“Plasma Electrolytic Oxidation” sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but according to the executives of Cambridge, U.K.-based Keronite Ltd. (www.keronite.com) this coating process will allow OEMs and suppliers to use lighter metals—including aluminum and magnesium—in expanded application as the process provides improved fatigue life for metals, as well as corrosion protection.
Presently, says Stephen Hutchins, vice president of Keronite’s automotive business unit, the process is used for piston crowns and cast-aluminum rings. Hutchins says that there are other powertrain applications forthcoming, yet he won’t reveal what or whom. Company CEO Lars Olrik predicts that the process will permit tappets to be transitioned from steel to lighter materials, and that there will be body-in-white applications, as well. Hutchins says that there is a contract for pre-treating magnesium body panels for a major European automaker.
The company received a major boost—at least from a visibility standpoint—from the Indy Racing League, which plans to make the process mandatory on magnesium wheels for future seasons.
While it might seem like curious timing for a company to be pursuing business as an auto supplier as some existing key suppliers teeter on the brink of bankruptcy and OEMs continue to pressure suppliers to reduce costs, Olrik says he believes breaking into the auto sector will help Keronite by providing long-term, high dollar contracts, as opposed to the short-term 18-month contracts it now receives from consumer electronics clients. Additionally, the technology breakthroughs gained through automotive applications can be passed down at a lower cost to other industries.
He must be optimistic because the company presently has a coating plant in Indianapolis, and has plans for a second adjacent facility for January, 2006.—KMK