaeli, Turkey.

The UK, France, Germany and Italy are the main source of funds for the EIB.

The loan was agreed as part of a billion dollar investment plan – about £600 million – for Ford’s 395-acre site in Kocaeli. The application for the loan was made in October 2011 to finance the modernisation of the plant ahead of new generation Transit 6.

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.                                                                            

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.