General Electric Co.'s new emphasis on the environment is taking primary aim at the auto industry.
The industrial giant teamed with the world's largest auto supplier, Delphi Corp., to come up with a new thermoplastic coating for auto wiring that is lighter and smaller than the existing industry standard.
Delphi will begin extruding GE's Noryl polyphenylene oxide resin for wire coating at its Warren, Ohio, Packard Electric Systems plant next year, making wiring and cable bundles for an unspecified 2007 vehicle.
``It's really not that often that a new innovation comes along in cable,'' said Lynn Long, business line manager for specialty wiring in the Packard group, during a May 9 news conference in Washington.
The PPO blend will come in as a third option for an industry that now relies on PVC coating for about 60 percent of its wiring and a cross-linked polyethylene for the remaining 40 percent.
The PPO blend is 25 percent lighter in weight, is more durable under the extreme conditions in a vehicle and can be produced in a thinner structure, allowing automakers and electronics suppliers to snake wires through 28 percent less space.
``Our customers want to add more electronics and typically they want to do that in areas where there are tight space issues,'' said Doug Gruber, electrical/electronic distribution systems business line executive at the Packard unit.
That means more opportunities to squeeze in DVD players, navigation systems, power seats and other vehicle upgrades.
``It really enables our ability to be able to add a lot more feature functions,'' said Dave Wohleen, Delphi vice chairman.
GE and Delphi worked together to come up with a new blend in response to requests from Delphi customers to come up with a more environmentally friendly wire coating. A typical vehicle has 40 pounds worth of electronic wires and cables, and requirements in Europe for automakers to make cars more recyclable has prompted a search for alternative materials, Wohleen said.
Delphi wanted to prove that it could answer that call.
``It's not like this is something that just came off the shelf,'' he said. ``This was a series of scientists from Delphi working with GE.''
Noryl already goes on some cables, but not for the auto industry. Delphi needed something that could withstand the high temperatures and harsh chemicals found under the hood while also resisting cracks and pinches when crammed into tight places.
The material also had to be able to be extruded under Delphi's current manufacturing conditions. Delphi turned out 27 billion feet of automotive cable in 2004 - enough to circle the earth 261 times. Its Warren plant makes 300 miles of cable per hour.
Delphi will have to slightly modify its production lines in Warren to compensate for the thinner wall on the PPO-coated wiring, but otherwise expects a seamless transition.
The PPO wiring will come in at a price between the existing PVC and PE competitors.
The program is one example GE is touting as it launches its green themed ``Ecomagination'' emphasis.
``Ecomagination is GE's commitment to address challenges such as the need for cleaner, more efficient sources of energy, reduced emissions and abundant sources of clean water,'' said Chief Executive Officer Jeff Immelt. ``And we plan to make money doing it. Increasingly for business, `green' is `green.'''
Fairfield, Conn.-based GE said it will invest $1.5 billion annually in research and cleaner technologies by 2010, up from $700 million in 2004. It also intends to double its sales from products and services with ``measurable'' environmental performance.
GE also committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent by 2012.
GE's immediate 17-product catalog offering environmentally friendly products ranges from the auto wiring to energy saving appliances. The company also intends to push for more use of a paint replacement film on automotive body panels, which can replace standard paint lines with their air emission issues.