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Pioneering engine block innovation uses plasma coating

Grainger & Worrall : 06 November, 2016  (Technical Article)
High performance casting specialist Grainger & Worrall (GW) is working in conjunction with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) and the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) to develop a new type of cylinder block that uses plasma coatings to reduce the weight and size of engines.

Identified by the Automotive Council as a key strategic aim for UK vehicle manufacturers, downsizing and light weighting are two challenges that are being addressed by GW’s work as part of the ALIVE6 consortium. Comprising Bosch (UK), UPA and Automotive Insulations, the group has demonstrated the inherent value of horizontal innovation – with partners from different disciplines sharing expertise and knowledge.

As part of the project, GW has developed the manufacturing process of an all-aluminium cylinder block onto which a low-friction, plasma metal coating can be reliably sprayed. This innovation removes the requirement of cylinder liners, which are replaced with the application of a plasma coating directly onto the parent cylinder bores.

Edward Grainger, managing director (prototype) at GW, said: “We have worked closely as part of the ALIVE6 team to develop a casting process and associated supply chain to support this leading-edge technology. Developing and manufacturing a cylinder block casting suitable for the plasma technology has required us to fundamentally re-assess the metallurgical properties of castings. This has involved us exploring elements such the structural strength of the cylinders as well as the porosity and adhesive properties of the alloys to deliver a successful project outcome.”

Commenting on the benefits of contributing to projects such as ALIVE6, Grainger added: “The consortium has been an enabler to us in understanding how to design, develop and manufacture castings for the plasma spray process. Our involvement has created know-how and developed a supply chain to deliver cylinder castings suitable for this exciting new technology.

“This project has been valuable for the business, providing us with a significant leap forward in our understanding of new casting methodologies. Such experience fits well with our high-performance vehicle customers’ strategies, creating potential for us to apply such knowledge to other projects.”

He concluded: “The plasma coating process fits perfectly with our vertically integrated manufacturing capability, which comprises CAD design, casting, machining, plasma coating, honing and final assembly.”

The collaboration with Grainger & Worrall, Automotive Insulations and Nifco is research low friction cylinder bore coatings, thermal engine encapsulation and a composite sump respectively. Bosch (UK) brings advanced control technologies while downsizing and NVH technologies are supported by FEV UK and UPA. The innovative powertrain technologies offer reduced C02, improved fuel economy, low weight and excellent transient performance. The consortium members recognise the importance of collaborative advanced research projects supporting initiatives that will expand the UK’s competitiveness and develop skills, innovations and new technologies in the automotive sector and throughout the supply chain.

The Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) was formed in 2013 from a commitment between the government and automotive industry through the Automotive Council to position the UK as a global centre of excellence for low carbon powertrain development and production. It is a central pillar of the Industrial Strategy created by the Automotive Council.

The government and industry have each committed to provide £500 million to the APC during its 10-year programme. The activity in this £1 billion project will be delivered through a small team working across the UK from a central Hub located at the University of Warwick and regional Spoke locations.

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