As the Chief Technologist for Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies (FECT) in North America, Andy Pontius leads a product development team of 35 technical specialists. They are the application link for FECT’s portfolio of exhaust system products well known to U.S.-based light-duty vehicle engineers. The company’s global footprint includes 79 production sites and seven R&D centers. Pontius, an SAE member since 1993, recently sat down with Automotive Engineering for an interview at Faurecia’s North American headquarters in Auburn Hills, MI.
Is FECT taking an evolutionary or a revolutionary approach to product development?
Over the last 30 years, we’ve been able to shave about 30% of the material mass from exhaust systems. That was also when the industry went from needing three exhaust systems over the lifetime of a vehicle to needing one exhaust system in a vehicle’s lifetime. Today, the industry is converging on 1-mm-thick (0.039 in) muffler shells and pipes, and that reduction from roughly 1.5 mm (0.059 in) represents a 30% weight loss. Material mass reduction has been a very evolutionary process. But FECT also has had revolutionary innovations, like our self-adjusting Adaptive Valve that can cut muffler size in half in some applications.
Is there still room for weight loss in an exhaust system?
We’re down to 1 mm with 409 stainless steel that’s MIG welded. Our automated welding processes will allow us to get thinner than 1 mm, and 0.8 mm (0.031 in) is definitely possible with MIG welding. But going thinner than 0.8 mm requires something other than arc welding. Brazing is one option. We’re doing a heat-recovery manifold for the North American-sold Ford Fusion Hybrid and C-Max Hybrid. It’s a water-jacket fabricated manifold. Around each runner is a brazed jacket that coolant is pumped through from the engine. The coolant has a fast warm up, enabling the cabin to warm up faster than a conventional approach.
We’re also using brazing for cold-end exhaust components for the Ford Fiesta in Europe. The brazing process definitely enables mass reduction. If you go from 1-mm thick to 0.8-mm thick or even 0.6-mm thick (0.023 in), then you’re talking about a reduction throughout the exhaust system of 10-20%.
Why is it important for you and your team to know what technologies will be used on future powertrains?
It’s absolutely critical that we understand future powertrain strategies. We want to make sure our innovations are hand-in-glove with the strategies of our customers. That’s why every year we solicit from our customers a markets-need survey. We ask a very specific series of questions about powertrain technology plans. What we learn from these sit-down sessions is very important, because we don’t want to come out of the 'innovations closet' with an invention that was needed three years ago, only to find out that it’s no longer relevant because the customer has gone in a different direction.
What’s the underlying innovation-prompter for the auto industry today?
CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] regulations are driving just about every innovation activity. The automotive industry’s adoption of new powertrain technologies is a direct reaction to the U.S. government’s 54.5-mpg fleet average mandate for 2025. We’ve already seen direct injection engines become commonplace. Many automakers are adopting turbochargers. Cylinder deactivation is very quickly becoming the norm, and 10-speed transmissions are no longer uncommon. For us, it’s important to have a realistic picture of what’s coming next because that’s what drives what we innovate.
What powertrain technologies do you think are most likely to reach production application in the near- to mid-term?
I think we’ll start to see power-assisted turbochargers, which could help with low-end torque. Everybody is still toying with how to get Americans to accept diesel engines. And most ICE engineers believe that they can get a gasoline engine to the efficiency level of a diesel engine over the next model cycle.
We may also see in North America the emergence of the 3-cylinder engine. The sound of a 3-cylinder engine is very odd to what we’re used to with a 4-, 6-, or 8- cylinder engine. Should the 3-cylinder engine gain application-traction in the U.S., it’s likely that automakers will want to cancel out some of the low-frequency noises. Or automakers might opt for exhaust dynamic sound technology to cancel out undesirable engine noise and replace with desirable sounds. Virtually every powertrain-related change—from the formulation of the fuel, to the spark timing, to the torque curve—impacts the exhaust system from either an acoustics or an emissions standpoint. That means that just about everything that OEMs do with the powertrain will require an answer from the exhaust community.
What new innovations are possible on a future exhaust system?
We’re investigating ways to turn heat energy into electricity, then feed that electricity into a hybrid vehicle’s battery. The thermal-electric generator concept relies on a semiconductor wafer, similar to what’s used for heated/cooled seats. If you put heat to that semiconductor, it will produce electricity. The idea is to use the semiconductor to generate energy from the heat differential.
We’re working with suppliers to achieve a lightweight, more affordable product. This is a good example of how cross-system collaboration could elicit revolutionary exhaust system technology.