DETROIT—Raising the bar for blow molding in automotive applications, Textron Automotive Co. plans to make the first integrated fan shroud/fluid reservoir assembly for a North American carmaker.
The system will include what is considered the first blow molded vehicle fan shroud, and the first shroud made from high density polyethylene, according to Textron officials and other industry sources. The shroud, a critical part of an engine's air-circulation system, typically is injection molded from nylon resins and other materials.
By integrating three parts in one large blow molded part, the unspecified automaker will save as much as $1.5 million annually for the vehicle program, according to washer systems sales manager Steve Hiltner of Textron's McCord Winn Division in Madison Heights, Mich. The integrated parts also represent an industry first, Hiltner said.
``The project could advance plastic processing technology beyond anything tried before in a production vehicle,'' Hiltner said. ``We're using newly developed blow molding technology to help us make larger, integrated parts. By doing that, our customers will save significant amounts of money.''
The assembly, which Textron calls the Reservoir Integration Technology system, or RITec, features a one-shot blow molding process that includes the fan shroud, windshield washer reservoir and a radiator coolant overflow reservoir.
The three-piece module will use only one, single-cavity tool, provided by Hobson Mould Works Inc. of Shell Rock, Iowa, and weighing about 2 tons. The new part is a revolutionary concept for the automotive industry, said Hobson sales manager David Backer, whose company worked extensively with Textron and the automaker to develop project prototypes from sample molds.
``It's truly a benchmark for blow molding,'' Backer said. ``We're starting with one vehicle, but we're planning to use this for multiple programs where blow molding can make a major difference in cost.''
Textron, based in Troy, Mich., will mold the piece at its 56,000-square-foot windshield washer plant in Lavonia, Ga., which is operated by its McCord Winn division. The division is the sole supplier to Chrysler Corp. for windshield washer systems and also supplies Ford Motor Co. and several heavy-truck manufacturers. Textron makes injection molded fan shrouds for Chrysler and other automakers.
The integrated part will be shipped to the Big Three carmaker for use on a full-size pickup truck scheduled for production in model year 2000, said Lavonia plant manager David Plant. Textron and Hobson also are teaming up to make prototype tools for another, midsize pickup truck and other vehicles for the same automaker, Plant said. The agreement between Textron and Hobson was signed Oct. 21.
The Lavonia facility, which also makes windshield washer systems, has seven monolayer coextrusion machines with dual accumulator heads, Plant said. Depending on production volumes, the Textron division plans to add three to six blow molding presses next year to do the work and expand space within the facility, Plant said. The plant employs 185 people.
The company eventually plans to make the RITec system at another facility, Hiltner said. The division also makes plastic washer systems at plants in Saltillo, Mexico, and Hengoed, Wales.
``It's the tip of the iceberg,'' he added. ``We can go a lot further and use this on any passenger vehicle.''
The same tool can be used for six- and eight-cylinder engines, Hiltner added. The part includes integrated hoses, nozzles, pumps, sensors and caps.
Production of the new modules is scheduled to begin at the Lavonia plant by the fourth quarter of 1998.
The automaker, which does not want to announce the vehicle until it is in production, will start making the pickups in July 1999 for launch in model-year 2000.
Critical to the development of the large blow molded part was the use of deep-draw technology, Hiltner said. The technique involves a special mold that folds the parison like a flap to create a top and bottom capable of holding more air during the molding process. The double walls formed by the process provide strength and help minimize noise, he added.
Design work for the patented deep-draw technology was performed by Industrial Design Associates of Norcross, Ga.
Much of the cost savings come from the use of one tool instead of three, Hiltner said. Moreover, shipping, parts and materials costs can be reduced by using an integrated piece, he added. Each part is more than 2 pounds lighter than the combined weight of a fan shroud and the two separate fluid reservoirs.
The use of integrated under-the-hood components is welcomed by automakers clamoring for parts consolidation.
``This follows the industry trend to give suppliers more responsibility to deliver complete systems,'' Hiltner said. ``We've responded to that by enhancing our presence'' in under-the-hood systems.
In the past decade, blow molding also has increased its presence in larger auto parts. Several other components, including fuel tanks and bumper systems, now can be blow molded from engineered thermoplastics.
McCord Winn recorded about $90 million in 1996 sales, $50 million of that from the plastics processing of washer systems, Plant said.
Its parent company, Textron, ranks first in Plastics News' list of top North American injection molders with more than $9.3 billion in worldwide sales and $1.4 billion in North American injection molding sales.
Hobson, a producer of blow molds and thermoform tools, recorded annual sales of more than $9 million last year. The company also makes molds for spoilers, bumper beams, fuel tanks and a variety of consumer products.