TI Automotive (Warren, MI; www.tiautomotive.com) has opened a new plant in Hartwell, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta, for the production of blow-molded fuel tanks and 3D blow molded filler pipes. Prototype build of products is to commence in September, 2005, then work will proceed for three contracts that the company has in hand, next-generation versions of the BMW X5, Hyundai Santa Fe, and Dodge Sebring/Stratus. The business that the company has booked represents approximately 480,000 automotive fuel tank systems; the $30-million plant, designed and built by O'Neal, Inc. (Atlanta; www.onealinc.com) has the capability of producing one million units. Howard Duxbury, TI president of Global Fuel Systems, says that the investment in the Hartwell plant is the single biggest made in the history of the company, yet adds, "We would like to increase the investment by $10 million." In other words, the company sees a bright opportunity for this plant, quite possibly given the number of vehicle manufacturers that have set up significant facilities in the southeast.
The company has three blow-molding lines, two for gas tanks and one for filler pipe production (the initial customer for the plastic filler pipes is BMW; while plastic filler pipes have made in-roads in Europe, they have yet to catch on in the U.S.). Each of the tank machines can produce 68 units per hour; filler pipes can be made at a rate of 120 per hour.
In the event that a customer should want a fuel system that minimizes evaporative emissions by design, TI Automotive has setup the Hartwell plant to be capable of producing so-called "ship in a bottle" (SIB) tanks on its 150-ton, 10-bar blow-molding presses. The "ship" in this case is the carrier system, which can include the fuel pumps, reservoirs, fuel filters, etc. The bottle is the tank itself, a six layer barrier system (e.g., HDPE, regrind, adhesive, EVOH (ethylene vinyl alcohol), adhesive, HDPE; or a proprietary system TI Automotive offers). What happens during production, explains Manouchehr Naze Kambakhsh, vp, Global Advanced Engineering, is that the completed carrier is fixtured vertically below the co-extrusion heads of the blow molder. The extruded parison is cut to length and is robotically manipulated so that it fits between the open mold where the carrier is. The mold shuts and the blow molding occurs. Performing the molding in this manner minimizes the paths where there could be possible evaporative emissions. While it seems fairly straightforward, Kambakhsh suggests, "the devil is in the details." It is not as straightforward as it seems. While the Hartwell plant has no orders for SIB tanks, Joe Roznowski, plant manager, says that they've taken the lessons learned from the TI Automotive plant in Ossian, IN, where the SIB tanks are produced for the Ford GT, and created a setup that is optimized for SIB production.
Duxbury notes that heretofore, the TI Automotive plant in Rastatt, Germany, had been the technology leader among the company's operations. Now that position is held by a 145,000-ft2 plant at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains.—GSV