SMALL TECH IS DRIVING FORCE BEHIND SYSTEM THAT TELLS DRIVERS WHEN TO CHANGE THE OIL

By Candace Stuart
Small Times Senior Staff Writer

CHICAGO – One of the best ways to extend the life of a car is to change its oil before the lubricants degrade, according to most car owner guides. Small technology could soon eliminate the guesswork from that routine.

Delphi Automotive Systems announced Tuesday that it is using small technology to inform car owners exactly when to toss out the old oil and put in the new to help them get the most from any vehicle.

Delphi Automotive Systems Inc. unveiled its microprocessing technology Tuesday at the 2001 Sensors Expo in Chicago. The system will be available for passenger vehicles by 2004, according to Jeff Smith, who handles marketing of Delphi’s MEMS sensors and actuators.

But availability doesn’t guarantee accessibility, he acknowledged. First automakers must be convinced this is a product that fills a consumer need and helps them sell cars. Carmakers have been cutting back in 2001 as most sales slowed amid a wallowing economy.

“There’s an immediate payback for consumers that can be pushed at the dealership floor,” Smith said, but only if automakers incorporate the product.

Delphi’s Oil Condition Level Sensor integrates sensing, electronics and software to detect when the additives in oil have broken down, he said. Oil at that stage no longer coats moving parts properly, leading to friction and wear.

The system measures voltage that passes through the oil; the conductivity will increase with increased degradation of oil additives. An electronic signal will alert the driver, possibly by tripping an icon on the vehicle’s display panel, when the microprocessor detects that trend, according to Smith and Delphi engineer Demetris Agrotis.

Other systems that measure byproducts from the oil and additive degradation need to be adjusted with each type of oil used, Smith said. “Ours can be used with any oil,” he said.

The technology has many environmental advantages. Knowing exactly when to change a car’s oil will eliminate the haphazard maintenance schedule some owners follow, reducing the amount of used oil that gets dumped. Regular oil changes also can keep the car running efficiently, so less fuel is burned with fewer pollutants.

The oil sensor is one of several small technologies Delphi highlighted at the show, several of which use MEMS and microsystems. Under the name INTELLEK, which applies to smart sensors, Delphi promoted a seat-belt system that adjusts airbag deployment based on the weight it measures on a seat, and a humidity sensor that eliminates condensation in a car.

Delphi is trying to expand beyond its role as an automotive supplier, and small tech is one area the company can exploit in that endeavor, Smith said.

“A lot of this technology has other applications,” he said.


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RELATED STORY: Delphi to team up with Wayne State

CONTACT THE AUTHOR:
Candace Stuart at candacestuart@smalltimes.com or call 734-994-1106, ext. 233.

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