The automotive industry is constantly developing more-complex powertrain components.

Not long ago, a 5-speed automatic transmission was considered a major technological achievement. Today 8-, 10- and even 11-speed transmissions are being designed to increase fuel economy and performance. Additionally, the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are requiring automobile manufacturers to improve the fuel economy of cars and light trucks manufactured in the U.S. as far out as 2025. This is a challenge in itself without mentioning all the passenger-friendly amenities that are offered in today’s automobiles.

The solution to improving fuel economy and performance is to use lighter materials that provide optimal strength-to-weight ratios. By adding more components while striving to reduce the vehicle weight means that not only are there more parts that have to be heat treated, but the size of the parts being heat treated are reduced. This trend has been coined “dematerialization” and is perfect for induction heating.

The precise positioning and control of induction heating processes provide the speed and control required for consistent, high-output heat treatment. Today, automobile parts manufacturers are using a variety of different alloys to create a single component. Components that were once simply cast out of one material are now manufactured with multiple alloys to deliver optimum performance with less size to weight. As the projected volume of powertrain components increases and the heat-treat requirements become more stringent, powertrain suppliers will be required to increase production rates and reduce the cost per part.

 

What does this mean for induction heating OEMs?

As automotive powertrain designs increase in complexity, the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) who design and provide heat-treatment processes must also evolve. More frequently than not, parts with varying alloys require selective heat treatment to provide the correct material properties for the designed task. To manage this change, the OEM must redesign existing equipment and engineer heat-treatment systems and scanners that include multiple-part treatment capabilities into a single- or multi-stage process. This is what I call a high-volume induction heating system (HVIHS). More information is in the sidebar.

 

Decisions for the Part OEM

The main question that the drivetrain manufacturers have to answer is: “Should we outsource this work or keep it in-house?” Let’s take a look at some of the common factors that aid in making this decision.

  • Examine existing heat-treating equipment
  • Examine the part materials
  • Examine the shape of the part
  • Examine the part heat-treat specifications
  • Estimated annual units (EAU) that require heat treatment
  • Quality requirements
  • Manufacturing space required for additional equipment

 

Examine, Examine, Examine …

Many, if not all, powertrain part suppliers are doing some heat treating in-house and have a mix of furnaces and induction equipment used for heat treating components. It is important to examine existing equipment to determine the machine utilization rate for each piece of equipment. This will help to determine if additional capacity is available with the existing equipment or if new investment is required. This analysis will help determine the next steps to take.

  • Additional capacity available? Consider upgrading an existing system to enable additional parts to be processed.
  • No additional capacity? Consider investing in a new system.
  • No additional capacity? Consider outsourcing the additional heat-treatment requirement.

If the powertrain part supplier finds they have additional capacity, the next step is to determine what equipment has the specified capacity and if the equipment can provide the correct heat treatment for the additional volume. Can it absorb 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% of the expected additional volume? Would additional shifts be necessary to cover this? Are there tooling changes or coil changes for this part?

If no additional capacity is available with the existing equipment, here are a few of the most common considerations.

  • Outsource the heat treating. This is most commonly done with an existing heat-treating company that has experience in the automotive sector.
  • Allocate capital for new heat-treating equipment, ancillary equipment, installation and possible building expansions.
  • Determine available floor space for new equipment.
  • Determine if this equipment will replace some old or unutilized equipment.

 

The Induction OEMs Can Help

During this “determination” phase, an induction heating OEM supplier can help by offering standard or customized solutions based on the desired outcome. An experienced OEM will provide an unbiased assessment of the need and a solution that best fits the requirement. Any one-size-fits-all assessment where a standard product is offered when a custom-engineered solution is required should be met with skepticism.

 

Items to Keep in Mind when Selecting a High-Volume Induction Heating System

If your company is considering a high-volume induction heating system that is outlined in the sidebar, here are some key items you will want to consider.

•EAU of part/part families

•Part similarity

•The smallest and largest area required to heat

•The material that is required to heat

•Simple part changeover if system does multiple families of parts

•Flexibility in system design

•Pre- and post-heat-treating processes

•Automating parts-handling input and output from the system

 

For more information: Contact Ryan Neiss, product manager, Induction Heating Product Group; Taylor-Winfield Technologies Inc., 3200 Innovation Place, Youngstown, OH 44509; tel: 330-259-8547; fax: 330-259-8538; e-mail: rneiss@taylor-winfield.com; web: www.taylor-winfield.com.