Mercury Marine is out to show that it sees plastics' beauty as more than skin deep.
The maker of boat motors has received rave reviews for the award-winning design of the nylon cowl encasing its 275-horsepower Verado engine. Now, as the Verado line extends to smaller engines, the company also is expanding its use of a nylon-encased fuel pump, which not only helped make the engine possible, but reduced complexity and cost.
The program even allowed the company to move production of the part from Asia to the United States - while still cutting costs 13 percent from a previous metal component.
``It was an innovation in thinking for our company and our engineers, because traditionally we've been metal-intensive,'' Kevin Anderson, manager of metallurgy, chemistry, plastics and corrosion for Mercury Marine, said during the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc.'s Structural Plastics Division annual conference, held March 20-23 in Lake Buena Vista. ``It was a philosophical change, really, for our company.''
When the company created the Verado, it needed to rearrange space under the cowl to make room for the supercharger and intercooler, which in turn cranked up the temperature within the engine housing.
As a result, Fond du Lac, Wis.-based Mercury - part of Brunswick Corp. - needed to take the fuel supply module down to below the water line. That action meant the housing had to be able to withstand corrosive salt water and the company had to eliminate as many potential leak spots as possible, Anderson said.
The previous unit had seven different types of metal and 40 potential leak sites, including 18 drilled holes, plus nine hoses and clamps. The module was so complex, Mercury had it subassembled in Asia to cut costs.
So Anderson and his crew, including Mike Torgerud, research and development engineer for fuel systems, reinvented the module.
The system includes a pump to draw fuel from the tank and send it to the engine. It contains electrical connections, a flow-switch regulator and cooling coil. At the same time, it must withstand a 40-mph underwater impact and still get a boater home.
Mercury also wanted a component that would stand up to the European Union's new automotive-based end-of-life vehicle program, which requires a unit that is easy to disassemble and recycle. The mandate does not cover boat engines, but with almost 50 percent of the company's sales outside the United States, the company wanted to take the additional precaution for any future regulation.
Wilmington, Del.-based DuPont Co. came up with a Zytel nylon that was injection molded by Pyramid Plastics Inc. of Rockford, Ill., using tooling from its parent company, Industrial Molds Inc. of Rockford.
Magneti Marelli Powertrain USA LLC - primarily an automotive supplier - came into the project as the module supplier, coordinating final production and assembly of the complete unit.
The resulting module eliminates 31 leak paths, cuts more than 2 pounds from the metal version, and integrates quick-connect fittings to ease assembly.
And the plastics did more than beat Mercury's 40-mph collision test. It still was standing at tests up to 60 mph, the point where the testing equipment broke down.
``We had a simple, elegant design that we could make here,'' Anderson said. ``It was more cost-effective and gave us better control by moving it back to the United States.''
The company will use the module throughout its Verado line, adding it to revamped engines ranging from the 275-horsepower behemoth introduced last year down to a 75-horsepower unit that will roll out by the end of 2006.
``Without plastics, we wouldn't have had a chance to make a part like this,'' Anderson said.