The faces behind the auto industry's technical innovations often are those of suppliers. As the Automotive News PACE Award program reveals each year, producers of complex systems and simple widgets alike continue to improve their designs, assemblies, materials and processes.
The 1999 PACE Awards, co-sponsored with Ernst & Young LLP, recognize and celebrate that achievement. This year, 20 suppliers have been selected as finalists. Their innovations will be spotlighted in this issue and the next three issues. The winners will be announced March 1 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
Taking more of the customer's workload
Modules & Systems Group
Ottawa Lake, Mich.
Designing and delivering the rolling chassis for Dodge Dakota pickups in Brazil was a new benchmark for Dana Corp. - if not for the industry. Dana's chassis 'module' incorporates parts from 55 suppliers in North America and another 11 in South America, representing 30 percent of the Dakota's entire cost. The chassis is built in-sequence in 17 variations, then delivered just moments before being mated to a truck body. By taking on this larger-than-normal role, Dana helped DaimlerChrysler Corp. reduce investments in plant, inventory and development.
Throw away that spare
Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
One sign of true innovation is when you get to throw something away. Goodyear's Eagle F1 GS EMT 'run-flat' tire has enabled automakers to do that. Now standard equipment on the Chevrolet Corvette, the run-flats hold their shape with reinforced sidewalls when completely out of air. As a result, Corvettes now are sold without a spare tire or tire-changing equipment. Goodyear thinks run-flat technology promises greater highway safety for consumers who no longer have to stop and change a flat.
One size fits all
Motorola Transportation Systems Group
Manufacturers want more flexibility to program engines. So Motorola designed its MPC555 as a flexible engine microprocessor, capable of handling four cylinders, as well as six or eight or 12. Engine controllers typically run on a technology called 'Read Only Memory,' which can't be altered once the chip is made. The MPC555 allows engine makers to program the chips on the assembly line or even re-program them after the vehicle leaves the plant. The unit withstands temperatures of up to 257 degrees Fahrenheit.
A stretchier seat covering
Collins & Aikman Products Co.
Auto interior designers often must choose between soft woven velours and less attractive knit fabrics that can be stretched over seats and panel contours. Last year, Collins & Aikman combined the benefits of both. Its Velflex woven velour stretches like a knit fabric, thanks to a new heat-and-shrink process. Velflex has enough elasticity to wrap around contours that once only a knit could have covered.
Axles with a twist
Benteler Automotive Corp.
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Benteler Automotive cut five pounds out of the 1998 Ford Windstar and improved ride and handling by redesigning the rear axle. The new twist-beam axle uses a U-shaped steel tube instead of a traditional round crosstube. The piece is press-formed and employs a new patented process that reduces stress and part fatigue. The design, which is now under review for other projects, also eliminates the need for a torsion bar.