Ilmor Engineering plans India foray
The company says that while it is too early for Ilmor to open an office in India, if the need arises in future in order to further relationships with clients, then it would certainly do so.
Varied service portfolio
Ilmor has the ability to design a complete engine from ‘a clean sheet of paper’ through to overseeing its operation in use. Its range of services includes design and analysis, prototype manufacturing, engine development, engine testing and even engine rebuilds.
To carry out this type of work, it possesses a wide range of skills including design, analysis, manufacture, assembly, testing, development and problem solving. Recognising that a number of clients do not require an entire engine development programme, Ilmor also offers any of one or a combination of these disciplines to potential clients. For example, customers could simply run their engine on the Ilmor test bed, or ask the company to prototype engine components, or analyse some dynamic aspect of an engine. Ilmor mainly uses Catia V5 design software and also has seven engine test beds which are derived from Formula 1 engine test beds. It even has emission analysis capability and the machine shop is equipped with high-tech machining centres, mostly supplied by leading supplier Mori Seiki.
Watson clarifies: “We are first and foremost an engine company and the vast majority of our experience is with high-performance engines, mainly purebred racing engines. However, it is our opinion that this basic understanding and experience is relevant and applicable to all formats of engine, and we welcome the excitement of getting involved in new things.”
He adds, “Learning about how a familiar set of problems might be biased in a slightly different way, such that solutions require new avenues of enquiry, is usually more enjoyable than just doing the same thing as before.” The company is also keenly interested in emerging technologies in the area of hybrid vehicles and believes that its racing heritage gives Ilmor a relevant outlook on subjects like improving overall vehicle efficiency.
Despite being principally an engine company, it has applied itself to non-engine projects over the years and is seeking opportunities to be involved in most aspects of automotive engineering and engineering in general. Discussing the advantages that Ilmor can offer prospective clients, Watson says, “Thanks to our racing heritage, we can offer a complete service whereby we can take a project from a design brief all the way to delivering a fully tested pre-production prototype.” Most racing companies want to keep control over the entire development process in order to ensure higher speed and better quality."
Ilmor also highlights its ability at problem solving, not only at the conceptual design stage but even with running engines. Once a problem has been identified, Ilmor says it can quickly make new prototype parts to prove a solution and find a direction for a client to go. Most manufacturers tend to want their prototype parts to be made by the company that will make the final production version. This makes the testing as realistic as possible. However, if there is a problem with the component, it usually takes the company a relatively long time to make alternative prototype components, which could delay the entire programme.
In a situation like this, Ilmor can design and make production-relevant prototype components, even several variants, to find a solution which could then be applied to the production version. The company says it puts customer satisfaction first and achieves this by having an honest and open discussion with its clients, as well as a flexible approach to business. This approach comes from the racing environment, where adaptability and flexibility are required at every situation.
Significantly, Ilmor claims that it can use its extensive experience to help automakers design parts which have tight packaging restrictions and low weight requirements, which are becoming increasingly important in the automotive sector.
The company was founded 25 years ago by engineers Mario Illien and Paul Morgan with financial support from US race team owner and businessman, Roger Penske. The original aim of the company was to design and manufacture an engine to compete in the ‘Indycar’ racing series in the US.
At this time, around 1984, GM became a 25 per cent shareholder of the company, the other shares being held equally by Penske, Morgan and Illien. The original engine called the 265A and its derivatives were very successful and led to Ilmor designing an engine for Formula 1. After a few seasons of marketing the Formula 1 engines as an independent product, the branding was adopted by Mercedes-Benz and installed in the McLaren cars. Around this time, Mercedes also took over the branding of the Indycar engines and the 25 per cent ownership by GM was transferred to Mercedes. Although Ilmor had always occasionally taken on other work than the mainstay Indycar and Formula 1 engine programmes, towards the end of the 1990s there was a policy to do this to a greater extent with the formation of a ‘Special Projects Group’ (SPG).
Eventually the Indycar programme came under the responsibilities of the SPG such that it looked after everything apart from Formula 1. In 2001, Ilmor suffered a big loss when Paul Morgan was killed in a flying accident. The significance of this event cannot be over-emphasised since Paul was the driving force behind the company through his energetic approach helping to growing the business. Later, Mercedes progressively bought the company stock from the other three shareholders and changed the company’s name to ‘Mercedes-Ilmor’. It was during this period that the SPG secured a significant contract to design and supply an IRL (Indy Racing League) engine for Honda.
By 2005, the company became wholly owned by Mercedes; however, their interest was purely in Formula 1, so they sold the SPG back to Illien and Penske who began trading under the Ilmor Engineering name again. Ilmor is now an entirely independent company with Mario Illien taking a very active role in running the company, while managing director Steve Miller looks after daily operations. Although the core activities of the company are still rooted in the motorsport arena, Ilmor is now actively seeking to find other opportunities to apply its skill set.
Gunning for the motorcycle market
Given the fact that India is the second largest two-wheeler market in the world, Ilmor also highlights the fact that it has worked on a number of projects for motorcycle manufacturers over the years, for both racing and production applications. It sees the motorcycle industry as a particular area of focus since these engines are relatively high performance, with critical packaging requirements. Also, since the powertrain is a relatively large part of the overall vehicle, issues relating to NVH reduction and lower weight are even more important. Watson says, “These requirements are relevant, whether the vehicle is a scooter or a superbike, and we would like to get involved with motorcycle projects at any level.”
Ilmor already has its own Moto GP racing engine which it believes is still competitive and says that if a suitable sponsor could be found, it would be willing to brand the engine with the sponsor’s name. This, according to Ilmor, could also be ideal for an Indian motorcycle manufacturer that wants to promote its brand on the world stage.
For more information about Ilmor, log on to www.ilmor.co.uk or contact Ian Watson at Ian.Watson@ilmor.co.uk.
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