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What is in store for metal powders in modern vehicles? /Teardown #1

Having recently moved from Sweden to the US, I often have the pleasure of explaining to new acquaintances what I work with. While in the process of explaining my occupation, I inevitably place the words "metal" and "powder" next to each other in a sentence, and I can tell on the facial expressions of the person on the receiving end, that they have no idea what I am talking about. What is in store for metal powders in modern vehicles?

Metal powders is all around us and just the other day, while in a workshop, I happened to give my metal powder speech, so I quickly found a cable stripper tool that had the perfect powder metallurgy (PM) parts and used that to make my point. I always have to add that most of the material that Höganäs sells goes into cars and not cable strippers and that the person I am talking to probably is the proud owner of a couple of kilograms of Höganäs steel powder. Often the response I get is something like –yes; my car is silver metallic! Many of us that are working within the PM industry can relate to this and can have a bit of fun with it.

On a more serious note, what powder metalurgy parts will there be in the cars in the future? Especially the vehicles being downsized and electrified in different ways. Faced with this question, most of us PM folks struggle with the answer. The automotive market is becoming more and more diversified for every CTI conference that we exhibit at, so in order to sample the market and better understand what the future has in store, Höganäs bought three passenger cars representing three different vehicle styles, markets and technologies.

These vehicles were stripped down to their nuts and bolts and documented in every conceivable way. We built a database for each car so that their parts could be classified and selected in many different criteria, depending on the individual user-needs. A graphical representation was also created in Prezi allowing the user to surf amongst components without flicking through hundreds of PowerPoint slides. The cars chosen were a Ford F150 pickup truck, the Volkswagen Passat GTE and a Toyota Yaris Hybrid.

The Ford is the V6 Eco boost version with, at the time, the brand new 10 speed automatic transmission. This car is normally the top seller or runner up in the US with around 900 000 units sold every year. Actually, the top three best-selling cars in the US are pick-up trucks. Therefore, this vehicle type represents a third of the car market in the US and is a significant container of PM parts. The Ford F150 is not a hybrid car, yet, but Ford have announced the release of a hybrid during 2019. Ford have been very good with keeping the hybrid technology a secret and the internet is full of speculations. It will be exciting to see how hybridized it will actually be and the impact it will have on the PM content, my bet is that it will be advantageous to the PM industry with more possibilities.

The next car was the VW Passat GTE, which is a very popular car in Europe. The GTE version may not be the top selling version but it had the brand new hybrid concept with a 6-speed dual clutch transmission. The car is a plug in hybrid and can run at highway speeds for 50 km, which was quite impressive at the time since previous hybrids such as the Toyota Prius only ran in pure electric mode at very low speeds and short distances. Today, just a few years later, a range of 50 km for a plug-in hybrid is considered the industry standard and many cars such as the Chevy Volt and Cadillac CT6 have even further ranges in pure E-mode.

The third car was a Toyota Yaris Hybrid, based on the well-known and proven Toyota E-CVT concept, which is not a plug in hybrid. Its hybrid configuration is a milestone in the development of hybrids and a good technology to benchmark. It is worth mentioning that it is not Toyotas patent. Four engineers working for TRW developed the concept in Southern California in 1968-1971. The concept has been refined through the possibilities of modern technology but the layout and principles are the same (see patent US3566717A on google).

Today Toyota has the same concept but as a plug-in hybrid. Mechanically it is very similar to the earlier generations with the E-motors concentric around the epicyclical gearbox and through clutches. The motors can engage the sun and the ring gear. Ford has a similar functionality in their E-CVT but the E-motors are geared into the epicyclical gearbox. What is interesting with this concept, and its derivatives, is that several automakers use it, so it is representative for not only Toyota vehicles but also for many others.

There is no doubt that hybridization, electrification will have an impact on the powder metalurgy community, and I think it is important to embrace it and figure out how to make it our advantage. It is also important to have data showing the benefits of components at system level. PowerPoint alone will not do.

In the forthcoming blogs, I will discuss the findings from the teardowns and give my thoughts on the effects of hybridization, new materials, new technologies, and the PM opportunities that comes with it. So stay tuned!

Read part two >


Dr. Anders Flodin

Development Manager Powertrain


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