R&D spending at TI Automotive continues on an upward trend as engineers work to develop technology solutions that meet emissions regulations.
William Kozyra, Chairman, CEO and President of TI Automotive, said, "We don't talk about specific details with [R&D] investments, but it's a fairly significant increase in 2011 over 2010, and 2010 was an increase over 2009."
TI's advanced development work has netted the privately held company its first urea fluid delivery product. According to Al Deane, Chief Technology Officer, the urea pump launches in 2011 on a diesel engine that can be used to power commercial trucks or other on-highway vehicles.
Magnetic coupling and gerotor geometry from existing TI fuel pump products are used to deliver urea from the storage tank to the exhaust system injector. "But the key aspect is using the magnetic coupling to separate the electrical motor from the fluid side with the pump section," said Deane.
With its modular design, the urea pump assembly can be applied as a booster pump or packaged in a heater plate, which can be either top- or bottom-mounted in the fluid storage tank. The plastic fluid lines and tank connectors are heated.
According to Deane, a top-mounted heater plate—when positioned in a way similar to that of a conventional fuel module—can have difficulty melting and transporting fluid from the bottom of the tank to the outlet on top. "This solution requires unique heating elements to address the issue, so many customers have opted for a bottom-mounted heater plate," said Deane.
Although a bottom-mounted heater module typically provides uniform heating, complete sealing is necessary to prevent fluid weeping or leaks under the vehicle.
"The biggest challenge is to package a heater plate with the electrical connections external to the corrosive urea fluid. Because the urea fluid can thermally cycle at wide temperature extremes, it's vital that the urea fluid be contained in a tightly sealed storage compartment. Plate heating competencies and plastic over-molding capabilities are the key enablers that are being developed by TI and the supply chain," explained Deane.
To meet 2014 emissions regulations, TI's R&D work is focused on developing new solutions.
"For gasoline evaporative emissions, we continue to evolve our unique blow-molding techniques to integrate external components inside of the fuel tank to minimize permeation levels. We're developing new ideas based on two of our manufacturing techniques: ship-in-a-bottle [SIB] and tank advanced process technology [TAPT]," said Deane. The first SIB product launched in 2004 while 2010 marked the production-ready status of TAPT.
"For diesel exhaust emissions, we are focused on expanding our product lines for different fluids used in dosing. Although urea fluid has been the trend to date, we anticipate that exhaust system producers are investigating other fluids for NOx reductions. As such, our solutions will be compatible with urea as well as other fluids," said Deane.
The company is also readying a plastic fuel tank for hybrid-electric vehicles, which have traditionally used steel fuel tanks.
"In a conventional vehicle fuel system, the vapors from inside the tank are routed into a carbon canister and then purged when the gas engine fires. On an HEV, since the engine does not fire frequently, the vapors can remain in the system and build pressure over time and temperature," explained Deane.
The technical issue with plastic fuel tanks has been the inability of the plastic to withstand HEV duty cycles and the correlating in-tank pressures. But TI engineers have developed a solution.
"During the blow-molding process, we separate the mold halves. We can now insert structures fully inside the tank to stiffen the assembly. The walls of the tank have been strengthened to be able to withstand HEV system pressures, which typically reach a maximum of 500 mbar," Deane said.
A traditional blow-molding process is used for gas and diesel applications, while SIB can be added for PZEV applications and TAPT features can be added for HEV applications. "We can do all of this on the same extrusion and blow-molding press by turning off and on certain tooling features," said Deane.
TI has HEV plastic fuel tank development contracts, including two European and two Asian programs, for new hybrid powertrain systems based on existing vehicle platforms. "The technology has transitioned from proof of concept and tooling development to molding pressurized tank shapes for specific future vehicle applications," said Deane.