Positioning for a lead-free future

  • 31-Mar-2008 06:07 EDT
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KS Gleitlager lead-free bearings are gaining in popularity.

A supplier of engine components and systems is pumping up its pump business, focusing on high-growth world markets, and getting the lead out of some of its products to meet upcoming European and U.S. lead-free mandates.

Offering a lead-free components portfolio presents a big business opportunity, but developing lead-free alternatives is not a simple feat. “One challenge is manufacturability. You need a lead-free material that can be cut, coated, sized, and formed,” said Carl Cartwright, Director of Manufacturing Operations for KS Gleitlager in Fountain Inn, SC.

In addition to offering a variety of leaded bearings, bushings, and washers, KS Gleitlager’s product list is increasingly spotlighting more lead-free alternatives. “We’re capturing business at a rate I’ve never seen before,” Cartwright said, referencing the company’s lead-free products produced at a 120,000-ft2 (11,150-m2) facility that went online in April 2007.

KS Gleitlager’s growing lead-free business includes a pinion washer for a current production six-speed automatic transmission. “We were able to provide a material that A) met their performance requirements, and B) met their lead-free requirements,” said Cartwright. “The South Carolina plant is also producing lead-free bushings and bearings for vehicle powertrains distributed worldwide.”

Research cooperatives with different universities and the company’s R&D staff in Germany are working to develop additional lead-free materials. “Every bushing manufacturer out there knows how to make a bushing, but what sets us apart from the others is our materials development,” said Cartwright.

KS Gleitlager is one division under the Kolbenschmidt Pierburg AG umbrella. Pierburg Pump Technology GmbH, formed in late 2007, previously was run as a Pierburg Business Group unit. The newest and sixth division’s product lineup of coolant, oil, and vacuum pumps essentially brings about “a more efficient business,” said Gerd Kleinert, CEO of Kolbenschmidt Pierburg.

By spinning off the pump business, the revamped Pierburg business unit can strictly focus on developing and supplying air-supply and emissions-control components and systems. “We see an increased market for Pierburg components, modules, and systems in North America,” said Andreas Knackstedt, President and CEO of Pierburg.

Consumer demand for passenger diesel vehicles is a major influencer on the company’s sales strategy. “Projections indicate that by 2012, 2.5 million diesel-powered vehicles will be sold in the U.S.,” said Knackstedt. The expected popularity of diesel vehicles bodes well for exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) and other products.

The company’s generation-one EGR features an EGR valve, actuator triggering bypass, actuator, and cooler, whereas the second-generation product features an EGR valve with integrated actuator, bypass valve, and cooler. A third-generation EGR with integrated manifold means fewer components and less weight. “We’re still working to convince our customers to combine the EGR unit with an intake manifold,” said Kleinert, referring to the third-generation system, which is not yet in production.

India will soon join the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Germany, and South Carolina as a manufacturing locale for Pierburg EGR units. Pune’s 20,000-m2 (215,300-ft2) facility is expected to open in 2008. In addition to low-pressure EGR units for diesel engines, the plant will be a production site for oil, vacuum, and coolant pumps. The products will be sold “strictly to serve the Indian market,” said Kleinert.

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