1/15/1997 | 8 MINUTE READ

Mass Customization At Perkins: An Engine with One-Trillion Possibilities

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As a world-leader in the production of purpose-built diesel engines—and we're talking about manufacturing 300,000 engines per year; 14.5+ million engines since it was founded in 1932&151;VarityPerkins (Peterborough, England) can't just make someone happy.


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As a world-leader in the production of purpose-built diesel engines—and we're talking about manufacturing 300,000 engines per year; 14.5+ million engines since it was founded in 1932&151;VarityPerkins (Peterborough, England) can't just make someone happy. It has to make lots of somebodies happy. As in its array of customers, ranging from Caterpillar to the British Army.

So when it decided to reconfigure its 1000 Series 4- and 6-liter engines, it started out with the premise that the New 1000 Series would be highly modifiable. Consider that the original 1000 Series engines&151;of which some 7.5-million have been sold&151;are used in approximately 3,000 applications by 800 OEM manufacturers, and you start getting a sense of what we're talking about here in terms of configurability.

But while the past is often considered prelude, the degree to which the New 1000 Series lends itself to "tailor-made solutions" is hard to anticipate. Perkins engineers figure that there are one-trillion possible variants of the New 1000 Series engines, which are a range of four- and six-liter, naturally aspirated, turbocharged and turbo aftercooled, emission-controlled diesel engines with power ratings from 69 bhp to 180 bhp, with 98 different ratings within this band. There are seven engines in the family, each of which can be modified to fit customer requirements.

Just to look at one level of what's available:

  • 17 oil filters and coolers
  • 9 manifolds
  • 17 alternators
  • 14 flywheel housings
  • 22 flywheels
  • 14 oil sumps
  • 68 fans and extensions
  • 13 fan drives
  • 29 exhaust outlets
  • 16 induction manifolds
  • 9 starter motors
  • 24 water outlets

Admittedly, the company will not make one-trillion different New 1000 Series engines. The math is against it. The original 1000 Series was launched just over 10 years ago. The Peterborough plant, where the engines are built, is likely to make 150,000 of the New 1000 Series engines per year. So if there is a replacement engine 10 years hence, there would be time to produce no more than 1.5-million different engines.

What is important to note is that, in the words of Adrian Heath, Design Process manager, "This engineering can be tailored on an individual basis." He added, speaking of applications, "If it pulls, pushes, lifts, turns, digs, or dumps, this new generation will have a solution to power it."

Remarked Brian Amey, director and general manager of Perkins Engines, "This is real mass customization."

Yet for all its variability, there is one interesting aspect of the New 1000 Series. Heath noted, "We've minimized the external changes for the benefit of users of the 1000 Series." He continued, "On the New 1000 Series, the challenge has been to retain commonality in external mechanical features whilst achieving major improvements in emissions, quietness, reliability, serviceability, torque, and fuel efficiency.

"The engine has the same profile and fits within the existing frame size. We've made little change to the hook-up points and left the transmission matching as before."

In other words, they didn't engineer an engine with a different package size than the one it replaces. They maintained what had existed so that Perkins customers&151;and realize that Perkins just makes engines, it doesn't make construction or agricultural equipment, so its people must be completely attuned to the varying customer requirements&151;don't have to reengineer their products in order to accommodate the new engine.

A big factor in accomplishing the mass customization capability is, according to Heath, the fact that the New 1000 Series is a "paperless"&151;or fully CAD developed&151;engine. It is actually Perkins' second paperless engine design, with the first being the 700 Series diesels, available in both 2.6- and 3.0-liter sizes, which were launched in March, 1996.

There were two primary software packages used to develop the New 1000 Series. The analysis work was performed though I-DEAS software from SDRC (Milford, OH). The design was done on CADDS 5 from Computervision (Bedford, MA).

In the area of analysis, for example, a big concern for the development of diesel engines is environmental performance. To address this, a new combustion system was developed. It's called "Fastram." It involves a specially shaped combustion bowl that sets up a pattern of turbulence in the intake air so that when the fuel is injected, burning is performed at lower peak temperatures and in a shorter period than is common, thereby lowering NOx and increasing the conversion of fuel into power. Achieving this was largely a matter of modeling of fluid dynamics on the computer, not trial-and-error with a physical prototype.

Noise pollution is a concern, too. An existing 1000 Series engine was recorded in the company's Noise and Vibration Technology Centre. The engineers developed a target sound profile, then began working their way through CAD models of various engine elements, seeking a way to tune the engine by determining what contribution they made to the sound of the engine. Wherever possible, they modified the elements to achieve a better-sounding engine.

For example, piston slapping noise was addressed through improvements in the cylinder and piston designs. At the end of the day, they actually came up with a sound profile better than their target. The New 1000 Series is 3 dBA quieter than the original; this equates to a 50% reduction in noise.

As for the design software, the cited benefit is that 3D solids modeling allows engineers to check the compatibility of the various mechanical elements with one another. Clearly, this would have been tough&151;if not impossible&151;to do with bins of physical parts.


Dig It

Here's a type of industrial machinery that you are unlikely to see on the streets of the US. It is a mini excavator. The unit was designed by Kobe Steel of Japan's equipment manufacturing unit, Kobelco. It is exclusively manufactured by Fermec under the MF Industrial or Kobelco name for sales in all markets except Japan, Korea, China, and Taiwan. The reason why they aren't here: Size. Apparently, contractors consider them to be too small. The unit shown here, the MF 130, fitted with a Perkins 100 Series engine producing 26.5 bhp, is, for example, just 60-in. wide, which means it can be maneuvered into tight spots. Since tight spots aren't much of an issue, there isn't much of a market for mini excavators in the U.S. However, as companies start installing more underground fiber optic cable for residential use, there just may be a mini excavator making its way through your backyard sometime soon, especially now that Case owns Fermec.


Voice of the Customer

One of the good customers of Perkins is Fermec International Ltd. (Manchester, UK), a manufacturer of earth moving construction equipment including backhoe loaders, industrial tractor loaders, mini-excavators, and skid steer loaders. Once, the manufacturing operation in Manchester had been a Massey Ferguson site. Then, in 1984, it became MF Industrial, a division of Varity Corp. In 1992, there was a management buyout, which led to the creation of Fermec, from Ferguson mechanical. At the time, admitted Keith A. Jones, director of Corporate Marketing, things didn't look good for the company. But through manufacturing efficiencies in the 470,000-sq. ft. plant, as well as new product developments, Fermec came back strong, so strong that in October, 1996, Case Corp. (Racine, Wisconsin) purchased Fermec.

There are two main products from Perkins used in the Fermec machines:

  • 100 Series engines in the mini excavators and small skid steer loaders
  • 1000 Series engines in the large skid steers, tractor loaders, and backhoe loaders.

Asked about the importance to the Fermec machinery of the New 1000 Series maintaining the same overall size as the existing 1000 Series, Jones answered with no hesitation, "It's very important." He explained that had the engine size been changed, then it would have necessitated changes to the design of the equipment that uses the engine (e.g., there are six different models of backhoe loaders that use the engines), as well as changes to the manufacturing operations.


Similar to Electronics Manufacturing

One fairly new manufacturing operation launched within Perkins' existing Peterborough plant is a well-lighted, brightly painted, 30,000-sq. ft. space. There, some 33 people (65 by the end of `97; 140 by the year 2000), all of whom are classified as "production associates," are building the 100 Series Engines. These are two-, three- and four-cylinder, compact water-cooled engines that are available in a power rating from 4 to 50 bhp. One application of the engines, for example, is on turf mowers manufactured by Toro; some 300 manufacturers around the world use these engines.

The engine manufacturing operation is a joint venture between VarityPerkins and Ishikawajima-Shibaura Machinery Co. (ISM), a Japanese firm. Prior to the establishment of the new business unit, Perkins Shibaura, the 100 Series engines were manufactured in Japan.

There are two lines in this plant. The first was launched in February, 1996, and the second went into operation in August of that year. About the assembly environment, Jeremy Jones, operations manager at the site, said, "We tried to make it like an electronics factory." The brightness and cleanliness are certainly more characteristic of electronics than diesel engines. What's more, the workers in this operation are given training to an extent that would be more common in electronics: 40 days of technical, engineering, communications, and problem-solving training. One result of this is that there is effective team work. There are five teams varying in size from two to 10 people producing the engines. There are no pre-established leaders; team members take the lead as required. This is cross-training at a high level.

With regard to the production equipment: it consists mainly of manual devices. The reason for this, Jones explained, is to provide maximum flexibility in producing the engines. Similarly, the two assembly lines are comparatively light-weight roller conveyor units that are bolted to the floor; there are no big foundations. Once again, flexibility is key: the lines can be quickly repositioned to meet changing requirements. At full production the plant will be producing 50,000 engines per year in a mix of units. 


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