Serving Detroit – and international automakers – Eberspaecher North America develops, produces, and markets automotive and commercial vehicle exhaust after-treatment systems. As its name implies, the company focuses on the North American region, but it is a subsidiary of a global organization established in 1865 – which means it benefits from the parent company’s rich resources.
Still, growth is an important part of the North American company’s narrative, relates Martin Romzek, head of research and development for the North American branch of the global parent company (Eberspaecher Holding GmbH & Co. KG). “It runs through the entire company history, but it’s an important chapter in the North American operation,” he says.
Consider – the parent company – headquartered in Esslingen, Germany and still a family owned enterprise, embraced exhaust technology in the 1930s in Europe and now operates exhaust and vehicle heating divisions and has more than 6,300 employees in 27 different countries.
“The company established a relationship with the ‘Big Three’ in Europe – BMW, Mercedes and Volkswagen Audi,” reports Romzek.
Also, the company developed new technologies that solidified business – and intimate, collaborative relationships – with these automotive leaders.
By 2000, Eberspaecher sought to establish a North American presence. It didn’t take long to gain a foothold. “It started in Michigan, close to Detroit, in Novi,” recalls Romzek, who was one of the first hired to help grow the North American outpost. “The North America operation was built from the ground up, and engineering was the primary focus. Even before we began manufacturing, we established a technical center focused on research and development,” says Romzek. Today, the Novi, Mich-headquartered arm is where Eberspaecher North American division accomplishes all of its design, simulation, testing, engineering and prototyping.
As business rapidly grew, Eberspaecher North America opened five production facilities. “These were established to accommodate customers’ growing needs – and our growing business – within the region we operated,” relates Romzek. “It started with Chrysler and was soon followed by business with Mercedes, a relationship transplanted from Germany. Today, we also have transplanted business from BMW and Volkswagen, based on systems developed in Europe. But our portfolio also includes programs developed with General Motors and Chrysler.”
Two years ago Eberspaecher North America established itself in the commercial vehicle sector of exhaust systems, as a result of US emission regulations – which meant after-treatment devices attached to technology present for years in automotive applications, particularly for diesel technology. “Such devices were first developed in Europe, with the parent company,” describes Romzek,” and then the technology was desperately needed for the commercial vehicle sector in the United States.”
Specifically, this involved after-treatment technology, primarily relating to SCR – or selective catalytic reduction. The EPA 2010 emission legislation made this advancement not just a benefit but a requirement. “We began working very heavily in that market,” recalls Romzek, who has been with the North American operation since the very beginning. “Now we have a very large presence in the commercial after-treatment sector, producing systems for Detroit Diesel and Volvo-Mack.”
Eberspaecher North America now has six production facilities located in Brighton, Wixom, and Novi, Michigan, as well as in Northport, Ala., Greenville, S.C., and Belvidere, Ill.
But the North American operations started with a technical center. “We established the center before we even had a customer or a program,” recalls Romzek. “We were staffed with a basic engineering team. The company hired engineers before it even produced a product.”
Indeed, engineering is what Eberspaecher North America is known for. “Our name has become synonymous with proficiency in engineering, yet we’re also capable of producing at large volume,” says Romzek. “We have reinforced this position to our North American customers over the past 12 years. Results speak for itself.”
Market position resulted from collaboration: Customers needed and asked for a higher level of engineering support – and that’s what Eberspaecher North America provides to a major-league level of clientele that includes General Motors, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, VW/Audi as well Detroit Diesel and Volvo-Mack. Expect nothing less from a company that has established itself as a tier-one supplier and manufacturer of the most innovative exhaust system products.
Romzek describes why a high level of engineering is so important. “In general, an exhaust system represents a custom engineering job for each program,” he says. “Every system is different. That’s not just a function but a requirement. Some customers introduce new engine variants every year, and every package is different, and the exhaust system is one of the last things to be fitted inside of a vehicle. The geometry, the packaging and the function of exhaust systems, literally changes with every program and the multiple variants within each program.”
That means a need for analytical tools to design systems. “We’ve gone far beyond CAD modeling. Everyone does that,” says Romzek. “We do our own analyses related to durability, thermodynamics and acoustics. It’s all done on computers before parts are even built, which shortens development cycle. Further, it confirms that we’ll meet customer’s functional targets.”
Obviously, that entails large investment, and Eberspaecher North America reinvests profits. It recently poured millions of dollars into the renovation of its Brighton facility, which involved the retooling of 80 percent of the 120,000-square-foot plant floor space with automated welding equipment for the final assembly of new after-treatment systems.
Eberspaecher also introduced upgraded technology into its Wixom facility, a 100,000-square-foot plant that houses roll-forming and new patented sizing equipment for the production of canning used in the company’s after-treatment systems.
The North American subsidiary moves ahead. “We’re working on some really interesting technology for the market,” says Romzek.
These include active noise cancellation. “We call it active silence and active sound,” describes Romzek. “That means that we put speakers in exhaust systems instead of mufflers. Essentially, we are doing the same thing that Bose does with the noise cancelling headphones, but for exhaust systems. This has a tangible economic benefit, and it meets a technical need for our customers – imagine all of the weight savings and things that our customers are after, we are able to take what used to be a 25-liter muffler and replace it with a single speaker.”
That speaker measures merely eight inches in diameter and about six liters in volume, describes Romzek. “So, weight reduction is coupled with noise reduction,” he points out.
Further, he describes why this is important: “All of the acoustic principles used inside mufflers – whether tri-flow or expansion, or restriction or reflection – apply a restrictive back pressure to the engine. That means something the engine needs to work against. As we cancel sound with sound, our technology allows for increased horsepower and/or significant fuel economy improvements.”
Conversely – and ironically – the company also provides sound enhancement. “Some of our customers are excited about our ability to make sound,” says Romzek. “That involves our exhaust sound quality engineering, where we can come up with a powerful sound coming from the exhaust, something that can’t be done by conventional technology.”
He describes exactly what this means. “As a result of emissions legislation, diesel exhaust systems require significant after-treatment. Each catalyst in the exhaust system detracts from the sound character a normal exhaust would make. In Europe, these diesel automotive applications find their way in premium vehicles, something that a CEO would drive. These customers want to hear some sportiness come from the tail pipe. So we have been asked to use the speaker muffler to make sound. So that is another side of our business: active sound design.”
Those are two ways the company uses speakers in an exhaust system. But it can do a combination, where bad sound is cancelled and good sound is enhanced. “It is revolutionary technology because it has the potential to replace mufflers entirely, and the exhaust system becomes much simpler. The perception is that exhaust systems are a collection of pipes and cans and a commodity, and not an engineered technology. But we offer something completely different. We offer completely engineered technology.”
Again, it’s revolutionary, not evolutionary. “We don’t change technology, we transform it,” says Romzek. “We produce something that has never existed before.”