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VIEWPOINT | NEXT-GENERATION FUEL SYSTEMS


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The auto industry's push to improve fuel economy is putting new performance demands on a vehicle's fuel system. Car companies need systems that weigh less, withstand higher pressures and allow virtually zero evaporative emissions. That means a next-generation array of tanks, pumps and delivery lines.

TI Automotive, with more than 90 years of experience in developing and supplying fluid-handling systems, offers today's carmakers what CEO Bill Kozyra describes as "automotive-hardened" expertise on a global scale. He describes some of the company's latest technologies.

How has the industry's quest for more fuel efficiency affected TI Automotive?

Our expertise is in automotive plastic and metal tubing (plastic and metal), fuel systems and fuel tanks. The industry's shift to turbocharging, hybrid powertrains and gasoline direct injection (GDI) systems has created new opportunities for us in all three of our core competencies.

Over the next decade, we believe TI Automotive could grow significantly from the business opportunities in these new technologies alone. We develop next-generation solutions in our five global development centers and can quickly apply them to specific platforms and vehicle programs through our seven applications engineering centers worldwide.

What's new in the world of fuel tanks?

Most people probably still think of a car's fuel tank as being a big metal can. Actually, virtually all passenger vehicle fuel tanks are complexly shaped multi-layered plastic. Plastic tanks are lighter, tougher and don't absorb as much heat. They're also quite sophisticated inside, because they contain anti-slosh baffles, stiffening structures and fuel pickup systems that are inserted during production and sealed inside.

In a typical process, we insert these components through an opening as part of the blow-molding process. This "ship-in-a-bottle" approach works well for small and medium tanks, but there are obvious limits to the size and shape of the parts that can be inserted.

Our latest technology, which we call Tank Advanced Process Technology, removes these limitations. TAPT is a flexible plastic fuel tank production process technology that enables us to make lighter tanks in virtually any size and configuration and still meet the industry's partial zero emission vehicle (PZEV) standard.

How does TAPT differ from other systems?

We start by blow-molding the tank, then separating it into halves. While the tank is still molten, we place the internal anti-slosh baffles, structural components and fuel delivery system using a patented "gripper" system. Then we close the mold and re-seal the two halves. All this takes less than one minute.

Our TAPT system recently went into production for the 2014 Mercedes-Benz S-Class luxury sedan.

Are there other applications for TAPT?

Yes. The TAPT construction is especially attractive for hybrid vehicles. Fuel vapor pressure can build up in a hybrid's tank when the vehicle is running in all-electric mode. That prompted many hybrid manufacturers to go back to a heavier steel fuel tank to compensate. TAPT can withstand higher internal pressures, so carmakers now have the option of switching to a lighter and potentially higher-capacity plastic tank.

Where are the opportunities in gasoline direct fuel injection?

GDI involves much higher fuel pressures, and that means stronger components. The traditional approach has been to use parts similar to those found in diesels, which also inject fuel directly into the combustion chamber. But diesel components are heavier and more expensive. A diesel's fuel rail, for example, typically is cast metal and has threaded connectors for the fuel lines.

We've been able to substitute a brazed connection for threaded fasteners, which results in a lighter and more leakproof assembly. It's also a lower-cost design that is very attractive to carmakers as they introduce GDI technology to their smaller and less expensive vehicles.

What about turbocharging?

The auto industry is moving heavily into turbocharging, which can give a smaller and more fuel-efficient engine extra power when needed. The turbocharger unit itself requires lubrication, air cooling and actuation lines. Suddenly the vehicle has three fluid handling lines, one of our core competencies, that weren't there before.

These smaller turbocharged engines also run hotter, so there's been a reexamination of the materials used for fuel lines under the hood. Single-wall steel fuel lines have been the norm for decades. Multi-layer nylon tubing, which we make, is one lighter-weight alternative, but it's not suitable in every application. We're working with carmakers and suppliers to develop new materials and designs to help reduce overall vehicle weight.

Where else are TI Automotive products being used?

We supply fluid handling components for the water-cooled battery pack in Ford Motor Co.'s Focus electric car. We make storage canisters and heated fluid lines for the urea exhaust treatment systems found in "clean" diesel engines today.

Click HERE to learn more about TI Automotive or visit TIAutomotive.com.

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