The intake manifold is my favourite product from MANN+HUMMEL. My background is in engine development and I am fascinated by anything to do with torque, output, and fuel consumption, so for me, the intake manifold is simply the logical choice as the most interesting product we offer. At the end of the 1980s, I wrote my thesis on tuning a 125cc racing bike, which meant that I spent some time in the world of motorsport. The experience was fascinating, but also hard work. I travelled around the race tracks working as a mechanic and supervisor for two-stroke 80cc and 125cc motorbikes. The team didn’t have a particularly large budget, but this made our motivation and passion even greater.
Later, I was lucky enough to be able to transfer my passion for my hobby to my professional life. I recently travelled to Japan for MANN+HUMMEL. On the flight back, I watched ‘Rush’, the film which details the rivalry between Niki Lauda and James Hunt in the 1976 Formula 1 season – and I realised that I am just as fascinated by engines, speed, and output as I was on my very first day.
Reducing engine fuel consumption
At MANN+HUMMEL, I am a product champion for intake manifolds and also work as a global development manager for these products. This includes responsibility for achieving results and setting the strategic direction. At the moment, we are concentrating on topics such as downsizing (changing from naturally aspirated to turbo engines), the integrated charge air cooler, charge movement, and switchover valves – all measures designed to reduce engine fuel consumption. We are also optimising our manufacturing processes so that we can produce our products efficiently and using as little material as possible.
If a product was invented more than 130 years ago, as is the case with the intake manifold, it is naturally more difficult to innovate. We look at the customer’s needs and consider how we can offer them added value, for example in CO2 consumption. In a recent study, we demonstrated that CO2 emissions can be reduced by up to one gram/kilometre using relatively inexpensive technology such as active intake manifolds. We are currently discussing these findings with our customers. If further developments are to be successfully launched on the market, they must be tailored to the needs of the customer. This is precisely my task as a product champion. After all, we want our technology to generate added value for the customer at an efficient cost and be successful.
This is why we are also currently updating our product strategy for the next decade. Thanks to close contact with our customers, we know that developments in intake manifolds are increasingly shifting towards modular concepts. It is becoming increasingly important to integrate auxiliary functions such as integrated charge air coolers, charge movement valves, and exhaust gas recirculation systems.
We believe that the number of models will decrease in the engine market of the future. However, there will be several different variants of a model that can then be applied globally. For example, we are using our worldwide network to develop intake manifolds for a Japanese customer that we will then manufacture in Asia and with NAFTA; this will be coordinated and checked by our centre of competence in Ludwigsburg. This partnership requires a great deal of effort. In the morning I read emails from colleagues in Asia, then there’s plenty to arrange in Ludwigsburg itself during the day, and in the evening it’s the turn of our colleagues in the Americas. It’s really tiring, but all the hard work pays off in the end, and you can achieve an awful lot.
Luckily, I have an efficient team behind me. There are about 40 developers around the world, and we work well together. Exchange programmes and regular coordination keep us in close contact and help us to really identify with our product. As a small gesture, a few months ago I gave every single person a softshell jacket with their name, our team name, and our values printed on them. This helped to create a real bond for our team and brought us closer together.
Just recently, a Chinese colleague contacted me by email to send his regards for the Chinese New Year and to thank me for the great and successful team work. Naturally, this sort of feedback makes me very proud.
Heinz Bühl, Vice President of Intake Manifold Systems, has been with MANN+HUMMEL since 2001. As a product champion, he has technical and commercial responsibility for the intake manifold product segment worldwide.