I went to the U.K. last month to visit Perkins Engines on the occasion of the manufacture of the company’s 20 millionth engine. However you measure it, that’s a lot of engines. Perkins was founded by a British engineer Frank Perkins in 1932 and while it’s a pretty good sized company now, owned by an even bigger company (Caterpillar), one still gets the feeling that Perkins is owned by flexible creative people who are not afraid to take chances, make changes and be adventurous and risk-taking.
Visiting Perkins, I had the opportunity to get a closer look at the R&D that has gone into complying with Tiers 1,2,3, and 4 and European environmental regulations. All of the engine manufacturers have done extraordinary work. From the rental perspective, we tend to think about rental companies having to pay increased premiums to buy these increasingly costly engines, but it’s easy to overlook the incredible achievements by engine manufacturers to reduce emissions so dramatically. I recall when I first heard of the various tiers and the percentages of emission reductions that sounded so impossible at the time. I remember asking engine manufacturer personnel back then how they were going to get from Point A to Point Z, a seemingly insurmountable task. Obviously they had to go one step at a time, but they had to have an overall game plan from the beginning, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been spent on R&D is truly a mind-boggling thought. Perkins of course has done it, and its achievements, as well as those of Deutz, Honda, JCB, Volvo, Deere, Kohler, Cummins and others, have been extraordinary.
Designing the engine to reduce the required emissions and work just as well if not better than ever is one challenge. Getting it to fit the machines of the OEMs is another and Perkins Engines’ approach is completely unique. Every time an OEM is considering a Perkins engine for one of its machines, engineers from both companies get together at Perkins’ Peterborough, U.K., facility for a Technology Integration Workshop to design the shape of the engine. The engineers from Perkins work together with the OEM to design the size and shape of the engine to fit the machine, whether it be a piece of earthmoving equipment, a pump, a generator or an aerial work platform.
For many OEMs, packaging new emissions technologies involves high levels of engineering resource and significant amounts of development time. Perkins begins the partnership in its Collaboration Centre, working together with the OEMs’ engineers to design the integration. By working together side by side, the design work is typically consolidated into just a couple of days. Perkins has done about 500 engine/machine installations with more than 150 OEMs from around the world. While collaboration in all fields of human endeavor has become so much easier because of modern methods of communication, in this case sitting in the same room side by side definitely facilitates creativity.
Currently about 4.5 million Perkins engines are in operation in more than 500 applications and quite a few have been matched to the machines they are used in by Technology Integration Workshops. One of the Perkins engineers explained to me that essentially he can look at an engine as a series of “Lego” pieces that can be moved around and placed on an engine in a variety of ways so that the engine can fit on a machine in a way that works best for the OEM.
I also visited Xylem’s Godwin Pump manufacturing facility in Quenington, U.K., which was founded in 1865. Godwin has worked with Perkins for decades and has a lot of experience in collaboration with the engine maker. Godwin’s popular Dri-Prime Pumps were first developed at the Quenington site back in the 1970s. Quenington seems to be a small village, a lot of old stone houses, and then you turn the corner behind some hedges and there’s Godwin Pumps. They’ve been around a while! Given the reputations of these companies for engineering excellence, it was great to see how they collaborate and how long they’ve been doing it.