Eaton Corp. is typically seen as a prime supplier of automotive power of turbochargers, valves and traction-control products.
But it also has a mix of plastic parts, from highly visible exterior trim and spoilers to key engine parts such as oil pans and into the use of plastics on parts those that are not seen, such as plastic housed pumps inside the fuel tank. As the company tweaks those parts to meet future auto industry needs, Eaton also increasingly is looking at its part in electric vehicle infrastructure, which will in turn rely on cables, housings, connectors and other plastics-intensive parts.
Most people are not as familiar with us as with the other Eaton companies, said Vincent Kroon, product strategy manager of Eaton Inoac, during a Sept. 24 press event at Eaton's proving ground in Marshall.
Eaton Inoac is a joint venture owned by Cleveland-based Eaton and Inoac Corp. of Nagoya, Japan. Its manufacturing sites in Livingstone, Tenn., and Fremont, Ohio, already have a thriving business injection molding and painting exterior trim and blow molding and painting rear spoilers, mostly for Asian automakers in the U.S.
The units have invested in improvements to their paint lines and also are working closely with automakers and researchers on potential changes to its spoilers that would allow them to help automakers boost mileage performance and also carry more content.
A well-designed spoiler is more than just a decorative item, and can play a big part in improving a vehicle's aerodynamics, which reduces fuel consumption, Kroon said. At the same time, the spoiler could be the perfect spot to house tail lights, blind-spot-detection sensors and even satellite-radio antennas. Eaton Inoac is investigating aerodynamics along with researchers from Michigan State University, and also looking at injection molding rather than blow molding future spoilers so the company can more easily integrate wires and sensors in future models.
In Europe, Eaton's plastics group recently started production of a thermoplastic oil pan and produces a variety of other functional under-the-hood parts such as radiator tanks, belt covers and fan shrouds.
Eaton's emissions group does not mold its own parts, but contracts with injection molders to create high density polyethylene housings for valves, pumps and other key parts of fuel systems.
The company also works closely with fuel-tank makers to coordinate production of parts that may be welded to a plastic tank in one vehicle, or inserted during the blow molding process for another, said Matthew Memmer, manager of sales and marketing for Eaton's fuel emissions and powertrain controls.
It is bringing new parts on the market for use in the urea tanks that are part of diesel-fuel systems on small tanks used on motorcycles and other non-automotive business, and for pressurized tanks that are expected to be a part of future hybrid vehicles.
Future vehicles also are driving Eaton's development of charging stations, both for use at electric vehicle owners' homes and in public.
Eaton's automotive groups have sister businesses in energy management. It has been drawing on those companies' expertise in storing and transferring electric power via connectors, cables and other components using engineering resins to create its line of charging stations.
The initial stations will be housed in stainless steel, said Mike Dixon, national sales director for electric transportation infrastructure, but that could change in the future. The actual plug and cable still take advantage of plastics.
The stations will be used at individual homes at first, but Tim Old, business unit manager for the electric vehicle infrastructure group, said Eaton sees a day when power hookups will be a commercial venture, perhaps with its charging stations housed inside garages, where car drivers would pay to park and top off their batteries. That would open a whole new business area both for Eaton and for entrepreneurs looking for ways to cash in on electric cars.
The charging station is an extension of what we've had historically in power infrastructure, Old said. We see this as an extension of what we do today.