Josef Schmitz and Hermann Baumann can look back on 30 years of experience in development. From the introduction of IT as a development tool through to the era of ever-stricter emissions limits, the two MTU design engineers have constantly had to overcome new challenges.
In 1986, when Josef Schmitz started at MTU, he worked in the same open-plan office as Hermann Baumann, who had joined the company two years before. In those days, design engineers worked at large drawing boards. "Those were the days of the white coats," remembered Schmitz. It was their job at the time to get the highest possible power out of an engine – fuel consumption and emissions had not yet become an issue. They drew with pencil and ink and wore white lab coats to distinguish themselves from shop-floor workers. "Although you very rarely ventured into the factory," Baumann recalls. Today, things are different. The design engineers consult their colleagues in Analytics, Value Assessment, Production, Purchasing and Assembly, and right from the earliest stage of conception. They closely track every phase in the development process. "That's what makes it so fascinating to work here – you can always see the complete picture and experience the evolution of a product at first hand," Baumann explained.
Computers replace drawing boards
At the end of the 1980s there were radical changes. Computer-aided design replaced the drawing board. Baumann and Schmitz had already worked with CAD programs as students, but many older-generation designers experienced great difficulty in making the transition to digital design. Some were not even prepared to try, as Schmitz remembers: "As time went on, the most complex jobs were gradually assigned to the CAD designers. So some highly regarded designers who couldn't or wouldn't work with the new CAD tools were increasingly pushed aside. They then tended to be given less important work that could be done at the drawing board, such as amending older drawings." According to Baumann, a good deal of knowledge and skill was lost as a result. Nevertheless, the vast majority of designers successfully mastered the change-over from drawing board to CAD system, albeit with a degree of initial skepticism in some cases.
And there was another aspect that created some annoyance at the time, as Schmitz related: "The computers were comparatively expensive and the company only bought a few of them. Whoever got in the office first in the morning often hogged the CAD workstation the whole day long while others whose work was just as urgent were left to wait in desperation for a free computer." To reduce friction between staff and increase equipment capacity utilization, early and late-shift worktime models were introduced. Today by contrast, it is taken for granted that every designer has his or her own computer workstation. In the early days, that would have been considered a luxury.
But working on computers did have some disadvantages: "One thing that became more difficult with CAD was developing a feel for dimensions, weights, sizes and stresses," Baumann remembers. On the drawing board, components were represented in their actual size, while on the computer screen they could be magnified or shrunk to any scale. "But a good designer still has to be able to mentally picture the full-scale component at all times," emphasized Baumann.
New information sources
In the past, the latest stage of development could always be seen on the drawing boards. Heads of department could quickly get a picture of how things were going just by walking round the office, and they could change the drawings directly. Everyone could see right away who was doing what, and so there was no great need for discussion or reporting.
Smoking and drinking in the office were accepted
Whether it was a pipe or cigarettes, smoking in the office was still quite normal until the early 1990s. It was eventually banned not just for health reasons, but also because the computers were damaged by the smoke. Once the norm, now unthinkable: three decades ago, beer-drinking in the office was nothing out of the ordinary. "When I first worked here, there was a custom known as the holiday drink. Whenever you went on holiday or came back from holiday you bought a round for your colleagues," recalled Schmitz. Baumann added: "You generally spent more time together in those days - the community feeling was stronger than today." This also has to do with the fact that daily routines have changed a lot.
More meetings, fewer shared breaks
As a result of flextime working and computer and project-based work patterns, the daily routine has changed considerably. "In the past, you came to work in the morning and started drawing. There wasn't much telephoning or talking. The design engineer sat in front of his drawing board all day long – interrupted only by coffee and lunch breaks," recounted Schmitz. Over the years, new development processes and methods significantly changed the working day. The actual process of designing is now only a part of a design engineer's job - the rest of the time is taken up with co-ordination meetings and project work. And that means that shared break times have become much less common.
From government contractor to global player
In the 1980s, the mission of the business was to develop highly compact engines with as much power output as possible. "Most of our clients were public sector organizations such as Deutsche Bahn or the German Navy. Fuel consumption and emissions were a secondary consideration in those days," said Schmitz. "And we had a lot of paid development. So pressure on costs was the exception rather than the rule."
Development and production costs and low fuel consumption have now become the definitive criteria for market success, and compliance with emissions limits is a base-line requirement. MTU has transformed itself into a global player - the engines manufactured at production plants in Friedrichshafen, Aiken and Suzhou are sold worldwide. In a period spanning 20 years, it launched its brand-new Series 4000, 2000, 8000 and 1600 units on the market, primarily for commercial use in a diversity of applications. In 1996, it introduced standard-production Series 4000 units with a common-rail fuel injection system, and was the very first manufacturer of large diesel engines to do so. The new technology enabled injection timing, volume, pressure and multi-phasing to be infinitely varied, opening up a much bigger perspective in engine design.
Engines developed simultaneously across all series
MTU now trades in highly diversified markets. "In the beginning, there was usually only one engine development project going on at a time. Today – driven partly of course by emissions legislation – we work on new engines for various applications in all series at the same time," said Schmitz.
Today's design engineers also work in a much more customer-oriented way. They have more direct contact with clients and know more about what these expect from a quality product. According to Schmitz, you can tell good design engineers from the way they identify with their products - it is their ambition to improve them continuously. For understandable reasons, deadline and budget constraints place certain limits on those ambitions. However, the enthusiasm of Schmitz and Baumann for their product remains unabated. "Diesel engine development is a discipline covering so many areas of technology. I can hardly imagine a more multi-faceted task than developing a diesel engine," said Schmitz. His vision for the future is of a drive system that integrates alternative power units. As a marine propulsion specialist, Baumann sees scope for future development in that area. "Sailing silently out of the harbor powered by an electric propulsion system is my vision. And it will happen - I’m convinced of it."