A valve developed at the Faurecia Emission Control Technologies facility in Columbus is helping auto manufacturers meet tougher fuel efficiency standards.
The average fuel economy of U.S. cars and trucks will be required to reach 54.5 miles per gallon, nearly double the current average, by 2025.
Carmakers are incorporating new concepts, such as cylinder deactivation, which is complemented by Faurecia’s trademarked adaptive valve, to meet the guidelines, said Andrew Pontius, chief engineering technical officer for Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies.
Cylinder deactivation is basically the shutting off of valves that aren’t needed to maintain a desired speed, which greatly improves fuel efficiency but impacts the sound of the car.
There is a technical explanation for what the valve accomplishes and why automakers have welcomed the innovation, but for consumers the explanation is that it quiets the sounds that come from a cylinder in deactivation mode.
Without the valve, that sound would create an annoying distraction for drivers, Pontius said.
“From a driver or rider standpoint, it is noticeable enough that a driver would hear the change without the valve,” Pontius said. “It’s like a motorboat or tractor sound, and it’s also not a steady frequency because the car is not firing the same cylinders every time.”
The valve has become a standard feature on many General Motors’ 6- and 8-cylinder vehicles.
The adaptive valve will be installed on more than 1 million GM trucks and sport utility vehicles this year, compared with about 10,000 units sold when it was brought to market in 2009.
People who purchase a V-8 engine want to hear a surge of power when the vehicle accelerates, Pontius explained.
The adaptive valve accomplishes that by allowing the vehicle to sound very powerful at wide-open throttle, when all cylinders are firing and sound very tame at lower revolutions per minute (RPMs).
The valve shutter opens wider or collapses to a nearly closed position, depending on the amount of gas flow traveling through the exhaust system.
Kwin Abram, the Faurecia engineer who developed the adaptive valve in Columbus and the project manager, said it was considered a failed product when introduced about 10 years ago because it was too expensive.
“We sat down and said how do we get the performance out of this product and make it more attractive to the end user,” Abram said. “We literally cut the first adaptive valve in an afternoon, did a quick test and realized there was some huge potential. The challenge was to create it at a price that made the customer interested and met all of the durability targets that we needed to have.”
The version that is in production now is very different from that first product, Abram said.
The stainless steel valve, which is slightly more than 5 inches long and weighs less than 2 pounds, is located just in front of the rear muffler. It is available in three diameters of between 2.5 and 3 inches.
“It looks very simple when you look at it, but there are thousands of man-hours in it,” Abram said. “If you knew everything we know today, you could make it in a very short time; but it took a long time to get there.”
A stopper in the earlier versions of the product was removed to make it quieter, and the spring is located outside the gas flow, so it is not exposed to the much higher temperatures inside the pipe assembly, Abram said.
“For the first three years, we kept thinking we were going to find the show-stopping feature that would help explain why nobody else ever did it,” Abram said. “At one point we sat in a meeting and felt confident that we had enough data to prove that it’s the real deal.”
The adaptive valve also contributes to improved fuel economy by allowing automakers to reduce vehicle weight.
“When the valve is added, it can take out about 30 percent of the tuning volume, essentially chopping off about one-third of every muffler in the system,” Pontius said. “Eliminating that mass and that space from the vehicle makes a difference because anything that reduces mass reduces fuel consumption.”
Faurecia North America employs more than 20,000 people at 47 locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico and reported 2013 sales of $6.25 billion. In 2010 Faurecia purchased Emcon Technologies and its Columbus operations. The company has about 1,200 workers in Columbus at facilities on West County Road 450S and on Gladstone Avenue.
Its four business groups include automotive seating, interior systems, automotive technologies and emission control technologies, which is the focus of the Columbus plants.
Worldwide sales totaled $24 billion in 2013, and the company now employs 97,500 people in 34 countries.