GM Emission Control Project Center - I Was There
Written by Ronald W. Cox
It was early spring in 1978 and my family and I had just returned from sunny Florida and a nice week long vacation. Delco Electronics had been trying to sell the Digital Systems business I had worked in since I joined the company in 1964. I had worked hard to build up a business designing, selling, building, and installing large security monitoring systems for GM facilities and large banks and had just completed our 21st system for banks working with Diebold, Inc. I had started out as a circuit designer and then moved on to become a systems engineer, just about the time when systems engineers were being recognized as a separate and distinct competency. Affordable minicomputers had just come in to our business in the late 60's and all system functions were controlled by software.
I was a 7th level supervisor of the Security Systems group and was responsible for job quotes, overall system design, and installations. I was preparing to leave this comfortable job behind and take on a new job as the business was sold to free up engineers to work on the highest GM priority at the time: to meet the 1981 Clean Air Act emissions requirements for all U.S. passenger cars built by GM.
Delco Electronics' Digital Systems business was all sold to Dayton Research Labs in Dayton, Ohio, except for the bank systems with Diebold Inc. Delco Electronics then offered me a choice, move to a new department that was designing the new engine controllers in Kokomo, Indiana; or move me and my family to Michigan to help GM implement the 1981 emission controls at a new project center located at the AC Spark Plug Engineering Building in Flint, Michigan.
After working for Delco Electronics for 15 years in the digital systems department, I found that the success or failure of anything done in this department had very little impact on the economic success or failure of General Motors. GM's business was designing and building vehicles and if I was going to advance in this company, I needed to be where the action was in vehicle design. I chose the job in Flint at the Emissions Control Project Center. Delco Electronics provided me with a raise to the top of 7th level, but there was not to be a promotion until I returned. I wanted the job and did not debate the arrangements.
My first interview with the Project Center was interesting. Delco Electronics had selected me for the job, but a courtesy interview was required with the Project Center Management. The Project Center's Chief Engineer was Robert Schultz from Oldsmobile Division of GM. Mr. Schultz was selected by GM top management to run this Project Center. He went on to have a great career with General Motors and eventually became a GM Vice President over GM Hughes, EDS, and all the GM Technical Centers. My interview with Mr. Schultz went well and I became a member of the the Systems Engineering group at the center immediately.
Immersion into the work of the Emission Control Project Center was new and different for me on many levels. It was a non-supervisory job, I had been an engineering supervisor in Kokomo for about 8 years. The people I worked for, GM Engineering Staff, was not the profit center where my paycheck came from, Delco Electronics (I had been loaned out!). I was an electrical engineer among many mechanical engineers, an electronics guy who wasn't much interested in automobile engines. In high school, while a lot of guys in shop class were working on cars and engines, I was thinking about ham radios and computers.
My first assignment at the center was to help the center get its 1978 3.8L Buick Century vehicles changed so that they would meet the 1981 emission standards. The first step in this process was for me to understand the current production engine system. I studied the engine and maintenance information and found the system to be a complex system of vacuum hoses, thermal vacuum switches, a mechanical spark advance distributor, and a very complex carburetor with an electrical heater mounted under it. Looking at the drawings I made 30 years ago, I am still amazed at the complexity of the system.
The new embedded computer system eliminated most of the vacuum controls, but added complexity to the carburetor and exhaust system. Many parts being experimental, were hard to get so expediting became a key job function. While chasing down needed parts, I introduced myself to the emission engineers across town at Buick Engineering. At first I was just another guy bugging them for parts they were also trying to get for their development and testing, but soon, much to my surprise, the Project Center loaned me to Buick Engineering to help them get the 3.8L engine ready for 1981 emission standards. I worked so closely with the Buick engineers, that the secretary handing out paychecks was concerned that there wasn't a paycheck for me. I explained to her that I had been "double loaned out!"
After working with Buick for about a year, I returned to the Project Center and was assigned the job of coordinating all of the different 1981 GM passenger car engines requirements so that one engine control module (ECM) could be produced by Delco Electronics with the engine specific differences in a calibration module. The General manager at Delco Electronics, Don Atwood, had successfully negotiated to have Delco Electronics be GM's only ECU source. To do this, I developed the first specification for the 1981 emission system that covered all applications of the single ECM. This was difficult because the system had to cover such a wide rage of engines. On the small simple side was the Chevette engine and on the larger side was the Corvette V8 and Buick 3.8L turbocharged engines. By my attachment to Buick, it was my responsibility to make sure that any special requirements that the 3.8L Buick Turbocharged engine required, were included in every Delco Electronics 1981 production ECM for GM.
I moderated and recorded this final meeting to freeze the specification for 1981 production. The following features and functions were required for all ECMs which would be built at 25,000 units per day:
1. Closed Loop Carburetor control of fuel
2. Electronic spark control (timing and dwell) of the HEI distributor
3. Torque Converter Clutch activation
4. Idle Speed control
5. Catalytic Converter Air control
6. Provisions for either a single atmosphere or two atmosphere manifold pressure sensor and a spark map that would use either sensor (this enabled the Buick 3.8L Turbo Engine to be included in the engine line up)
7. On-board-diagnostics data line/Check Engine Lamp function
As soon as I published the 1981 system specification, I moved on to assist with the development of the 1982 Throttle Body Injection System for the 2.5L Pontiac and the Corvette Cross-Fire engines. Again, the first thing to do was writing a master system specification so features and functions could be defined. It had the same general ECM features with the addition of four injector drivers and stepper motor idle speed control.
In 1981, the entire Emissions Control Project Center had relocated to the Milford, MI GM Proving Grounds where we had the test tracks and electromagnetic testing facilities. Because I still lived in the Flint area, the Project Center provided a test car to drive to work, which was my first company owned vehicle. In October of 1981, Delco Electronics asked me to assist with another activity located in the same building where I worked on future TBI systems. This was the 1986 E/K Electronics Task Force. I developed a similar master specification for the body computer based system for this series of new front wheel drive vehicles until I left with a promotion to an 8th level supervisor back in Kokomo, Indiana in the Spring of 1982.
Turning Points in the Life of Ronald W. Cox
1948-1956 Prescott #7 (a one room school house in rural Adams County, Iowa)
1956-1960 Corning High School, Corning, Iowa (Course of Study - Vocational Agriculture)
1960-1964 Iowa State University, B.S. Electrical Engineering
1964-1978 Delco Radio Division of General Motors, Engineering Supervisor - Security Systems
1978-1982 GM Engineering Staff/Buick Motor Division, Systems Engineer assigned to the GM Emissions Control Project Center's Systems Engineering Group, GM Proving Grounds, Milford, Michigan
1982-1987 Delco Electronics Corporation, a Subsidiary of GM Hughes Electronics, Kokomo, Indiana, Manager - Advanced Body and Chassis Electronics - Electrical Architecture, Advanced Body and Chassis Electronics - Department Manager
1987-1990 Delco Systems Operations, Delco Electronics Corporation, Goleta, California, Department Manager Automotive Electronics - Corvette Active Suspension Program, Department Manager Automotive Electronics - Indy Racing Electronics, Department Manager Automotive Electronics - ETAK Navigation Program, Department Manager Automotive Electronics - Software Development
1990-1994 Delco Electronics Corporation, a Subsidiary of GM Hughes Electronics, Kokomo, Indiana, Software Manager, Automotive Electronics
1994-1996 Delco Electronics Corporation, a Subsidiary of GM Hughes Electronics, Kokomo, Indiana, Process Owner - Custom Product Design, Business Process Engineering team
1997-2000 Delphi Automotive Systems, Kokomo, Indiana, Powertrain Electronics Systems and Software Manager