ABC Group turns its R&D expertise to fuel systems
Although in production only for three years, ABC Group Fuel Systems Inc. has quickly been recognized for its quality, service and technology, winning a 2000 GM Supplier of the Year award. The company ...
Although in production only for three years, ABC Group Fuel Systems Inc. has quickly been recognized for its quality, service and technology, winning a 2000 GM Supplier of the Year award. The company is a division of ABC Group, a vertically integrated Tier One automotive supplier headquartered in Toronto.
“We have accomplished what some people believed was impossible. However, this achievement shows that anything is possible with teamwork, determination and a strong commitment to providing quality services to our customers,” says Mike Schmidt, ABC Group Fuel Systems President and CEO.
“We are the youngest fuel systems supplier, but already one of the best,” adds Changize Sadr, vice-president. ABC Group’s fuel systems division has averaged growth of 25% per year since it began production in 1998. Much of the division’s success, like that of ABC Group, can be attributed to the relentless pursuit of technical innovation.
The company is currently refining several processing and material innovations that are designed to help plastic automotive fuel tanks meet stringent U.S. evaporative emissions regulations that will come into full effect in for the 2004 model year.
The most radical of ABC Group’s ideas for fuel systems is a modification of blow molding called blow forming. “This is a new processing technology that allows us to put fuel system components inside the tank,” explains Sadr. “It is now under evaluation by several customers.”
In blow forming, a parison is extruded, then split into two pieces. A mold closes over the split parison and the two parts are either vacuum formed or blow molded. Robots can then insert components, and the two parts are welded together, either on- or off-line, to form a tank.
Research and development for the blow forming process was all conducted at ABC Group’s Toronto Tech Centre and Pilot Plant, which is equipped with three multi-layer and several mono-layer blow molding machines, and testing equipment. The Fuel Systems division operates from a plant in Tennessee, and will be expanding globally.
This project has been in development for over a year, and Sadr estimates that the company has invested over $5 million in it. Supreme Tooling, another ABC Group division, collaborated on the development of the tooling and the machine modifications.
Another avenue the company is pursuing focuses on all the components that are traditionally outside of the fuel tank. Generally these are produced from mono-layer plastic materials. To reduce evaporative emissions, the company is exploring the manufacture of these components from low-permeable materials or multi-layer constructions.
To enhance the safety of fuel systems, ABC Group has developed a multi-layer structure that can be used to protect both the filler pipe and tank from ignition in the case of a fire. The company has patents pending for the use of an intumescent (flame-retardant) layer or structure on the outside of the filler pipe or fuel tank. There are a number of ways to apply this concept. In the filler pipe, an intumescent layer can replace the outside layer of a multi-layer extruded pipe, or a corrugated tube which incorporates the intumescent layer can be fastened around the filler pipe. The intumescent material meets UL V-0 criteria for flame retardancy.
For the fuel tank, ABC Group is exploring the possibility of using multi-layer technology, as per the filler pipe. More likely in the near future is the use of a thermoformed heat shield that incorporates the intumescent layer and is formed to protect the exposed areas of the tank.
“We partnered with an OEM in the development of the heat shield, and we have already signed a joint-development program for the product,” says Sadr.
The intumescent material was developed in-house by Salflex, a division of ABC Group that performs materials compounding. Other V-0 materials are not generally suited for blow molding or extrusion, Sadr notes. Processing this material does require special equipment.