Automotive power management company Eaton Corp. has developed what it says is a cost-effective and lightweight alternative to the aluminum tubing and rubber components used in traditional air conditioning lines for the automotive industry.
The Eaton Polymer Air Conditioning Conveyance System (PACCS) is made from a blended thermoplastic material that can withstand high system pressure and offers chemical resistance to oils and refrigerants commonly used in automotive air conditioning systems. The thermoplastic material is regrindable and 90 percent recyclable at end of life, the company said in a news release.
Eaton is beta testing the prototype with automotive OEMs and expects a full-production launch early next year. The company previously purchased a vehicle and equipped it with the PACCS lines to test the product in real life driving situations and varying weather conditions in Europe. After undergoing more than 120,000 test miles, company officials said they found no issues that would deem the product inadequate.
"We had surprisingly positive feedback also about the noise vibration harshness," Klaus Dehnert, vice president and general manager of Eaton's fluid conveyance division, said in a Sept. 20 phone interview.
"The polymer lines performed better than the comparable traditional lines at the get-go of the project," Dehnert added.
The lightweight polymer design also enables a 20 to 50 percent weight reduction compared with traditional lines and requires 40 percent fewer components, which Dehnert said leads to lower system permeability, a less complex manufacturing process and a 10 to 15 percent reduction in cost.
Tom Fiedler, production line director for Eaton's fluid conveyance division, said the weight reduction also offers significant benefits for OEMs working with hybrid and electric vehicles.
"The value proposition in terms of weight, especially for electrified cars — either hybrid electrified or fully electrified vehicles — is significant," Fiedler said in a Sept. 20 phone interview.
Other benefits include improved gas tightness, which the company said results in less refrigerant needed.
"The permeation level of plastic is superior to [that of] rubber," Dehnert said, adding that the new system's lines are made entirely of plastic, including the flanges for the connecting joints.
Preparation, research and development for the PACCS lines began in 2012. Since then, Eaton has invested several million dollars in research, testing, engineering, equipment, manufacturing and production technology.
"We've set up now probably 70 percent of the manufacturing needs, which does not yet include the full automation of the industrialization concept," Dehnert said.
Dehnert also described the use of Eaton's snap-to-connect technology with the flexible PACCS lines, enabling the elimination of the conventional process of screwing lines into an air conditioning system.
"We can combine [PACCS] with what we call the snap-to-connect technology, which would reduce the assembly time in the OEM manufacturing line significantly, as the screwing [step] can basically be eliminated," he said.
Dehnert said Eaton is co-developing this application and related new specification with automotive OEMs.
In 2016, Eaton Corp. reported sales of $19.7 billion. Eaton's vehicle group has 46 manufacturing facilities throughout the world.