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Aussie team creates global GM benchmark

Diving in: DCI chief executive Jim Griffin secured government funding to modernise production.

Collaboration leads to 4.4kg saving on Holden VF Commodore instrument panel beam

22 Apr 2013

AUSTRALIAN components supplier Diver Consolidated Industries (DCI) made a significant contribution to Holden’s new instrument panel beam for the VF Commodore, making it the current benchmark in the General Motors world.

Part of the extensive light-weighting program undertaken for the heavily revised Commodore, the new beam is a massive 4.4kg lighter than the unit used in the current VE series thanks to a switch away from steel to aluminium.

Executives from both companies presented the results of their collaboration at a function at Diver’s factory in Melbourne late last week, including GM vice-president of global purchasing Johnny Saldanha and GM Holden director of engineering Greg Tyus.

They were joined by Victorian minister for manufacturing David Hodgett, with the Victorian government having provided funding under its Competitive Business Fund that allowed DCI to rebuild its main assembly line in preparation for the adoption of aluminium technology.

The instrument panel beam, or cross-car beam, sits between the A-pillars and supports the heating and ventilation ducts, steering column, wiring and the instrument panel itself.

The IP beam is a crucial part of a vehicle’s structural integrity as well as being a mounting point for many systems.

The unveiling of the new IP beam is the latest chapter in the “teaser” campaign for the VF Commodore, which officially launches next month.

The company has already released images and preliminary details of the VF sedan and variants including the Sportwagon and Ute, along with the export Chevrolet SS.

It also revealed an aluminium VF bonnet during a tour of its Elizabeth plant in South Australia last year. The new unit will weigh in at 9kg, down from 17kg on the VE.

At the DCI production line launch last week, Mr Tyus also confirmed that the bootlid would be aluminium.

“The engineering team had its light-weighting targets and every part we touched, most likely did deliver some savings,” Mr Tyus told GoAuto.

“This IP beam is probably one of the few, with the bonnet and the boot, that we could get our arms around, where we could use premium materials and leverage the Competitive Business Fund to do that.

“That was a major contribution and, to be honest with you, without that support it would have been much harder.”

The light-weighting has reduced the weight of the Commodore by 70kg, although around 30kg of that has been lost due to a host of added features.

DCI initially applied for a grant under the federal government’s Green Car Innovation Fund, but the fund was closed unexpectedly only a week before the company could lodge its official application.

It then learned that the new production line qualified under the Victorian government’s Competitive Business Fund guidelines.

DCI chief executive Jim Griffin said it had not been easy to persuade the Diver board of directors to make the big “seven figure investment” needed to reorganise the factory and install the new production line for aluminium components.

However, he said the switch to aluminium was in line with Diver’s long-term strategic plan to diversify into new materials to take advantage of the light-weighting opportunities that were coming.

“We identified five years ago that fabricating aluminium and making things in aluminium was a good thing. We didn’t have that skill. So when this opportunity came along we jumped at it.

“This is going to drive the necessary innovation into our company that we are going to need to help us diversify in the future.”

DCI also makes IP beams for the Holden Cruze and Ford Falcon and Territory, but Mr Griffin said it was unlikely these models would switch to aluminium.

The company also exports heat shields to North America, where a number of NASCAR teams use Diver shields.

“This does put us in a position to offer aluminium cross-car beam to other companies, but will they go that way? I’d suggest not,” Mr Griffin said.

“But are we making other things now out of aluminium already with what we’ve learnt? Yes.

“We are making hook steps for trucks. As a result of that we have already started to move into new areas. Yes, it was a big investment, but strategic as well.”

Mr Tyus said the VF IP beam was based on the IP beam from the Cadillac ATS, which was the only aluminium IP beam in the GM world until now. But he said Diver did more than just productionise a Holden-designed IP beam.

“There’s a lot of innovation. For instance, they did these mounting brackets,” he said, referring to two of the mounting points on the IP beam.

One of the key features of the new beam is that is built almost wholly from aluminium extrusions, rather than the more expensive pressings or castings.

DCI designed the extrusions for the mounting brackets so that the sidewalls would collapse neatly when pressed, forming a finished mounting point and eliminating the need for an extra bracket on the end.

A key part of the innovation was that everything that goes onto the beam was designed with symmetry in mind. Almost all the parts used are reversible, so DCI does not need two sets of tools, one for right-hand drive and one for LHD.

“The savings lie in the fact that you don’t have a bunch of separate parts because it’s right-hand or left-hand specific,” Mr Tyus said.

“To me, that’s really something. I’m an old sheetmetal guy so I get excited about this stuff.”

Mr Tyus, who has been in Australia since 2007, said he was impressed with the results Australian engineers can produce.

“We had to take costs and weight out and we had to do it without using premium materials and fancy widgets all over the car. It was good day-to-day Aussie ingenuity and engineering that delivered that.

“I’m not saying that just because I am in Australia. I have worked in three different engineering organisations around the world and this group of engineers I am currently working with, I’m very proud of them.

“On a per capita basis, they are some of the best engineers you can find. They’re damned good at it.”

Mr Tyus said the Cadillac ATS aluminium beam had been the GM benchmark when the VF Commodore project was started, but that was no longer the case.

The reversibility of the bracketry and the collapsible-wall technology on the extrusions had moved the game on.

“The way we work in GM is we have what are known as best practices,” he said.

“Someone will execute something and our experts will look at it and say that’s now the standard. ‘Anyone who is going to do something similar, please follow this example.’“Now that we have done ours, we are now the new baseline, because the experts say, ‘Damn, you guys did a pretty good job and now we are going to use that as a basis for moving forward.’“Hence the comment I made earlier about ingenuity.”

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