The days of providing single components to original equipment manufacturers is dissipating. Collaboration among component manufacturers to leverage each other’s expertise and provide an optimized fully integrated system solution is becoming the new status quo. As such, three cooling component suppliers have come together to create a modular, customizable, multi-fan array cooling system with individually controllable fans, design flexibility and a user-programmable interface.
Government mandated emissions are pushing OEMs to investigate non-traditional engine cooling solutions. In turn, the vehicle industry has looked toward electric systems to assist in the development of a more efficient engine system. Electronic controller manufacturer High Country Tek Inc. (HCT) of Nevada City, CA, had been providing a hydraulic fan drive solution to a large OEM customer, when the OEM informed HCT it would be switching to an electric fan cooling system. “There was government money to be had for bus manufacturers, where HCT is prominent, which helped to push our electric cooling system exploration and interest.”
This same paradigm shift for customers of SPAL USA, Ankeny, IA.This movement is allowing SPAL to provide an electric fan system solution. As the market shifts from hydraulic cooling systems to customer requested electric systems, the company needed to gain more knowledge of the inner workings of the rest of the system’s components. “SPAL had to understand more than just electric fan motors,” explains Dan Zenor, Sales and Market Manager – Construction and Agriculture, SPAL USA. “We had to understand about the cooling system controllers, the cooler technologies, and even power generation to provide our customers with more than just the pieces of an electric cooling system.”
Gary Gotting, VP of Sales and Marketing for HCT, agrees. “We realized we couldn’t go to a customer with knowledge of one part of a three-part system. The customer wasn’t going to take the extra step to integrate all of our components; they wanted us to provide that drop-in solution.”
Of the three cooling component suppliers to the system, the thermal management solution provider Modine Manufacturing Co., Racine, WI, could benefit the most from supplying its customers with a fully integrated electric cooling package, and thus became the system integrator for the e-Fan™.
Benefits of a complete package
The e-Fan cooling system allows the fan to be smart, not reactive to cooling needs. With the increasing number of sensors in the engine compartment, the fan and cooling system “can be more attuned to cooling each component individually when the demand is there, such as the radiator, the fuel cooler, the charge air cooler or the hydraulic air cooler,” explains Zenor.
The system’s benefits reach beyond general efficiency points, such as reduced inventory needs, faster installation times and faster testing results for any error diagnosis. Since the e-Fan system is integrated at the core by Modine, the system comes to the OEM fully assembled and pretested. The whole system can be dropped in on the manufacturing line, plugged-in and run to ensure everything is working properly within minutes.
The overall package footprint and weight is reduced, as well. The radiator can be placed in almost any location that is convenient for the vehicle design engineer, which can assist in vehicle shape evolution in the future. “The thought process for the engineer can change from two dimensions of movement for the cooling system, to more of a three dimensional perspective on how and where they want to cool the engine, and in what configuration,” says Zenor.
“Agricultural vehicles, for example,” says Gotting, “have a few fixed design parameters they have to adhere to just by the nature of the work the vehicles are tasked with. The e-Fan cooling system allows an ag OEM to explore and examine different radiator locations to maintain vehicle shape benefits that have been developed over generations, while still offering better cooling practices and ideal cooling placement.”
By eliminating pressurized hydraulic oil in the engine bay, overall system thermal events (fires, for example, from leaked ignitable fluids dripping onto the hot engine) are virtually eliminated. Zenor states that another driver for the adoption of electric cooling systems was the number of oil leaks occurring, and the OEMs’ hope to eliminate that possibility.
In a typical stacked cooling package, the radiator is in front of the charger which is in front of the engine, which can compound actual cooling requirements. By using a modular, reconfigurable electric cooling system, the cooling cores are thinned, “and you can put the cooling system around the engine anywhere you like: top, bottom, sides, front, angled,” Zenor adds.
HCT’s controllers are able to drive any number of SPAL’s fans, including a variety of different sizes and power ranges (12 or 24 volt, 300 or 500 watts). The fan system can be programmed to have fans set to spin at a speed when running at a lower rpm, and when the set number is exceeded, can automatically increase fan speed to avoid reactive cooling system instances.
“An OEM can now select a specific fan for an individual cooling need, control it individually, and if the power needs change, a 300 watt fan can be swapped out for a 500 watt fan without changing anything else in the cooling system,” Gotting explains. “We are able to mix and match fan options to customize the airflow to the customer’s needs.”
This also means that a global manufacturer can incorporate a standard cooling system configuration for the worst case scenario environment, then use the electronics to tune the system for the specific application. “OEMs are going to reduce product inventory, reduce the design time, and even be able to reduce peripheral activities like component literature, system and maintenance training, and global inventory for export,” says Gotting. “It becomes a sellable item for an OEM, too. If they want to sell a system in Saudi Arabia where the ambient temperature is very hot, the OEM can plug in a different configuration profile, or it can sell additional configuration options to global distributors or customers as upgrade options.”
By offering the ability to design one system for a wide range of engine power, and to configure the system based on electronics or software upgrades, the design cycle time is reduced, development costs go down and overall time to market can be shortened.
Stress reduction for engine and operator
In an instance where a vehicle is operating in a cold climate and the ambient temperature makes the cooling system unnecessary during certain legs of the duty cycle, the e-Fan cooling system can turn off the fans completely, eliminating power draw and reducing parasitic losses. Conversely, turning the fans on or increasing their speed can easily be controlled as well. “We can control how the load is brought onto the engine, so we don’t stress the engine,” Gotting says. “We can control the rate at which that energy is pulled from the engine, typically through the alternator.”
Since the e-Fan cooling system interacts gently with the engine and drivetrain systems, and parasitic losses due to friction or unnecessary run time are eliminated, it can help to prolong the life of an engine system and the equipment itself.
“We’ll be looking into preventative maintenance numbers over the next several months,” states Zenor. “This will answer questions about how much OEMs can save in general maintenance time and services by eliminating pumps, hoses and other hydraulic fixtures.”
When it came to diagnostic system capabilities, HCT used its experience in the hydraulics industry to develop ways of testing and ensuring the e-Fan drives were operating as required. Diagnostic signals sent by the fan tell an operator the general health of the fan through a visual display. “The operator is instructed every night to turn the vehicle off but leave the ignition on,” explains Gotting. When the operator reaches the rear of the vehicle, he pushes a button which initiates the reverse fan cycle to clean and purge the radiator of dust and debris. It also gives the operator a chance to visually inspect the fan and check an indicator that flashes diagnostic codes if there are any technical issues with the system.
The e-Fan system was developed to answer the demands of the OEM customer and the government’s push for efficient engine systems. As companies continue to open their designs to allow for engineering collaborations and full system integration and optimization, OEMs will continue to be able to receive drop-in solutions that offer time and cost savings during the manufacturing phase.