When asked about what innovations in the past five decades that have been key to the industry’s growth and success, there was a trend in favor of an all-encompassing answer – technology. While technology is the umbrella answer, there are numerous aspects of technology and its advancements that have made the industry what it is today.
“The internal combustion engine is a marvel of engineering, with manufacturing tolerances becoming tighter every year,” says Bob Davis, global communications manager at Sunnen. “The engine rebuilding industry has had to continually improve the precision and efficiency of the rebuilding equipment to keep pace. Innovations such as computer controls, touch-screen displays, ball screw technology and automated systems have allowed engines to be rebuilt to the ever-more-stringent factory specs.”
Scott Stolberg, president and CEO of A&A Midwest, which owns Engine Quest, echoes those remarks that the industry has survived due to its ability to adapt to changes in technology. “Over the years, there have been challenges that experts thought would be the end of the industry and we simply figured it out,” Stolberg says. “For example, fuel injection was predicted to kill the industry. It caused short-term pain, but that is now behind us. People wonder what hybrids will do to our industry. I predict we will find a way to capitalize on these drive trains also.”
Matthew Meyer, general manager at RMC, points to advancements in CNC machines, cutting tools and other reverse engineering equipment as innovations that have helped us get where we are today. “Computers are present in most shops and are used in conjunction with most of the new equipment today,” he says. “We also believe that the Internet has helped many businesses in marketing and advertising products and services, and allows the consumer to be able to shop around for competitive pricing on parts, services and other products. In the same manner it has probably hurt just as many companies that couldn’t keep up with advancing technology.”
The Internet has changed the world, and the aftermarket engine rebuilding industry is no exception, even if it was slower than other industries to adopt it.
“The Internet has been a significant change for us as it made finding obscure vintage automotive parts easier than before,” says Ernie Silver, president and CEO of Egge Machine. “Up until the advent of the Internet, the restoration industry was dependent on swap meets and local sources of parts. The Internet made it possible for vehicle restorers to find parts anywhere in the world. The speed at which information is now available opened up whole new markets, and is amazingly helpful to sustaining business.”
More specific to automobile engines themselves, Sarah Kollar, marketing manager for Hastings Manufacturing, says varied materials for piston rings have helped grow the industry.
“Ring coatings and surface treatments beyond phosphate, chrome and plasma sprayed have also greatly improved,” she says. “Now, the industry offers additional options such as nitriding, diamond-like coatings and ceramic chrome. These improvements are important with the changes in the industry, demanding longer engine life, higher oil economy, lower blow-by, longer life oil formulations and so much more.”
Rick Simko, director, sales and marketing for Elgin Industries, also mentioned piston technology improvements as important innovations.
“Martin Skok’s early innovation in piston pin hardening is an excellent example of the important contributions of the engine rebuilding aftermarket,” Simko says. “Each new generation of component manufacturers and rebuilders has advanced the science of engine performance through critical enhancements in metallurgy, component design and machining capabilities.”
And of course, let’s not forget significant innovations outside the engine, such as oil. “The AMSOIL contribution of introducing synthetic oil technology to the industry made today’s sophisticated engines possible with tighter tolerances and potency,” says Ed Newman of AMSOIL Inc.