These finalists in the 1999 Automotive News PACE Award program demonstrate one thing about innovation: It never stops. There are always more improvements to make, more savings to capture, more problems to solve. This year's PACE Award program, co-sponsored with Ernst & Young LLP, honors 20 finalists. They are being featured weekly through Feb. 22. Winners will be announced March 1 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
Look before you ventilate
CEC Consultants Inc.
A typical auto factory uses dozens of big ventilators to move fresh air into the building. In cold weather, the air must be heated, resulting in annual fuel costs of $1 million to $3 million. But what if all that heating was not really necessary? Just what is the quality of the factory air? Those questions prompted CEC Consultants to add optical-sensor technology to ventilation management. Now, 10 Ford Motor Co. factories can monitor the haze and particulates in their air. If the sensors indicate the air is clean enough, the ventilators do not run, saving each plant $100,000 to $200,000 a year in fuel costs.
Getting a grip on waste
Petoskey Plastics Inc.
The millions of new vehicles that arrive each year at retail showrooms contain something to make environmentalists cringe - disposable plastic seat covers. The covers are installed at the factory to protect seats from grease stains and then are removed and disposed of at dealerships. To minimize environmental impact, Petoskey Plastics has created seat covers that use recycled plastic film waste. Petoskey diverts it from landfills, cleans it, grinds it and turns it into pellets that are re-extruded into Petoskey's three-layer Slip-N-Grip seat covers. Two of the company's seat-cover customers, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, send their film waste back to Petoskey to turn into more covers.
The door you don't see
Textron Automotive Co.
If current Chrysler LH cars seem to be missing their passenger airbag, don't bother looking again. What should be a big, unsightly trap door somewhere near the glove box is invisible. The innovation from Textron Automotive is in the material it used - thermoplastic urethane instead of polyvinyl chloride. The urethane allowed Textron to laser-cut a tear line delicately on the back side. The result: a soft, attractive panel that holds its shape, even with a large 'door' cut into it.
Roll on with a steady load
Meritor Automotive Inc.
Meritor Heavy Vehicle Suspension Systems Inc.
Canal Fulton, Ohio
Air suspensions on commercial trailers are still a relatively new market segment. Meritor Automotive recently entered the field by developing a trailer suspension that addressed some of the common problems in the trucking industry. Its RHP Highway Parallelogram Trailer Air Suspension System gives big trucks a smoother ride by putting a single, lightweight, unified axle, brake and suspension system onto the trailer frame. Weight pushes down evenly on the suspension, eliminating the unsteady rocking that can cause trailers to 'dock walk' away from the dock when being loaded. Less rocking means more durability and creates a more comfortable and safer ride for drivers.
Steering clear of pumps and pulleys
Delphi Automotive Systems
Delphi Saginaw Steering Systems
Delphi Automotive had ample selling points when it proposed its E-Steer electric power-steering system for three 1999 vehicles. By using a small, brushless electric motor to turn the steering gears,
E-Steer makes hydraulic power-steering mechanics obsolete. Gone are the power-steering pumps, hoses, hydraulic fluid and the drive pulleys that run off the engine. The system can be customized to meet different steering performance requirements, and re-engineering means rewriting software, not retooling a line. Finally, fewer parts mean easier packaging under the hood, fewer component-sourcing and logistics issues, and less vehicle assembly time.