10 000 car engines a day

Française de Mécanique in Northern France makes engines for Peugeot, Citroën and Renault – and soon for BMW as well. Thanks to a new cleaning system the washing liquids used in the production process last for seven months, compared with 2–10 days using the old cleaning system.

DATE 2023-11-28 AUTHOR Anna McQueen

When you proudly pull away from  the garage forecourt behind the  wheel of your brand new car, you probably aren’t thinking about what is happening under the bonnet, but the longevity of a new engine is decided in its first revolution, and defined during the very first five minutes of its life.

If any particles and greasy residue remain on an engine part after the production process, they are absorbed into the lubrication of the engine the first time it is turned over, and it is at that precise moment when irrevocable harm can be done, and the life of your new engine shortened.

This is why technical services at Française de Mécanique are dedicated to the task of producing the cleanest possible engine parts for some of the world’s biggest players in the automobile industry. “We are one of the most productive  motor  manufacturers  in  the world,  with  production  in  2003  reaching over 10,000 engines in just one day,” says André Lefebvre, responsible for cleaning and industrial liquids processes at the Française de Mécanique factory based in Douvrin, just outside Lille in northern France.

Created in 1969, Française de Mécanique had a  turnover  of  over  EUR  2 000  million in 2003.  The  company  employs  more  than 4 500 people at its 150-hectare site, and the lease on the premises is held jointly by PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault. But, explains Lefebvre, there are precise means of production for the two partners: “Right now, we are producing 7 500 PSA motors using PSA means per day, and around 1 500 for Renault.

This is the only place in the world where the three logos Citroën, Peugeot and Renault hang side by side,” he laughs. The new EP motor, developed in cooperation with BMW, goes into production next year.

Solution based on centrifuges

Française de Mécanique receives moulded aluminium parts which undergo a process of precision machining. Inter-operational washing is carried out between each stage as well as final washing before assembly. The parts are washed with detergent and the washing liquid is pumped into a buffer tank for cleaning through vacuum filtration before being redistributed to the washing machines. “The washing liquid is contaminated with traces of cutting fluid, tramp oil, hydraulic oil, suspended solids, and mineral salts and chloride. These levels were building up to an unacceptable point, and we couldn’t maintain our required levels of part cleanliness for long enough,” explains Lefebvre.

“The first solution to the problem was to change the water supply,” Lefebvre continues. “Before, we used water from the Canal du Nord containing mineral salts and chloride which reduced the cleanliness of the parts as well as creating corrosion from the chloride.” The team added a filtration unit, which eliminated the salts and chloride but the parts still had tramp oil on them, and the washing liquid still contained particles of metal smaller than 30 microns.

“We tried to remove the oil by a process of coalescence, but the process is not adapted for de-oiling of moving liquids and it does not remove suspended particles efficiently. So we decided to look for a solution using a centrifuge and called upon our partner Ecofluide to help us come up with a solution,” says Lefebvre.

“Our involvement in this project with Française de Mécanique began November 2001 with the supply of a trial model using an Alfa Laval centrifuge on one buffer tank, and in July 2002, we supplied four trial models connected to four buffer tanks,” explains Valerie Bodin, an engineer with Ecofluide responsible for the installation.

By this time, nearly all the washing process had been centralised, including the water supply via an osmosis process for improved water quality, and Eric Dankowski, who runs the Française de Mécanique installation began to think about centralising the centrifuges as well.

“We had a proposition for five machines. But for me, five machines means five times the maintenance, five times the repair, five times the waste treatment and five times as much cleaning,” laughs Dankowski. “If one machine breaks down, there’s nothing to replace it with and in addition, there are some 500 metres between two of the vacuum filters, which is a lot of ground for an operator to cover all the time,” he adds.

Centralisation means simplified operation

So in March 2003, Française de Mécanique got together with Alfa Laval and Ecofluide to see if, together, they could come up with a solution to centralise the centrifuges. After some 30 hours of discussion, the system was on-line in September of that year. Ecofluide installed a centralised unit containing three Alfa Laval centrifuges and space for another, with a tank for continual pre-treatment of soluble oils. The centrifuges run 24 hours a day, treating the fluid from five interconnected buffer tanks.

“It’s much cheaper to use a centralised system rather than individual centrifuges, and there’s also a significant increase in machine availability. They run under capacity so if one has to come off-line, the other two can cope with the job,” says Bodin. “Also, the treatment capacity is increased with these three large machines, and the flow can be adjusted according to the liquid being treated. And centralisation means the whole operation is simplified with just one location rather than five,” she adds.

The technology for the machine already existed but Ecofluide have designed a whole new environment surrounding the installation to suit the specific client’s needs. The electrical and automatic functioning parts had to be adapted, and the operating gallery had to fit in with Française de Mécanique working practices. “Despite the machines being leased, we wanted to adapt the material as much as possible to suit the needs of the client because we know what they want,” says Bodin.

Dankowski is particularly pleased by the results: “Without centrifuges the contamination in a buffer tank reaches the critical point after 2–10 days and 30% of the volume has to be changed to decrease contamination. Now we are changing it every seven months and I think we can easily make it to a year,” he says. This has dramatically reduced the consumption of washing liquid and the amount of waste produced, with consequent environmental benefits. “Before we centralised, we had to do maintenance on each individual machine every 2 000 hours, and the machines were off-line for a whole day.

The pollution would increase in the tank, and we’d lost the cleanliness. Now, we can still do the necessary maintenance without the system going  off-line,  and  all  while maintaining the level of cleanness,” he explains.

Far-reaching guarantees

Ecofluide has signed a three and a half year contract with Française de Mécanique to supply the installation on a lease basis. “We are providing a total guarantee of parts and labour, so whatever happens on the site, we will intervene – although to-date, we haven’t had to,” smiles Bodin.

“Ecofluide and Alfa Laval have guaranteed two machines will be working permanently at any one time,” explains Dankowski. “Two operational machines is the minimum we must have to handle the liquid that needs treating and the third machine is the additional security for when maintenance needs to be carried out,” he adds.

“We also guarantee a maximum intervention time of 48 hours for any problem the operators cannot deal with on-site,” says Bodin. In order to fulfil these guarantees, Ecofluide and Alfa Laval have supplied Française de Mécanique with a stock of parts for separators and auxiliary equipment, along with supplying preventative maintenance visits every three months by an Alfa Laval engineer, and curative maintenance  visits  if  anything  goes  wrong.  “The implications of  this guarantee are all the more important given that the equipment is loaned to Française de Mécanique for the duration of the contract except in the case that the terms of the contract are not respected,” Bodin adds.

“We’re very satisfied with the installation, and so far, we haven’t had a single problem,” says Dankowski. “Each part coming out of our factory is clean and that is not just visual, it’s fundamentally important. Ten years ago, a new diesel car needed to have an oil change every 3 000–5 000 kilometres, or every 5 000–7 500 for a petrol car. Today, a diesel engine needs an oil change every 20 000–30 000 km, and that’s not through changing the structure of the motor. This is important not just in terms of prolonging the lives of our cars and saving money for car owners, but it has a significant positive effect on the environment too.”

Tripartite success

Ecofluide has supplied Française de Mécanique with the following equipment:

  • A network for collecting the washing fluid from the five buffer tanks,
  • A 36 cubic metre pre-treatment tank,
  • An automatic, high speed centrifugation unit containing 3 Alfa Laval WSPX 307 separators with partial automatic sediment discharge,
  • A centrifuged washing liquid storage tank,
  • A return network.

“We’re all very proud of the work we have done together here, not simply because of its innovative nature, but also because we have really worked together in partnership, each bringing our own contribution and expertise to the project,” says Valerie Bodin of Ecofluide. “We have worked with Alfa Laval and Française de Mécanique for a long time, and our respective partnerships almost came about without us noticing it,” she adds.

 “Our collaboration with Française de Mécanique dates back over several decades, since the creation of Ecofluide. Our dealings with Alfa Laval date back to 2000, and we have a very good cooperation; we know the product and we know the company so we don’t go elsewhere. We work very well together.”

“Alfa Laval has built up a strong relationship with Ecofluide,” adds Michel Franco, Sales Engineer, Fluids & Utility at Alfa Laval in France. “We’ve collaborated on a number of projects supplying centrifuges to the car industry prior to this particular partnership,” he adds. “We came along to complement an exciting partnership between Ecofluide and Française de Mécanique, and it’s been a great success from the start.”

“For me, the cooperation between Française de Mécanique, Alfa Laval and Ecofluide, has always been 100% united – that’s what I call a partnership,” says André Lefebvre of Française de Mécanique. “If one fails we all fail, and if one succeeds we all succeed."

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