DEARBORN, MICH. — The battle to build a tighter fuel system is driving one company to consider the prospects of injection molding future plastic tanks.
The concept by Mannesmann VDO AG is just one of the alternatives it is considering to place more components inside the tank and help cut back on emissions.
"We have a lot of different processes we are looking at," said Justus Kloeker, general manager for tank systems, during ITB Group Ltd.'s Automotive Fuel Systems 2001 conference, held March 2 in Dearborn.
The German company is among the suppliers trying to find the best way to bring down the emissions that can leach out from fuel systems, all to meet lower standards set to hit California by 2004.
One way to help bring down those levels is to insert as many components as possible within the tank — capturing any leaks within the system, noted Joel Kopinsky, a principal with Novi, Mich.-based consulting company ITB Group.
Automakers also are eager to have outside suppliers take on the entire fuel system, rather than buying individual components on their own, he noted.
"A number of companies, including fuel-tank makers, are having to work around all of these fuel systems," he said. "More and more tank makers have to take on tank assemblies."
The resulting demands are introducing new products and new manufacturing processes.
Mannesmann VDO's concept would produce two tank halves, then weld them together with filters, a sender unit, valves and other working components inside.
The company has not determined what material it will use for the tank itself, Kloeker said. Mannesmann VDO could opt for hydroformed steel instead of a plastic, but if it is plastic, it is aiming at injection molding the two halves.
Metal processors have launched a renewed promotions campaign calling automakers to consider its material. They have formed a new group, the Strategic Alliance for Steel Fuel Tanks, and are researching ways to create more complex shapes from stainless steel.
Even traditional plastics processors are looking for alternatives, with Visteon Corp. of Dearborn, Mich., announcing last year it already has sold a new thermoformed system to an automaker. Like the Mannesmann VDO plan, it inserts some components inside the tank.
TI Group Automotive Systems Corp., meanwhile, is sticking with blow molding but wrapping up final tests on a system that adds a plastic shell over the existing tank exterior to encapsulate working components and the connections where emissions can leach out.
"The emissions standards are going to be rolled out tighter and tighter as we go, and we're working on the next evolution [of systems]," said Christopher K. Quick, director of research and development at TI Automotive's Technology Center Inc. in Windsor, Ontario.
The company already is in the midst of research on resin combinations that will nearly halt any permeation from a tank, he said.
"The plastic processors aren't just going to lie over and play dead," Quick said.
The stricter California standards are coming up soon, and any innovations that can cut back on emissions are receiving new attention, noted Charles P. Marino, vice president of technology for Markel Corp. of Norristown, Pa.
Markel introduced its M-Bond fluoropolymer/nylon multilayered low-emission fuel line more than five years ago, but the company is seeing an increase in requests for information now from fuel-tank-system suppliers who are nearing deadlines to create improved systems.
"People need to take a look at all these areas where they can cut down on permeation," he said. "With the changing environmental regulations, it's good to take a look at everything."