Staggering Savings

The company that gave the world duct tape is hot on the trail of another innovation it hopes will stick with the automotive industry for years. The Henkel Group, a key player in automotive adhesives, sealants, structural material and sound deadening, is banking on significant growth in the relatively new sector of liquid gaskets. Today, the majority of seals and gaskets are manufactured to fit a specific

The company that gave the world duct tape is hot on the trail of another innovation it hopes will stick with the automotive industry for years.

The Henkel Group, a key player in automotive adhesives, sealants, structural material and sound deadening, is banking on significant growth in the relatively new sector of liquid gaskets.

Today, the majority of seals and gaskets are manufactured to fit a specific component. Preformed gaskets have been the norm, for instance, to prevent leaks between an engine block and oil pan or between the block and cylinder head.

Some of these gaskets require a metallic framework to ensure proper positioning of the rubber or silicon-based material to maximize sealing efficiency.

Henkel wants to do away with rigid gaskets altogether and replace them with a liquid bead, like caulking, applied robotically. The component then is processed through an ultraviolet curing conveyor. The seal can be fully cured within 10 seconds.

The first application for liquid gaskets was in the 1970s, when they began replacing hard valve-gasket covers (originally made of cork) in cylinder heads.

Liquid gaskets are becoming more common for sealing transmission cases, electronic control unit housings, door handles and a range of engine components, says Matthias Hofmann, vice president-marketing and business development for Henkel Corp. in North America.

“We're seeing liquid gaskets in harsher environments now,” Hofmann says during a tour of Henkel's new technical center in Madison Heights, MI. “This is a target market for us.”

In 2004, Henkel began supplying a liquid gasket for the front cover of Chrysler Group's 4.7L SOHC V-8, produced at its Mack Avenue assembly plant in Detroit. Without giving specifics, Henkel says it displaced the supplier of a conventional rigid gasket by generating massive cost savings.

Henkel says basic material cost savings with liquid gaskets are staggeringly high: They can be 95% less expensive than traditional gaskets. And the company says the cost of new tooling and equipment to apply the liquid gaskets frequently can be recouped within a year, generating significant savings overall.

This year, sources say Ford Motor Co. will launch a new DOHC 3.5L V-6 (known internally as the Cyclone program) that will have more applications of liquid gaskets than any other engine program in the world.

To be assembled in Lima, OH, the engine will use Henkel liquid gaskets for the oil pan, front cover, rear seal retainer and T-joints, where the block meets the cylinder head.

Leading Henkel's push into the sector is its well-known Loctite brand of adhesives, which Henkel acquired in 1997.

Loctite does not make conventional hard gaskets, so Hofmann sees the sector as a significant growth opportunity because of the potential for major cost savings and simplified manufacturing.

“The OEMs want to save money,” Hofmann says. “No one pays you if you over-engineer a product.”

Most liquid gaskets today are silicon-based or acrylic. In 2008, Henkel expects to begin producing liquid gaskets from more robust rubber-like polyacrylate.

Liquid gaskets work for many automotive applications, but there are exceptions: the main seal between a cylinder head and the engine block, for instance. Henkel admits even polyacrylate cannot handle such a harsh environment. The company is working on new materials in an attempt to seal a cylinder head with a non-rigid gasket.

Henkel also supplies an acrylic liquid gasket for sealing the door handle bezels for the Ford F-150 pickup.

Henkel, whose global headquarters are in Dusseldorf, Germany, opened its new Madison Heights tech center in 2005. It is staffed with 70 people, many transferred from other Henkel facilities in Plymouth and Auburn Hills, MI, and from Akron, OH.

As an aside, Henkel also owns Manco Inc., maker of the original “Duck Tape,” which got its name during World War II for waterproofing ammunition cases. Later, the tape became popular in home construction, for joining heating ducts. Today, the tape goes by either name.

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