Fort Mill Times

Lake Wylie duo creating ‘revolutionary’ plastic engine

Fixing engines isn’t a problem for Ted Bowman. His challenge is fixing the way they work by design.

Bowman and Mike Shea opened Archer Automotive and Archer Limousine off Charlotte Highway, near Five Points, almost two years ago. Before that, Bowman spent seven years at Lake Wylie Auto Care, which is where he met Randy Lewis of Lake Wylie. Lewis runs ZeMC2 in Salisbury, N.C., a manufacturer of bulk molding compounds.

“I met him while working on his cars,” Bowman said.

Lewis and Bowman worked on a few “science fair projects” involving engines, gasoline, even hydrogen. So when Lewis came up with what Bowman calls a “pretty revolutionary” plastic at his company, he knew who to call.

Lewis picked Bowman for research and development work building an all-plastic, two-stroke engine. They’re working on one for a string trimmer now. Future applications could include boats, lawn equipment, small vehicles — anything traditionally able to use a two-stroke.

“The engine under development does not require lubricated fuel mix, opening the door for two-stroke engines to compete with four-stroke engines,” Lewis said. “The engine is still under development with the potential to be game changing.”

The first effort proved why research and development are important. Bowman has been fine tuning ever since.

“The first one we built blew right up,” he said. “The second one ran just fine.”

The key is the plastic. It’s harder and lighter than aluminum, and conducts electricity. Even at high speed it doesn’t cause the friction found in metal engines, warranting a fuel and oil mix in two-strokes.

“The engine cylinder, piston, and connecting rod will all be manufactured from the new plastic material,” Lewis said. “The plastic has not exhibited any wear running without lubrication and the combustion temperature has not been a problem. The plastic engine block is threaded for the spark plug and conductive enough to ground the spark plug.”

The pair has a presentation planned to industry leaders. They will show off work at the string trimmer level, but likely will branch out into other small or even large engines.

“Bring us an idea and we’ll see if we can’t build you one, and see if it doesn’t run better with less wear than a traditional one,” Bowman said.

Though plastic, the new material won’t be 3D printed. It will require molding and machining. John Boesen of Texlon Plastics, in Gastonia, N.C., is doing the molding now. Between Boesen and Bowman, Lewis feels he has the right team to grow his idea.

“They are absolutely the best in their fields,” Lewis said. “With Ted, you go into his shop and he’s worked on Lamborghinis, Ferraris. I think he’s had a Cobra in there. It’s amazing the things that come through his shop. Cars that aren’t easy to work on, and he does an incredible job.”

The new material shouldn’t require new maintenance steps compared to metal parts.

“This is actually taking maintenance requirements away,” Bowman said.

Which begs a question for Bowman, who has made a career out of service and repair: Wouldn’t a more maintenance free, oil-less engine be bad for business?

“There will be jobs for people who stay current,” he said. “The industry is changing regardless. It would probably be better to be involved.”

The new material is still far from replacing car or other large engines, but its impact on small engines could vary, from less mess for the owner to less pollution output from the machine.

“The mixing of oil and gas required for a current two-stroke increases pollution to unacceptable levels,” Lewis said. “If this two-stroke pollution barrier can be crossed the basic attributes of the two-stroke can be exploited.”

For now, Bowman will continue working on engines at his and Shea’s new shop in the former Amvet Auto building at 5774 Charlotte Highway.

“We’re in the process of purchasing the property and the building,” Bowman said. “We will be adding more staff. We are already about at our capacity for what we have.”

Plastic engine development remains an “on the side” project, but Bowman gets excited about the possibilities. Especially as he works with more engines, even if he has to blow one or two up in the process.

“We need to make more, more types of engines, more applications,” he said.

John Marks: 803-831-8166