Improving the powertrain

Oct 26, 2007

Kettering is part of an alliance awarded a $4.9-million federal grant to enable automakers to improve the speed and precision with which they measure component quality.

A Michigan-based group of automotive manufacturers, suppliers and universities, including Kettering University, has received a $4.9-million federal grant to develop engine-manufacturing technology with the potential to save domestic auto companies more than $1 billion annually.

The U.S. Department of Commerce award to the Powertrain Engineering and Manufacturing Alliance, known as PEMAlliance or PEMA, will help fund a three-year, $12-million research program to develop digital, high-definition imaging systems for use in the production of engines and powertrain components. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded the PEMAlliance grant as part of its Advanced Technology Program (ATP).

The NIST ATP award was presented to an alliance supported by General Motors Corporation, Ford Motor Company, Chrysler LLC, Coherix Inc., Harley-Davidson Inc., and Roush Enterprises Inc., as well as the University of Michigan and Kettering University. The primary objective of the project is to increase U.S. automakers' global competitiveness through reduced variation in component quality.

"A long-term objective is to reduce the capital, operating and warranty costs of automotive powertrain programs by 30 percent or more," said PEMAlliance President Butch Dyer. "We'll also be working to contribute to the future growth of Michigan's economy."

Based on holographic imaging technology invented at the University of Michigan more than a decade ago, the new "metrology" systems under development by PEMAlliance will enable companies to dramatically improve the speed and precision with which they measure component quality.

"Automotive engines are designed and manufactured with production variances of up to 12 microns or even more," Dyer noted. "The introduction of high-definition imaging systems to monitor machining center quality will enable manufacturers to dramatically reduce defects, improve launch times and increase operating efficiencies by achieving tolerance levels of two microns or less."

A micron is equal to one-millionth of a meter or 0.000039 of an inch. By comparison, a human hair is between 40 and 120 microns in diameter.

The improvement in both accuracy and precision in engine production will allow automakers to dramatically reduce costs while producing higher quality motors with increased performance and better fuel economy.

The NIST grant will help fund work by engineering faculty members and graduate students at both the University of Michigan and Kettering University, according to Dwight Carlson '67, president and CEO of Coherix, one of PEMAlliance's founding members.

"PEMAlliance will be developing leading-edge technology," Carlson said. "It's what industry experts refer to as 'disruptive innovation,' breakthrough systems or processes that have the potential to revolutionize the way products are designed and manufactured."

Additional information is available on the Internet at
For more information on PEMAlliance, go to