Keeping ahead of competitors has always been a challenge, but today, so much more is at stake in the global business community. Companies have to be nimble thinkers and nimble doers to reach the levels of success that will enable them to achieve and maintain a global presence.Perfect Circle North America of Muskegon, Mich., is a global leader in the design and manufacture of engine and fluid systems for the automotive and heavy-duty engine markets. The company achieved its prominence by being market-focused, and by anticipating and exceeding its customers’ expectations globally. With 13 U.S. facilities and 2,800 employees, Perfect Circle is prepared to continue its leading role in this industry.
In these complex times, businesses are contending not only with their day-to-day manufacturing, but also with new concerns industries of the last century never imagined. Environmental issues now challenge the mettle of today’s automotive companies, pushing their engineers to develop increasingly more efficient engines to conform to tougher and tougher environmental mandates.
“Being able to tell our engine-manufacturing customers how much oil their engines will burn is a key element to our high level of customer service in this industry,” says Mike Kestner, director of research and development. “Being able to measure that accurately, precisely and quickly is key to our customers.” Perfect Circle developed its radio-tracer oil-consumption measurement system to provide these critical results to its customers. “It is a unique system in the market, and we are the only company with this capability,” says Kestner. This system is vital to Perfect Circle’s ability to design and manufacture power-cylinder systems and components.
Most oil-consumption measurements are statistically inaccurate because of too much variability in the individual measurements, says Kestner. The Perfect Circle system’s precise measurements reduce the number of tests needed to derive the correct data. “Our system gives statistically valid results, and any test procedure you run will tell you whether or not you have a good power-cylinder system,” continues Kestner. “This system allows us to make statistically sound decisions on short-term tests, whereas competitors might have to run their testing procedures for a longer time. So it’s a speed-to-market kind of tool that allows us to develop product much quicker than others in the industry.” And in today’s blue-streak commerce, speed can be the difference between flourishing or perishing.
Another speed-to-market tool Perfect Circle uses is computer modeling of oil consumption systems in engines. “This modeling reduces the amount of engine testing, and allows us to analyze a particular power cylinder in an engine and come to some design conclusions with a minimum amount of testing,” explains Kestner.
Most pistons have three rings: a top ring, a second ring and an oil ring. These piston components, and the coatings on the face of the piston ring, are crucial to the overall performance of an engine. “The coatings are important, primarily in terms of durability, wear and friction,” says Kestner, who notes that tribology (the science of wear and friction) is important to developing products in this area.
New environmental emissions regulations, effective in 2004, will mean the introduction of exhaust-gas recirculation (EGR) in diesel engines. Perfect Circle’s thermal coatings for piston rings, now in validation testing, are targeted to solve the problem of EGR-created excessive wear in these diesel engines. One of the company’s newest products in this area is its PCF-380 coating.
Another development emerging from Perfect Circle’s advanced technology is physical vapor deposition (PVD) of chrome nitride on the second rings. This new development could lead to the ultimate replacement of electroplated chromium, which has been an environmental concern for the last 30-plus years. “We are developing new coatings to replace this environmentally unfriendly process,” says Kestner.
Because the piston rings are in sliding contact with the cylinder liners, each has to be compatible with the other in order to achieve a high-performing engine. “The fact that we supply both of these key components means that we have control over the materials, ensuring this crucial compatibility,” says Kestner. “Not only do we offer a complete range of materials for the liner itself, but we have the bore-finishing expertise.”
Cylinder liners are finished using a honing technique. Surface finishes differ among gasoline and diesel engines. Perfect Circle has the expertise to provide recommendations to its customers on which surface finish is the best choice for a particular engine. “All of this ties together,” explains Kestner. “Surface finishes have a major impact on the oil-consumption characteristics of an engine. The ability to measure the oil consumption precisely and quickly using our radio-tracer system allows us to develop and identify the surface finishes required on particular cylinder liners.”
Perfect Circle also designs and manufactures high-durability steel camshafts for heavy-duty diesel engines – Class 8 diesel engines, usually measuring 10 to 14 liters. “The material and process we use has a proven reputation of 2 million-mile camshafts,” says Kestner. These engines, used in semis, are generally rebuilt between 500,000 and 1 million miles. “The high durability of our steel cams is one of the reasons we have a 78 percent market share in the heavy-duty camshaft market in North America.” The cams are made of a high-quality aircraft steel that features a high level of cleanliness. “Our proprietary heat-treatment and grinding processes ensure excellent surface characteristics of the camshaft lobes for this high-durability application,” says Kestner.
Ask any leader how he or she achieves excellence, and probably the most common response you will hear is “keep focused.” This is Perfect Circle’s success formula. “We employ a focused factory concept, and each of our 13 facilities focuses on manufacturing a specific product,” explains Russell Schoenherr, director of sales and marketing. For example, one Perfect Circle facility produces only high-volume, light-duty automotive products. Another focuses on manufacturing heavy-duty camshafts. Still another produces just heavy-duty piston rings. “We don’t manufacture a variety of products in each plant,” says Schoenherr.
Perfect Circle management is also focused. “We’ve identified what it takes for us to be a core business and that includes three things,” explains Schoenherr. “You have to be global and you have to be either No. 1 or No. 2 in your market. In addition, you have to have sales exceeding $500 million per year. We’ve achieved this status by doing lots of strategic planning and by developing a lot of new technologies and new products to meet the changing demands of the marketplace. We provide perfect quality and perfect customer service because we work hard to identify the needs of each of our customers.”
Perfect Circle is entering its third calendar century. Begun in 1895 in Hagerstown, Ind., by Charles Teetor as the Railway Cycle Manufacturing Company, the company manufactured the Teetor cycle, a pedal-powered, four-wheeled vehicle designed by Teetor himself for use on railroad tracks, which immediately became an international success.
Those days were transitional times for the transportation industry, as engineers and manufacturers tried to get a fix on where it was heading. For example, Studebaker was renowned around the world for its horse-drawn carriages before it ever designed an automobile. The Duryea brothers, builders of America’s first automobile, began by making bicycles. By 1907, Railway Cycle Manufacturing was making a wide range of products, including pistons, cylinders and piston rings for internal-combustion engines. By 1918, the company had assured the success of its business in these products. Today, the company now known as Perfect Circle is a part of the Engine Systems Group, which is one of seven strategic business units of the international Dana Corporation, headquartered in Toledo, Ohio. With its bedrock powerful technology and dedication to move the industry forward in this new century, it is no wonder that Perfect Circle continues to maintain its impressive stature in its customer markets. In addition to its 78 percent share of the camshaft market, Perfect Circle also has 63 percent of the piston-ring market and 66 percent of the cylinder-liner market in North America.
“We will continue to be the leader in complete power-cylinder engine systems, as we continue to lead in supplying components for these systems and exceeding our customers’ expectations,” concludes Schoenherr.