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Breakthrough in Improving Car Engine Performance through Coatings

GÉRARD BARBEZAT RALPH HERBER SULZER METCO The cylinder bores of combustion engines made of aluminium-silicium alloys must have wearresistance surfaces. The plasma coating solution RotaPlasma® developed by Sulzer Metco offers economic and ecological advantages for this requirement. The process is being employed for the first time in the serial production of the new Volkswagen Lupo FSI.

1I The RotaPlasma® system from Sulzer Metco is being used for the first time to coat the cylinder bores of automotive engines in the new Volkswagen (VW) Lupo FSI. This reduces the consumption of both fuel and oil.

Volkswagen AG (VW) has been coating engine blocks for the 4-cylinder engines of the new Lupo FSI with a serial production system from Sulzer Metco since October 2000 (Fig. 1I). This large contract is the result of goaloriented, innovative co-operation with the automobile manufacturer, on the basis of an excellent technical concept. The FSI engine of the Lupo is made of AlSi alloy for reasons of cost and weight. In view of their good operating characteristics, cast iron liners have been mostly employed in the cylinder liner area of the engine blocks, which have been manufactured from aluminium up to now. These liners need to have a specific wall thickness, which results in a relatively


large web width between the individual cylinder bores and increases the dimensions and weight of the engine. For the Lupo, VW has turned to a coating solution developed by Sulzer Metco. With RotaPlasma®, it is possible to insert a plasma-coated track in an aluminium-cylinder crankcase. The surface coating powder (composite material of steel and molybdenum), which was developed in close co-operation with VW, is applied by means of a plasma jet at an approximate temperature level of 10 000 °C.

Under boundary lubrication conditions, this coating material has a low characteristic of friction in




In comparison with other processes. EXCELLENT PRICEPERFORMANCE RATIO During the coating process. Further features are its low wear rate compared to cast iron liners with flake graphite. 3I) necessitates a short spraying distance. Thanks to the rotating system. care must be taken that heat transmission is kept to an absolute minimum. 2I) is employed to create a surface topography with numerous small recesses. it results in a 20–30% lower friction and a weight reduction of about 1 kg per engine. plasma spraying fulfils these requirements better. 2I Together with plasma spraying. This leads to an improvement in hydrodynamic lubrication and reduces the piston ring stress. It distinguishes itself not only through high flexi3I The rotating. and the application spectrum has to be very wide because of the diversity of AlSi-casting processes. Thanks to the good tribological characteristics of the plasma coating. which serve as oil reservoirs. the engine block does not have to be turned any more. Cast iron cylinder liner area Edge contact possible 100 µm Plasma cylinder liner area Float-mounted piston ring (hydrodynamic lubrication) SULZER TECHNICAL REVIEW 2/2001 9 . a special honing process (Fig. the diameter of 70 to 100 mm (Fig. and bonds admirably with AlSi cast alloys.comparison with the piston ring material. and its thermal resistance. otherwise it can result in metallurgical changes of the microstructure on the crankcase. inner plasma-spray burner of the RotaPlasma®-500 system coats the cylinder bore of the stationary housing from a short distance within a period of 60 seconds. Whereas edge contacts are possible with cast iron liners. On completion of the coating operation. In comparison with the traditional cast iron process. the life- cycle of the engine is lengthened. The material can be worked well by means of diamond honing. the piston rings are now float-mounted. Furthermore. while emissions decrease as a result of the reduction in fuel and oil consumption. the honing process creates a surface (Photo: left) that lessens the friction between the piston ring and the cylinder liner.

This high efficiency and a high powder-feed rate (dependent on the cylinder diameter) facilitate short coating times and a low consumption of powder material. which will enable the coating solution to be integrated into a fabrication concept for engine blocks. The plant for VW was delivered in December 1999. galvanic processes are being increasingly censured by environmental regulations. but also in the elaboration of a process know-how. high-quantity requirements of the automobile industry. This is attributable to the high degree of latitude during the selection of the coating material and lower heat transfer. 4I). which increases oil consumption. material specialists and thermal spraying experts have to work closely together to find an equilibrium between these components. 10 SULZER TECHNICAL REVIEW 2/2001 . it has also led to the development of a customized coating system (Fig. MEETING THE HIGH-QUANTITY REQUIREMENT The cylinder bore. they have considerable economic and ecological disadvantages in comparison with plasma spraying. cleaning. piston ring and lubrication interact as a tribological system in the combustion engine. The focal point of the coating system is the plasma burner SM F210. these processes are encumbered with a number of restrictions with regard to the selection of the coating material and the reliability of the smelting process. The engine designers.Price-performance ratio high Performance Plasma Composite materials or HVOF (High Velocity Oxy-Fuel) limited Cast iron or Electric Arc Wire Spraying Nickel Dispersion Coatings (Galvanic Process) low Price high 4I In comparison with other coating processes for cylinder bores. and so facilitate low-wear operation. Moreover. 5I). bility in the casting process with which the engine blocks can be manufactured. which fulfils the stringent wear characteristics and low sliding friction values that are required for cylinder liner surfaces. VW and Sulzer Metco have been working closely together since 1993. The coating system is already designed for a capacity increase. but also feed. Nickel dispersion layers which are applied to cylinder friction surfaces by means of galvanic processes have been frequently employed up to now. cooling and the further transportation of the engine blocks. which can also be employed for the coating of cylinder friction surfaces. which by processing metallic powder exhibits a coating efficiency of about 80%. The coating process must be able to meet the customary. but also with its excellent price-performance ratio (Fig. The central point of this development was also the realization of a fully automatic coating plant which not only masters coating. On the other hand. It has been in operation since October 2000. surface preparation. are still in the experimental stage. plasma coating is less expensive and more efficient. The major challenge of an industrial solution as in the case of VW is found not only in the development of suitable coating materials. The two thermal spraying processes HVOF (High- Velocity Oxy-Fuel) and Electric Arc Wire. In addition to the coating material. However. On the one hand. because the microparticles of the health-impairing nickel can gain access to the environment through the exhaust. tribologists. the nickel layer contains silicon particles that are liberated by the sulphurous fuel and attack the piston rings.

are influencing the developments in the automobile industry to an increasing degree. which permits the application of most fusible materials that exist in powder form. In this way. In 1 2 Plasma system Control unit RotaPlasma 500 Plasma spray burner SM F210 Biaxial robot for sand blasting Biaxial robot for plasma spraying Cleaning station Cooling station addition to Europe. larger coating system. For example. automobile manufacturers are now able to reduce fuel consumption and emissions of their engines significantly and cost-effectively. Thanks to the coating technology of Sulzer Metco.GREAT POTENTIAL FOR TECHNOLOGY Rising fuel prices. control and the employment of the plasma burner SM F210 result in an excellent quality. Sulzer Metco is already working closely with other manufactures in the racing engine sector. Ω FOR MORE DETAILS Sulzer Metco AG Gérard Barbezat Rigackerstrasse 16 CH-5610 Wohlen Switzerland Telephone +41 (0)56-618 81 79 Fax +41 (0)56-618 81 00 E-mail gerard. as well as the growing necessity to handle natural resources with care. Sulzer Metco also offers customized solutions for coating systems and materials for this application of engine technology. Automation. VW has recognized the great potential of the Sulzer Metco coating solution and has ordered a further. Furthermore. Other renowned automobile manufacturers are interested in the advancement of thermal coating systems with Sulzer Metco. 2 5 3 4 6 1 7 3 4 8 5 6 7 8 SULZER TECHNICAL REVIEW 2/2001 11 . the flexibility of plasma spraying. gives the engine manufacturers an opportunity to employ cost-effective and easy-to-acquire materials. Sulzer Metco also holds a good position in the Asian and American 5I The coating system adapts itself to an integral concept for the manufacture of engine blocks.barbezat@sulzer. specific coating solutions can be developed for every engine.