Pumping up the in-house capabilities

  • 18-May-2008 08:17 EDT
Pierburg sight inspection.jpg
A technician inspects the connecting rod to the power cylinder module. Many of the engineering activities done in Indiana will relocate to a new center in Auburn Hills, MI.

Nearly six years ago, a three-person staff handled the business of running the U.S. operations of a Germany-based company selling emissions-control devices, air management units, various pumps, and other passenger vehicle products.

Business has grown and so has the workforce, but additional help is still needed beyond the present 70 engineers. "We're starting to enhance our design capabilities, so we'll be hiring an FMEA expert—who will be trained for several months in Germany before becoming the local FMEA expert—and we'll have the capacity for 120 engineers at our new facility," said Peter Hradowy, Vice President of Engineering and Program Management for Pierburg Inc.

Pierburg and two other business groups under the Kolbenschmidt Pierburg AG umbrella—Pierburg Pump Technology and Karl Schmidt Unisia—are establishing a testing hub within a newly opened 60,000-ft² (5574-m²)  technical center in Auburn Hills, MI. The U.S. center will not duplicate every test machine that is available at the company's technical center in Germany, but the expectation is that certain testing—such as vibration testing of select products in a temperature-controlled chamber—may be done in dual locations. "If we have the available capacity, we should be able to support our German colleagues," said Hradowy.

Since some in-house testing is already at full capacity in Germany, the U.S. could pick up the overflow vs. the current outsourcing practice "because the dollars per test hour would be cheaper" in the U.S. than what it is in Germany, said Hradowy. "It's amazing that the United States is becoming a low-cost country" because of the U.S. dollar to Euro relationship. Having a technical center in the U.S. provides another benefit. "From a customer perspective, we will be able to react quicker because we're going to build and assemble prototypes, and that's a nice complement to having on-site lab facilities for testing and evaluations," Hradowy said about the Pierburg and Pierburg Pumps business units.

Kolbenschmidt Pierburg's U.S.-based pistons group is moving all of its Fort Wayne, IN, engineering operations—the exception being a 19,000-ft² (1765-m²) engine test lab and its 12 technical specialists—to the new technical center in Michigan. "We'll do the complete design—the complete commercial proposal—as well as the post-test analysis and bench-test analysis of pistons. The technical center is really going to be the focal point of the group in terms of sales and product engineering," said Donald Cameron, Vice President of Sales and Engineering for Karl Schmidt Unisia.

One of the main areas of study for the pistons group is the ongoing work being done as it relates to developing steel pistons for diesel engines. "If there weren't these new emissions requirements, aluminum pistons would be just fine. But that's not the case. Aluminum pistons would melt because the combustion process is significantly different than it was," Cameron said in making a point about the demise of aluminum pistons for medium-duty and on-highway vehicle applications.

The Auburn Hills technical center also will be an operations base for two other Kolbenschmidt Pierburg divisions, KS Gleitlager (whose product list includes engine bearings) and KS Aluminium-Technologie (whose product list includes engine blocks). "What this really does for us is put us together," said Cameron.

Kolbenschmidt Pierburg's aftermarket business unit will not co-locate in the new technical center, which when the labs are completed will represent a $2.5 million investment.

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