Innovation comes in many forms, as these finalists for the 1999 Automotive News PACE Award demonstrate. It might mean an evironment. Or a simpler approach to complex hardware.
These auto-supplier snapshots conclude a series on this year's 20 finalists for the awards, co-sponsored with Ernst & Young LLP. The winners will be announced March 1 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., and they will be featured in the March 8 issues.
Where torque transfer is hydro-mechanical
Santa Barbara, Calif.
ASHA created a hydro-mechanical coupling device to fit virtually all traction control systems, from mechanical to electronically controlled. The Gerodisc, which appears on the 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee, can transfer torque from spinning wheels to ones that have traction. Using existing hydraulic fluids, Gerodisc can be integrated into an existing system or serve as a stand-alone traction control. The device is less expensive and some 55 pounds lighter than existing technology.
Laser vision sees metal work in process
Laser Measurement International
Sensor Adaptive Machines Inc.
In the sheet-metal welding business, the only easy place to monitor quality is at the end of the line, after the work is finished. LMI/SAMI, as the company is known, perfected a way of placing laser-based vision systems on the line to watch the welding up close as it happens. That meant developing a system to withstand the electromagnetic fields around welding tools; to see through the dirt, heat and vapor of the processes; and to provide robust sensors that were still affordable enough to blanket a metal-bending factory. The systems are now in use at General Motors, Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler and Magna International Inc.
A virtual-reality comfort lab
Johnson Controls Inc.
Research and development departments have looked at the comfort of seat cushions, the ergonomics of knobs and the effectiveness of air conditioners. But it took interior system mega-supplier Johnson Controls Inc. to put the entire vehicle interior together in one lab. JCI opened its virtual-reality Comfort Engineering Laboratory last year to simulate vehicles in operation. While customers feel the re-created rumble of the road beneath them, they are testing seat comfort, instrument performance, wind noise and the effects of braking and steering. A 180-degree display screen allows them to visualize the drive and test the feel and placement of components.
New spin for old tires
NRI Industries Inc.
Automotive & Industrial Group
With 300 million tires going into landfills annually, finding new uses for them has an environmental urgency. NRI Industries has developed a process of grinding and separating discarded tire rubber into a new material: Symar T. The product has the flexibility of rubber and the product application of a plastic. It can be extruded, blow-molded or injection-molded, thermoformed or vacuum-formed, and it uses 24 pounds of tire to produce 16 pounds of new material. Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler are now using it on such applications as body seals, boots, air ducts, wheel liners, plugs, bumpers and deflectors.
The catalyst that eats smog
New Ventures Division
Already a pioneer in catalytic converters, Engelhard Corp. has gone a step further by helping clean up the atmosphere. Engelhard's PremAir catalyst system actually converts existing ground-level ozone into oxygen. The PremAir non-precious metal material is applied to a vehicle's radiator. As atmospheric ozone passes over the radiator surface, 75 percent of it converts to oxygen. The system was introduced on a fleet of gas-powered buses in Palm Springs, Calif., in 1997. This year, the Volvo S80 will carry PremAir-coated radiators.