Automotive development may be easily noticed. However, the exterior of cars is the less important part. VW Golf is similar to the one produced years ago, but if its engine had former gaskets mounted, one would not enjoy the ride much. It’s the details that comprise the progress. We have accepted Elring’s invitation and checked how modern gaskets are manufactured.
Such a comparison should not appear overestimated to anyone who has had the pleasure to visit Elring’s plant in Dettingen – a small town located in the mountains, near Stuttgart. Gasket production is quite a complicated business nowadays – it requires precision and anticipation. All because of technological progress – small engine cc and size operating under high pressure and exposed to overload. Today OEM gasket producers have their own design centres, where key works to the entire production process take place. Such centre is also a part of the Elring plant in Dettingen. We have met engineers there dealing with gasket design for the latest passenger car and HDV engines. The details are of course the trade secret. Taking photos inside is also forbidden. However, the visitors could see the subsequent steps of the design and construction process of a cylinder head gasket.
It all starts in a computer, of course. Measuring with the necessary accuracy is practically impossible without the use of appropriate programs. The designers visualize and print the prototypes on special paper. The research is a laborious task, since many tests have a negative outcome and require corrections. After all, the gasket has to stand more nowadays. Not only prevent any leaks, but also affect the duration of the moving parts of an engine. Therefore, the choice of proper material of the gasket, as well as the precise design of its edges is crucial. What’s interesting, some of the details are visible with the naked eye, some are not. That’s why it’s so difficult to tell the high quality gasket from a bad fake.
Each gasket prototype is tested statically and dynamically in the Elring lab. There are special purpose rooms for such tests – a particular engine operates in them in conditions comparable to the road ones. It’s not only about the increase and decrease in pressure, but also air temperature or angle (e.g. during driving in the mountains). At the end of the test the engine is disassembled and the gaskets undergo an analysis. During our visit in the plant we had an opportunity to see the test of one of the Chinese production engines.
Elring’s plants are located all over the world. The oldest one, in Dettingen, deals mainly with gaskets. It’s a huge building complex – a brief visit takes a few hours. The majority of the production process is automated. Some time ago employees have been replaced by more precise machines guaranteeing repeatability and accuracy. People are now dedicated to machine control or for example ready product collection and transportation to the next process stage spot. The control itself is important – the aim of it is the maintenance of repeatability and high quality of products. Spare parts are examined on each production process stage. You may see employees operating microscopes and measuring tools in many designated places.
The warehouse is one of the most interesting places. Due to the number of references manufactured in Dettingen it may be run only with the use of a computer. The storage is run by the electricity-powered trolleys, which collect the products themselves and transport them to the designated places. What’s more, a trolley operation system program error would cause a huge standstill, since no one would be able to determine where particular references are at the given moment. The trolleys travelling on their own throughout the warehouse are impressive – as if you have been watching a sci-fi movie. Unfortunately, the company doesn’t publish the photos presenting the operation of the trolleys.
The attitude of the Elring company towards the education of youths, i.e. prospective employees, is also impressive. A machine park intended for such trainees has been created. Trainees can use latest tools and programs under the supervision of the trainers. It’s difficult to compare experience gained this way to regular school education.
Plant No. 1 in Dettingen is constantly being developed. Big and old machines are replaced by smaller, more efficient ones. The old ones are sent to company plants abroad or are scrapped. Each machine investment equals millions of money.
Elring is able to manufacture each custom-made gasket. The affluence of the ordering party and time, since some of the projects may be time-consuming, are the only limits. What’s interesting, the company has been producing gaskets to Mercedes engines from the beginning of their production. So, by ordering Elring’s gaskets, Mercedes is able to supply customers with all necessary car parts, regardless of car model or age.
And what happens if car manufacturers suddenly start mass production of electric vehicles? The German company is ready for that as well – electric BMW i3 are parked on the plant car park. Why? Elring cooperates with this car manufacturer by supplying plastic elements for lithium-ion batteries.
The younger Dettingen plant is located a few kilometres away from the old one. It’s been operating for a few years – specialising in plastic parts production: HDV oil slumps, valve covers, cylinder head bolts, pads or other miscellaneous parts. The company tries to foresee the future automotive trends. Weight reduction is the priority at the moment. That’s why plastic covers are gaining popularity, as they are lighter than metal ones and thanks to proper production standards they are more durable.
Academy – what for?
Each highly complicated unit requires the involvement and knowledge of the person dealing with its assembly or exchange. In case of such changing market segment as gaskets, a change of thinking is needed. In the past precisely cut gaskets or cleanliness of engine elements weren’t that important as they are now. It doesn’t mean however, that novelties are a no-no and only older engines are worth repairing. It would lead to nowhere, since producers care for the preparation of end-users of their products. That’s why the Elring Academy has been founded.
Trainings are conducted based on the “train the trainer” method. Elring trainers – Mario Rauch and Murat Kutlu invite Elring representatives from abroad to take part in the training. Distributors’ employees, trainers or traders learn everything about the gaskets. They are also presented with the full offer and are given tips on how to assemble the gaskets. Trainees who have completed the course are ready to train their customers in respective countries.
At the same time, they are not deprived of support of the Elring website: www.akademie.elring.de (also available in Polish). Servicing information and tips, as well as pictures, films and visualizations (not available anywhere else) may be found there.
Visiting Elring plant makes one realise the role of the experience in the automotive sector. Dozens of years of production and development led Elring to a position unattainable for producers, who have started their activity later on. Dozens of companies all over the world, significant investments and developed structure provide a stable position. That’s why car producers, even F1 teams (Renault, Red Bull, Ferrari) are so interested in Elring’s products. Aftermarket products are available in Poland via several distribution chains.
Those interested in visiting Elring’s plant in Dettingen, and especially willing to learn more about the technology of engines repair/refit may contact the Polish representative of Elring company via e-mail: Korneliusz.Kakol@elringklinger.com