In the early 1990s, Austrian company, BRPRotax, known as Bombardier Rotax at that time, stirred the karting community by producing a stunning, new 100cc ICA kart engine. Having caught the world by surprise, BRP-Rotax, an affiliate of the Canadian company BRP, continued the development of this engine before making a stunning return to the karting scene in 1999 with the launch of an absolutely new kart engine, the Rotax MAX FR125. More than just an engine the MAX was a completely new and innovative approach to karting destined for competition and recreational usage. Despite scepticism the MAX was an immediate worldwide success and the company sold 7,000 motors in just a few months. Different versions of the initial engine were produced, the Junior MAX, Minimax and the DD2 that was officially launched two years ago. Unlike most kart engines that are hand crafted, BRP-Rotax production is based in an enormous, state-of-the-art factory employing modern production methods usually used only by the major car manufacturers. The factory is located in the beautiful town of Gunskirchenen in Austria, a stone’s throw from the German border. The plant produces more than 2,400 engines each day, 2 and 4-stroke motors destined for snowmobiles, boats and watercraft, allterrain vehicles, motorcycles, karts and light aircraft. And 4-stroke kart engines? “Fourstroke technology will enter the kart sport without any doubts. The question is the timing and the readiness of the market. BRPRotax is known worldwide for its 4-stroke knowhow; once the time is right, we will make use of it” says Klemens Dolzer, Sales and Marketing manager of the Kart Business Division. When he created the company in 1937, Canadian Joseph-Armand Bombardier never expected his enterprise would become a major player on the international scene. Sixty-eight years later, BRP employs more than 6,200 people in America, Europe and Asia. With a motto that says “Innovation is not only a passion, it is also our tradition”, BRP has become a world leader in the development and fabrication of recreational motorised vehicles. In 1970 Bombardier’s decision to buy Rotax, itself founded in 1920, laid the foundation of a successful cooperation. For a better understanding of the company, BRP-Rotax offered us the unique chance to visit the Austrian production plant last September.
Several months of research and development go into the design of a totally new engine such as the MAX. “Some of our products require two or three years of development before they reach the assembly line,” said Klemens. In addition to the design office, the plant houses a design department employing 3D simulators and a department to verify finished parts are faithful to their moulds. A systematic approach is the key to success ensuring that all preliminary studies are performed and accurately documented before parts are actually produced inhouse or by suppliers. Engineers carefully follow each step of post-production and such efficient organisation allows Rotax to guarantee the MAX engine for 50 hours. “It is extremely important for us to offer our customers products that perform and are reliable,” said Manfred Weissgaerber, Marketing expert at the Kart Center.
Parts are delivered by truck to a logistics centre in Austria. Every week, some twenty transporters deliver parts to this centre where components are organised some two months before they will be used on the assembly line. 500 tons of material is sorted and packed every week. The quality control department later examine the parts before they are shipped to the assembly line. “It is a huge logistical challenge. All parts are identified with a bar code and are meticulously inspected before they are placed in their boxes and stored” say Schenker who run the 8,000sq/m centre. In total, 10,000 pallets are stored in 29 rows of five shelves each.
The eight assembly lines at BRP-Rotax are extremely flexible and each can produce any type of motor. Assembly is a critical stage and requires attention and precision. At each step technicians refer to a series of photos to double check their work. It takes 28 minutes are produced during a shift. “Apart from the rate of production, it is crucial to verify the quality of each part as well as the quality of the assembly because a faulty part or a faulty assembly can have catastrophic consequences when the engine is started,” said Manfred. At the end of the line a technician checks the air tightness of the engines and if a motor is just 0.2 Bar away from the reference value it is sent to the control department so engineers can trace the problem. Then, engines are numbered and packed into their boxes, ready to travel the world.
Quality control is crucial. This well-guarded department is responsible for verifying each step of engine production. Some parts can be tested in very rugged conditions, at temperatures as low as -40° Centigrade. Other tests are designed to verify resistance to intense friction or the use of various lubricants. Acoustic tests are also performed. A microscope with a 100,000x magnification allows the tiniest defect to be seen. “It is almost impossible to predict that there will never be a small problem,” the department says. “We have strict protocols to ensure that each component is perfect. Our objective is to help the engineers find problems and solve them. For example, to find why a certain part doesn’t work properly when it is exposed to very high or extremely low temperatures.”
“We burn 2,000 litres of fuel each day testing our different engines on the dynos,” Manfred indicated. There are six dynos of which four can be fitted with kart engines. Certain engines are taken from the assembly line to undergo a quality check. After revving for 15 hours on the test bench, the engine is sent back to quality control where its components will be carefully examined to verify their resistance to work under full load as well as the overall reliability. “That’s the reason why we were the first in the world to guarantee our engines for 50 hours,” Manfred pinpointed. Carburation, peak power, full load and reliability tests are performed.
The Kart Center is where all the final projects are coordinated, including testing of karts and preparation of material to be used in the World Finals. This is the front line. Darrell Smith is in charge of the department and BRP-Rotax’s test driver “We go to Portugal to test various settings of the carburettor and the exhaust. We also help the various kart manufacturers to fit our engines on their chassis.”
The MAX, Junior MAX, Minimax and DD2 produced at Gunskirchen are shipped to more than sixty countries with Europe and North America the two biggest markets. In the past five years, more than 35,000 kart engines have been produced by BRP-Rotax and according to Klemens “BRP-Rotax has a worldwide market share of about 60% in the 125cc category and about 30% overall in the 15-38 hp category.” So is there any more room for market expansion? “BRP-Rotax has already achieved a dominant share in the market segment of 125cc TAG (Touch and Go) engines. To increase again our market share will be difficult so we will concentrate our activities to grow the kart market.” says Helmut Voglsam, Kart Center Sales Expert.
BRP-Rotax is also… Rotax
is also the home of Ski-Doo and Lynx snowmobiles, Sea-Doo watercraft and sport boats. BRP-Rotax is also the choice of some prestigious manufacturers such as Aprilia and BMW. Rotax also produces aircraft engines and controls 75% of the market of microlight aeroplanes.
New chassis for the DD2 engine
Several manufacturers are generating a new breed of chassis to fit the revolutionary DD2 motor with companies such as CRG, Birel, Intrepid, PCR, Sodi Kart, Swiss Hutless, Kombi, PCR, Arrow and CMP now showing interest. And what of the difficulties in breaking the ‘new age’ market? Manfred says “In the beginning we faced the problem that everyone was sceptical this drive train concept would not work. Comments like ‘if the axle bends the crankcase will break and you have to buy a new engine’ or ‘the axle can flex more on the left than on the right hand side, where the axle penetrates the engine’. As the engine did not fit on any conventional chassis, no chassis manufacturer wanted to build a chassis not knowing if the engine was designed correctly or not. So Rotax decided to built its own kart with a DD2 engine, the RM1. With its extraordinary design and features it revolutionised the karting world. But of course the RM1 has its price. The 1500 RM1s sold within the last 21⁄2 years showed that there are plenty of customers waiting for some new ideas in the karting world.
This step created a lot of opposition from competitors as the RM1 entered their chassis business. So in April 2005 Rotax invited manufacturers to develop their own chassis for the DD2 engine offered to all customers via our network of distributors by end of February 2006.” The new DD2 will be on the market in only a couple of months and it will be different from the RM1 and FR125 MAX engines so what sort of market is it aimed at? “Actually the biggest difference will be the die-cast crankcase and there will be no electronic reverse anymore. Performance will be the same as the RM1. The target group is people who like shifting but not 6 speed, do not permanently want to look after chains and sprockets, want a clean kart with no grease all over the place, plus not taking the risk of losing a race because of a chain coming off the sprocket. To overcome political opposition from many ASNs not allowing new ROTAX classes like Junior MAX, Minimax and DD2 and DD4 (future 4 stroke class) will be the greatest challenge for BRP-Rotax in the next few years although the RMC is ‘CIK approved’ and ‘FIA authorised’.”