Revolutionizing High-Performance Valve Engineering
With its proud entrepreneurial spirit, this global player thinks regionally and acts globally. Headquartered in Marktheidenfeld, Germany, tier 1 automotive supplier Hilite International is particularly well-respected for the electromechanical valves it fabricates for all major American original automotive equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler, as well as the European leaders such as Porsche, Ferrari, Volkswagen, Audi, and Volvo – to name but a few.
Hilite International’s valves primarily control hydraulic fluid movement within internal combustion engines (ICEs) and transmission systems. The product improves fuel efficiency and reduces air emissions. The valves also combine to create more horsepower with a combination of fluid and motion science, or fluid dynamics. The company’s team of visionary engineers offers a full-service solution with a global understanding of their customers’ needs.
“We’re here to serve our clients with tailored product technologies. We meet their challenges by adapting our technologies to new demands in the field,” says Tom Buckingham, Vice President of Operations. Tom joined the company a little over six years ago, and he oversees operations in North America and also plays an international role that sees to the standardization and development of systems based on the latest feedback from customers and engineering teams.
Hilite International’s electromechanical valves are used in a host of vehicles, ranging from cars, pickup trucks and commercial semis to high-performance super-cars. The company has become a trusted manufacturer of engine and transmission components thanks to its internationally famed engineering and manufacturing capabilities. Since its inception in 1999, Hilite has grown through international acquisition and continues the trend to this day.
The company is gingerly spread across the globe with its German portfolio including an engineering and development facility in Nürtingen and manufacturing plant in Seckach. Its footprint in the United States consists of its national sales and research & development center in Orion, Michigan; a production site in Whitehall, Michigan; and two sites in Carrollton and Dallas, Texas. Its Chinese headquarters are based in Shanghai, with a production facility in Changshu, Jiangsu and a second that is currently being built. The facility will be ready for production to start by the end of 2018. With its overall strong focus on product design and development, each region is entirely self-sufficient and equipped with full capabilities for product validation, where consistent product performance is tested throughout batch production; simulation, which mimics system processes with the goal of improvement; and prototyping, where early test versions of products are created, tested and improved upon where necessary.
One of the greatest results of Hilite’s international collaboration network is its global market share in variable valve timing systems (VVT). Used across a great spectrum of vehicles to improve engine performance, this next-generation power fix for ICEs took the market by storm. To achieve this modern performance miracle, VVTs, in essence, optimize engines’ breathing capacity. With the rotation of the camshaft, varied hydraulic fluid pressure varies the intake and exhaust valves’ timing across the rev range, controlling the in- and outflow of gas into and out of the combustion chamber. This offers a lot more control over horsepower, fuel consumption, and emissions. For example, if a small amount of burned gas is left behind in the combustion chamber, less clean air floods back into it, momentarily decreasing the engine displacement – or size – which in turn improves the engine’s horsepower. In contrast, fuel consumption is improved by increasing the engine displacement and allowing more clean air to flood the combustion chamber.
In contrast, older engines had one exhaust and one intake valve per cylinder which did not allow for any variance and made these vehicles very heavy on fuel and lacking in horsepower – not a good situation when the Arab Embargo caused a fuel shortage back in ’73. Since then, most modern high-performance engines have evolved to have two of the same valves per cylinder. One can see what a massive performance improvement VVT technology brings to modern engine design when one considers the lowered fuel consumptions and emissions – with the added benefit of the classic roar of a powerful engine, of course.
VVT is not Hilite International’s only technology offering, either. While these systems offer top-class companies the opportunity to add further prestige to their value proposition through the phenomenal increased horsepower that the basic technology presents, the company has a host of different VVT technologies available. These allow customers increasingly greater control in terms of the exact engine performance they’re trying to achieve. Hilite’s cam-port recirculation system with mid-lock phaser capability is one example of how its top-notch design is changing the face of traditional fuel and emissions control during cold starts and idling, for instance.
Hilite International’s other particularly well-known line is its proportional transmission valves that are used in both double-clutch and automatic transmission systems. With the advent of 6, 8 and 10-speed automatic transmissions, manufacturers are increasingly searching for improved power bands and engine efficiency. To make this happen, Hilite International manufactures proportional pressure valves that offer smooth shift and quick reaction to match transmission and engine performance.
With so much of Hilite’s innovation being carried out across the globe, communication is imperative to keep everyone on the same page. A dedicated head of global research and development sees to it that sufficient platforms are created where these strategies can be discussed and synergized. A number of conferences and workshops are also held every year where colleagues have the opportunity to share their ideas and designs with each other. This is also where the teams collaborate and find ways to share their resources to help produce the most effective results.
Hilite International works hard to bring the future to its customers. Through its vertically integrated production, it is always looking to expand its capacity for self-sufficiency within its wide range of world-class manufacturing processes. So far, this includes machining its own components as well as manufacturing its own coils in-house.
Being in the automotive industry, there are a number of regulations that the group adheres to. One such set of standards that concern original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Implemented after the 1973 oil crisis, these standards enforce a reduction in engines’ fuel consumption to help the nation save as much fuel as possible. The second very important standard, amongst a few others, is the Environmental Protection Agency’s NOx standards that police the level of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions released into the atmosphere through ICE emissions. Thanks to its thorough understanding of meeting these standards, the team is well-versed in supporting its customers in meeting the standards imposed on their engines. In fact, the company has an advanced engineering focus on improving technology to continually help its customers in meeting ever-changing standards, internationally. Part of this undertaking is its own compliance with the International Standards Organization’s rules as applied in the ISO/TS6949 certification, which is an automotive production standard required by all Hilite International’s clients, as well as ISO 14001, a specialized environmental standards certification.
The company’s vision extends beyond technologies and designs, and Hilite International brings as much integrity to the table for its teams as it does for its customers. “Accountability is a really big deal for us as we are focused on meeting and even exceeding our customers’ needs. Our entrepreneurial attitude embraces continuous improvement in everything we do,” says Buckingham. To achieve this goal, each department accepts responsibility for its own growth and performance. Each unit has a business supervisor and support groups provide guidance and direction when the going gets tough, but at the end of the day, each department is self-motivated. With over 1600 employees worldwide, everyone from the engineering to the quality teams, HR and the maintenance and materials groups are engaged in this structure.
Each region has the capabilities and authority to serve its market according to local needs, and this model means that personal relationships are what set this proud manufacturer apart. “We don’t need to go outside of our region to design anything or to make most decisions,” says Buckingham. In this way, clients benefit tremendously from tailored personal service with access to international research and resources.
For Tom Buckingham, great companies are about great culture – which is only possible to cultivate with great people. To support this, the company encourages strong community values amongst its team members and beyond. It does a lot of work to help improve the circumstances of others, as well as to bolster education. The company also offers a number of scholarships for students through local high schools as well as charity fundraisers. Its people make donations in their personal capacities to hospice care, animal welfare, and many more causes, while its in-house training facility, Hilite University, trains and prepares its workforce to be the best that it can be.
Despite its international presence, or perhaps more accurately because of it, the company is strongly engaged in connecting with its sister outfits abroad and in staying in sync with each other. People are given the liberty of independent thought as well as the training they need to excel. As those familiar with Six Sigma know, Genchi Gembutsu means ‘go see for yourself’ and this team consistently invests in learning from each other. Problem-solving is studied closely with measurable progress markers and in this way, the close-knit team evolves and matures through a fusion of transferable and practical skills. Its high number of cross-functional teams’ approach to problem-solving has led the company to some groundbreaking solutions in its time. Combined with its integrity and customer service, this has afforded Hilite International a number of customer awards for its excellent supplier and manufacturing services.
Hilite International’s goals are fixed on expansion in all directions. Not only does it want to significantly increase its national and global presence, but it also wants to broaden its technological horizons to operate in systems beyond that of the automotive industry – in both industrial and commercial applications and, perhaps, beyond. With much recent talk on the future of internal combustion engines, and with electric engines becoming an increasingly popular alternative, Buckingham believes that ICEs will still have a strong market share for the foreseeable future. “My prediction is that ICEs will have a good future over the next decade or two,” he says confidently. Hilite International is set to continue enhancing internal combustion engines with its hard-to-beat innovation and customer care.