Aston Martins new DBS Carbon Edition car was unveiled at last months Frankfurt Motor Show. The car is supplied with Zircotec coated tailpipes as standard.

Aston Martin's new DBS Carbon Edition car was unveiled at last month's Frankfurt Motor Show. The car is supplied with Zircotec coated tailpipes as standard.

In this interview, Matthew Beecham talked with Terry Graham, managing director of Zircotec. Based in Oxfordshire, England, Zircotec is a coatings company that offers a range of plasma-sprayed metal and ceramic coatings that protect against the effects of wear, heat and abrasion in automotive, motor sport and industrial applications. Just over two years ago the firm underwent a management buyout with an ensuing factory change. We spoke to Zircotec to understand how the business was changing.

just-auto: We have just had the IAA show at Frankfurt and I understand that Zircotec products were featured on new road cars at the show. Can you tell us a little more?

Terry Graham:  Yes, Zircotec coatings were being used on both Lamborghini and Aston Martin cars, the Super Trofeo Stradale Gallardo and the DBS Aston. There were others too but we can’t talk about those projects. In the cases of the cars I mentioned, we offer a ceramic coating that offers excellent heat resistance yet offers a beautiful finish. Designers are very interested in the surface finishes as well as the thermal barrier benefits we can offer. These include some novel metal finishes such as titanium, molybdenum and stainless steel that we can apply onto metal and composite substrates.

Motorsport was your core business up until now. Does this mean that Zircotec is supplying more road car business or are you still a motorsport supplier?

Motorsport is where our technology is most well known, that’s for sure. In the last two years we have been supplying some product to nearly every F1 team, notably to protect composites to enable them to be used in high temperature environments, sometimes above their melting point. The problems we are solving in this really arduous environment is raising awareness of the technology but also the technical support we can offer which is generating interest in the road car business. So a shift is happening and we have other OEM customers such as Koenigssegg and Ariel. We expect road car business to overtake motorsport in the next 18 months.

What is it that makes the technology so appealing to have so many F1 teams using you?

The engineers like the fact that the coating really does work and is much lighter than using traditional heatshields. We used to be used as a method of solving existing heat issues but now we have more in house technical capability, designers are engineering our product into the design to maximise key performance areas such as weight, aero and packaging. Take a look at some of the rear of F1 cars to see how a coating can enable airflow to be controlled and harnessed. The road car cars are starting to think like this. Jaguar’s CX-75 concept car used our coating to protect its diffuser from hot exhaust gases.

Supplying niche OEMs is one aspect but are you yet able to supply the volume manufacturers?

We are not supplying in volume yet but we are doing a number of tests with that kind of OEM and in the last six months we have been receiving more RFQs for volume parts.  We have a new factory in Abingdon with three booths with more capacity to grow and we have recruited significantly in the last 12 months. We have even been running additional shifts to cope with sustained higher demand. The result is that we are becoming increasingly competitive price wise for these customers. 

Has price been an issue up until now?

Actually finding good people has been our main challenge, so much so that our plight was covered by the BBC during its car industry day in July. We are also doing more work with people who know the specific markets to help us reach those customers cost efficiently and with a deeper understanding of what is needed. So for example, in the marine sector we now have two specialist resellers who are renowned in that market, one in yachts, the other in propulsion. We realise that for some car applications licensing our process and technology to say a tier one or two we will be key to securing some of that business. This is something we are working on right now in Asia and this will ensure competitive prices in that region. There will be others to follow but we can’t say more at the moment but it’s encouraging.

What automotive applications would you be more competitive in through licensing?

Thermal management and novel surface finishes in higher volume applications. At IAA there was a Ford Focus on its side. It used a pressed foil heat barrier in several separate sections to protect the body in white from heat. This adds weight, manufacturing complexity and servicing issues. We have a durable and functional coating that could be applied to just the crucial parts of the exhaust and do away with all that. We even have a less aesthetic coating, called ‘Performance Diesel’ that would be ideal. We launched that this year for diesel engines applications to enable them to keep more heat in the exhaust to make low emission technologies meet Euro VI.

It sounds like you have a range of coatings now? Is that something recent?

Yes it is and is a good reflection of how we have really changed as a business in that time. Four years ago we had one, now we have a range of around 20, each offering a solution such as heat, wear, corrosion and even to replace cadmium.  We have just launched a glossy coating too. This follows a large number of classic Jaguar owners fed up with vitreous enamel costing failing. We responded and have a coating that will stay glossy for over 100,000 miles. We actually relish problems like this.

Are you involved with any electric car projects or are you solely solving heat problems from IC engines?

No, thermal management is very important for battery conditioning and safety. We have a flexible ceramic foil that can be used in this application. A single layer can reduce surface temperatures by 64 percent. In addition we have done some work on metal coatings to improve EMC performance for control ECUs in composite enclosures used in energy recovery systems.  We are hearing more about a need for more efficiency. Energy lost through heat is wasteful. We can help engineers control this heat and where it goes to increase efficiency. Reducing light off times of catalysts, improving EGR emissions technology are just the first steps. It is genuinely very exciting.

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