To be a partner with them, Kistler gets close to customers

  • 29-May-2012 04:03 EDT
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The Kistler North America Technical Center has been in the planning stages since 2007 and involved a capital investment of $2.5 million.

It has been the intention of Kistler to more closely integrate with its customers for some time. With the recent opening of its newest technical center in Novi, MI, the company is finally able to get cozy with Detroit-area automotive engineers.

“This is an important facility for Kistler,” Nick Wilks, Kistler Continental Head of the Americas, said at the company’s grand opening ceremony April 25. “Our intent is to provide local expert tech support to Detroit automotive engineers. We hope [the engineers] see this investment as a firm commitment to a true technology partnership in which together we work to solve the inevitable future industry challenges we face.”

Detroit-area customers now have immediate access to fully dedicated on-site technical product sales, service, and applications engineering support for their automotive test, crash test, hybrid electric vehicle, vehicle dynamics, and test laboratory requirements. In addition to Kistler sensors and instrumentation, the new facility supports the KT Automotive portfolio of onboard, off-board, and in-dummy crash test data acquisition systems and software as well as Corrsys-Datron vehicle dynamics testing technologies.

Kistler previously had a sales office in Farmington Hills, MI, which also housed Corrsys-Datron. The KT Automotive team was located in a separate location, north of Detroit. The synergies in customer requirements among the entities made them a seamless fit for a single location, according to the company.

Also speaking at the grand opening was Kistler Instrumente AG CEO Rolf Sonderegger. “With this new facility,” he said, “I think we have stepped up a bit on the ladder to becoming the partner for vehicle testing for the automotive industry.”

Sonderegger spoke about the Winterthur, Switzerland-based Kistler in broad terms, noting that the company has been serving the automotive industry since its founding and, against the advice of some consultants, decided to focus efforts more intently on automotive, rather than to abandon it, during recent hard times. The key to making this new investment in automotive a success, according to Sonderegger, was getting a better understanding of the ever-changing needs of the customer and working collaboratively to resolve them.

Kistler has more than just the 20,000-ft² (1860-m²) tech center in Novi to show for that decision.

“Six weeks ago, we opened a tech center in Shanghai, and this shows the intent of our organization to come closer to our customers,” said Sonderegger. “My personal philosophy is that the business model is not just accidental but, rather, follows the idea that what makes us better is true innovation.” That, he added, is why the Kistler company tagline is “measure, analyze, innovate.”

In addition to new tech centers in Shanghai and Detroit, the company is also planning one for Pune, India, “in the near future.”

Based on his own experience, Sonderegger said, "growth and success are possible if an organization is dynamic and always open to change. This tech center marks another change for our group. If you are a local business, the owner is the essential person and determines what the business must do. In a growth phase, one has to add structure to support that growth. If you extend into international areas, you need processes. And if you go global, you have to [become] a more divisionalized organization and delegate competence right where it is needed: in front of the customer.”

Sonderegger spoke of another change within Kistler: “We came from single components—accelerometers, pressure, and force sensors. We moved up to systems. Now we come to solutions; that means customized systems which are specially designed for individual customers. Support becomes more important, and for that our people need structure and tools. And the mightiest tool we see here is this tech center.”

Although the company is well known for its products related to engine combustion, it provides products and services for all aspects of vehicle testing. As such, Kistler stands as a willing partner with a breadth of expertise that can help speed customers’ R&D processes, Sonderegger said.

After his remarks, Sonderegger was asked by AEI whether the net effect on Kistler of increasingly stringent fuel-economy regulations would be negative (depressed vehicle sales) or positive (greater need for test and measure activities). His answer was unequivocal: Stringent regulations will be a positive for Kistler “until the ambient air is dirtier than the air that comes out of the exhaust.”

Asked what advantages his company has over its competitors, Sonderegger said Kistler has more important interests than comparing itself to others. “We focus very much on customers and their needs. We believe the automotive industry wants to have competent partners that can deliver complete systems for vehicle testing or combustion engine research, etc., and this is our gradient.”

Currently employing 21, the Kistler North America Technical Center has expansion capacity for up to 50. It features, among other things, three external hybrid electric vehicle charging stations; a purpose-built customer training theater, complete with a demonstration room of Kistler product technologies; and in-house videoconferencing facilities for collaboration with global experts at other Kistler and customer facilities. In addition, three fully secured and equipped garage work bays are expressly designed to support new vehicle product testing, process improvement, and automotive R&D activities.

Testing capabilities include system setup and support, customer vehicle installation, and product rental services for engine combustion analysis using the Kistler KiBox ToGo; wheel force measurements via the Kistler RoaDyn wheel force transducer assembly; and vehicle dynamics testing via the Corrsys-Datron RV-4.

An onsite electronics repair and evaluation area supports customer product field verification testing, process improvement evaluations, and the development of specific hardware and software for the assembly and testing of customer product solutions. The area features state-of-the-art equipment and specialty flooring to protect against the harmful effects of electrostatic discharge on sensors and instrumentation. A purpose-built onsite calibration service center further supports A2LA accredited in-house calibrations of Kistler, KT Automotive, and Corrsys-Datron instrumentation to ISO17025 standards, with additional capabilities to be added in response to customer demand.

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