Improving cars and trucks isn't just a function of hot design and new materials. Often, technology that changes how a vehicle is built is just as important as what goes into the product. These PACE Award finalists found new ways to put things together to produce better products, from trucks that use less wiring to assembly line machinery that adapts to multiple tools.
The sixth-annual PACE Awards, co-sponsored by Ernst & Young LLP, celebrate innovation in product, design, engineering, manufacturing, services and process among automotive suppliers. (PACE stands for Premier Automotive-suppliers' Contribution to Excellence.) Finalists are being featured in Automotive News through February. Winners are chosen by a panel of independent judges and will be announced March 6 at a ceremony in Dearborn, Mich.
1. Fanuc Robotics North America Inc.
Rochester Hills, Mich.
Custom tooling that must be set up in a fixed position on the assembly line has long been one of the choke points for flexible assembly. Fanuc's programmable, compact F-100 Flexible Positioner provides the adaptability to build multiple platforms and body styles on the same line. It does this by making it possible to position different tools in the same fixture. That means a line position that loads parts for one type of vehicle could manipulate a weld gun for a different vehicle.
2. PPG Industries Inc.
Primer coats of paint have to cover efficiently and provide the strong bond needed to keep paint coupled with the steel of car bodies, even under assault of flying stones or creeping rust. PPG's Power-Prime uses an electric charge to attract primer to the metal. The process increases both material efficiency and labor efficiency. A second coating adds superior resistance to corrosion and chipping. Power-Prime represents the first time two electrophoretically applied primer coatings have been used as an automotive priming system.
3. Ametek Dixson Division
Grand Junction, Colo.
Placing gauge packages on limited-run heavy trucks, agricultural and construction equipment has been expensive. It involves trying to guess which gauges are most useful to the professionals who drive the rigs and where to put them for best efficiency. The result is a jungle of wiring in the cramped space left by analog gauges. Ametek's solution is its Interlink set of programmable gauges. The driver can select what each gauge displays; each gauge also is equipped with LED warning lights that can be tied to a custom function. The system connects to the serial data bus connector found on most truck models, minimizing behind-the-instrument panel wiring and eliminating redundant sensors.
4. American Axle & Manufacturing Inc.
The steering linkage for the new Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks is lighter, longer-lasting and more precise, thanks to American Axle. The company incorporated proprietary technology - including two patents - in 11 distinct features to improve performance and ease of manufacturing. Two of the advances, 'Precision Torque' inner tie rod joints and 'Radiax' pivot joints, reduce lash and friction and increase steering efficiency. American Axle also reintroduced grease fittings in the inner tie rod joints after customer surveys found truck buyers wanted to be able to do lubrication maintenance.
5. Meritor Automotive Inc.
Roof Systems Center of Expertise
Overhead robots now can install complete car interiors from the top. They then finish the assembly by putting on the ready-to-install roof module developed by Meritor and in production on DaimlerChrysler's Smart car. The roof module sandwiches a polyurethane composite between the hard exterior shell and the molded headliner. The roof module cuts out a major assembly line task - loading the bulky headliner into the car body and fixing it in place without damaging the finish. The module cuts assembly time and cost and can also save weight.
6. Guide Corp.
Most people think of gates as something to restrain people or pets. Plastic molders know that gates are what you use to get plastic into the mold. The art of gate location and sequencing is vital to producing parts, such as lenses for lights. Guide Corp. created a special way to put the gates on the part of the mold that forms the inside of the lens. The process produces jewellike, four-color polycarbonate lenses with a smooth exterior surface. No trimming or rework is needed at the plant because the plastic flow itself controls the way different-colored lens portions join together.