In the heart of “Rotax” kart – A visit to BRP-Powertrain factory

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Karts ready to go

Probably there is no such person within the whole karting industry, who don’t know about Rotax engines and the “Rotax MAX Challenge”. But, as they say, it’s better to see once than hundred times to hear. And so, on the 12th of April “Karting Magazine” visited Rotax’ office and manufacturing department in Gunskirchen, Austria.

The rules of access to the plant are very strict. BRP-Powertrain, a subsidiary of Bombardier Recreational Products Inc., is proud of its “know-hows” and the production process is being kept in secret. But for us there was made an exception, and we managed to see the plant from within. Moreover we got a really impressive excursion – thanks to BRP-Powertrain hospitable guide, Helmut Voglsam from Sales & Marketing department.

The first thing which caught our eye is how clean and professional everything is. The personnel works in excellent conditions. The staff board of the factory consists of over 1000 people. A big part of them services the assembly line and numerous machines. Those workers are specially trained: they go through the company’s workshops and courses to make sure that they fully understand the specific of particular manufacturing process.

A world leader in its field, BRP-Powertrain has developed over 350 engine types and has produced more than 7 million engines over the last century. The company makes continuous investments in product and process innovation. Every day the factory manufactures up to 1600 engines, among them are both 4-stroke and advanced 2-stroke ones.

Rotax is a part of BRP-Powertrain trio. This includes such trademarks as Johnson, Evinrude and Rotax itself. The factory in Gunskirchen manufactures the engines for BRP’s powersports vehicles under the brand name Rotax. It uses Kanban logistic system, a concept related to lean and just-in-time (JIT) production. This system has a scheduling principle that tells you what, when and how much to manufacture. And the modelling line of the factory is huge indeed – it includes engines for snowmobiles, quads, roadster, side-by-side vehicles, sport boats, motorcycles, aircraft and, of course, karts.

The company purchases many of its manufacturing components, but the small amount is being produced in house. Such are, for example, crankshafts. Big numbers of these items are manufactured in the modern and highly equipped department of the plant.

Each finished engine is tested in the special room. It goes through a multi-levelled control system – to make sure that the buyer will get the best product possible. Then parameters of every engine are saved in the database, so the company can track each product after it was sold and make the appropriate maintenance if needed.

But, of course, the most interesting for us is Rotax kart engines’ manufacturing. And so on our excursion we concentrated on this particular branch of BRP-Powertrain activity.

The history of Rotax kart engines started back in the 1980’s. The company initiated an alternative racing series, which were meant to bring masses of potential new drivers aboard. The Rotax MAX Challenge (RMC) began in 1999 for ambitious leisure kart drivers. Traditionally karting is considered to be a kids sport, an all time “first step to Formula-1”. According to the words of Rotax representatives, new series brought a completely different approach. The race was orientated on older drivers – people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, those, who want “easy to use and fun to drive” cars. Such focus group is very important for the future of the whole industry as these people continue their career in karting and don’t intend to move into another kind of motorsport. In other words, Rotax MAX Challenge had to considerably multiply the number of karting scene’s performers. This goal was achieved quick and successfully.

By the year of 2000 the company went to producing 3000 karting engines annually. In 2010, with more and more interest to Rotax series, this number increased to 6 000 items per year.

Philosophy of BRP-Powertrain in karting is not to create the fastest engines, but those with stably perfect performance. Therefore the drivers can be sure that they all get equal chances and the result of the race is depending purely on their own mastery. According to the BRP-Powertrain official statements, these engines are characterised as safe and long-lasting. BRP-Powertrain formulated its own philosophy as: “Grow kart sport by providing products and services which are fulfilling the needs of the market best”.

The current goal of the company is to involve in Rotax series and unite as many countries as possible. The response is very big indeed. Every year the Grand Finals bring together racers from all over Europe, both South and North America, Asia and Middle East. To fulfill the demand of the markets the company supports its representatives all over the world. The distribution network covers more than 50 countries on five continents.

The visit to Gunskirchen once more underlined for us the importance of “Rotax MAX Challenge“. Of course, speaking of these series we have to credit the other manufacturer as well – German “Reifenwerk Heidenau GmbH & Co. KG”. The factory supplies all Rotax karts with “Mojo” tyres – exclusively designed and developed by BRP-Powertrain for “Rotax MAX Challenge“. To get the full picture of the manufacturing process behind the series we travelled the next day to German Heidenau. The story of this visit you can find in the following issue of “Karting Magazine”.

Julia Petrova
Photos by BRP-Powertrain