DETROIT – Stylish, plastic beauty covers have become common on engines as a way to hide the mass of hardware and wires necessary to drive an increasing array of complex engine components that improve fuel economy and vehicle performance.

If the latest plastics innovation from Siemens VDO Automotive catches on with the auto industry, the days of the beauty cover may be numbered.

The supplier’s next-generation engine intake manifold, on display at this week’s Convergence 2006 Transportation Electronics Conference here, integrates air-intake, fuel injectors and electronic controls into a complete module.

Such integration appears in some production engines today, but the Siemens VDO device takes a massive step forward: It also incorporates all the necessary engine wiring and connectors into the nylon of the manifold, hiding them completely from sight.

Siemens VDO refers to the module as its Electrified Integrated Air Fuel Module, or E-IAFM for short. The approach further simplifies wiring for the now standard coil-on-plug ignition systems.

Many V-8 engines today require 17 electrical wires – eight to spark each combustion event; three for air pressure and temperature sensing; four for intake-manifold actuators such as the throttle body and charge-motion control valve; and one each for the purge valve and EGR valve, says Manish Vaishya, Siemens VDO program leader-air fuel management.

The wires require 17 connectors, which can be prone to corrosion, a loose fit or a short circuit, generating warranty claims, angering consumers and, in some cases, causing vehicle fires.

“This is a way to get you away from all the wiring harnesses,” Vaishya says. “We can have one cable connecting to the entire module.”

In addition, the E-IAFM package, because all necessary wiring is contained within, can be fully tested for its electrical capability without being attached to the engine, unlike conventional manifolds today.

The module offers other integration opportunities as well. Vaishya says it also could include the engine control unit (the brains behind the complete powertrain) and the knock sensor, which usually is mounted directly to the engine.

The embedded wire approach could present challenges for dealerships needing to service engines leveraging the E-IAFM approach.

However, Vaishya says the system should improve reliability and reduce warranty claims because simplifying the connections and stabilizing wires within the molded nylon greatly reduces potential for problems.

The prototype on display at this week’s Convergence is based on a 4-cyl. Honda Motor Co. Ltd. production engine.

Vaishya says the technology works best with conventional multi-port fuel injection (where fuel is injected in each cylinder’s intake port and ingested along with intake air) but also could fit with direct-injection gasoline engines that inject fuel directly into the combustion chamber.

Siemens VDO already has experience with modular integrated air-fuel intake manifolds.

The supplier ships a complete air/fuel module for Chrysler’s Group’s successful 5.7L Hemi V-8. The module integrates 26 previously independent components, including electronic throttle control, in one deliverable unit.

Siemens VDO does not yet have a customer for the E-IAFM technology. Vaishya says he believes the module presents significant long-term cost savings to auto makers.

One area of meaningful savings is in underhood plastics. “You wouldn’t need a beauty cover anymore,” Vaishya says.

tmurphy@wardsauto.com