Follow The Republic:
The Cummins light-duty diesel engine project had sputtered so much in recent years that company leaders considered scrapping it altogether, despite an investment of $220 million.
Initially conceived for the smallest of the Ram trucks, the project was put on hold when Ram’s parent, Chrysler, filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Afterward, the company searched for a new anchor partner that could make the project viable. But with each passing year, the likelihood of the engine ever rolling off the Columbus Engine Plant production line in significant numbers diminished.
But the engine’s development team, especially lead engineer Jim Katzenmeyer, pressed on.
By improving the engine’s power and fuel consumption, they made it attractive for a new customer, Nissan Motor Co. The Japanese-based company will use the engine, a 5-liter V8, in its next-generation Titan pickup truck.
With that commitment, Cummins said it will hire up to 500 new employees over the next few years as production ramps up.
Katzenmeyer learned lessons about innovation and perseverance at an early age. He grew up on a Minnesota farm among seven siblings, corn, cattle and cows. He drove tractors as early as age 6, and fixing machinery on his parents’ property required unconventional solutions and determination.
The youngest of eight, Katzenmeyer developed an interest in engineering through the many tasks that fell upon the children from an early age. From picking rocks out of the fields to hauling hay and feeding the animals, the children had plenty to do, he said.
He and his siblings also were exposed to the farming equipment early on. As the family lived quite a distance from the nearest town, fixing the equipment required a lot of “seat-of-your-pants engineering,” Katzenmeyer said.
You have to figure out how to fix the equipment with the tools and materials that you have on the farm, he said, which means you have to know how things work and how you can repurpose materials for something other their intended use.
“It gives you a good foundation,” Katzenmeyer said.
His interest in farming and engineering led him to study agricultural engineering at North Dakota State University. After he graduated, farmers were struggling, so he expanded his job search to companies including Cummins, where he knew some fellow North Dakota State grads. He took a job with Cummins, moved to Columbus and has lived there since.
Early in his career, Katzenmeyer said, he learned a lot about the company’s products, from the Ram truck engine to big mining trucks, and about how customers use the engines. He later worked in engine development at the Columbus Technical Center and as engineering leader for heavy-duty engines. In late 2006, as the company had completed its launch of the 2007 heavy-duty engine, he “jumped at the chance” to get involved with the light-duty project.
Katzenmeyer said the LDD engine is a potential game-changer for Cummins, because it would allow the company to capture a market in which it did not have any products.
The engine also required lots of cutting-edge technology, which, Katzenmeyer said, stirred an interest in the engineer in him.
Katzenmeyer said he also loved the idea of being able to work on a product that — unlike the engines for long-haul trucks — he could drive himself.
The excitement about the LDD reached a peak in 2006, when the company announced at Columbus Engine Plant that it would make the engine for the 1500 version of the Ram truck. But the excitement turned into doubt with Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy.
“It was a tough period,” Katzenmeyer said.
Cummins CEO Tom Linebarger said at Tuesday’s relaunch that he thought many times about killing the project. But people including Katzenmeyer kept telling him to not give up, pledging that they would figure out how to modify the product to make it attractive to a new customer.
Without the dedication of those employees, Linebarger said, Tuesday’s relaunch would not have happened.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” he said, and had to take a few seconds to choke back some emotion.
Katzenmeyer said Tuesday’s event meant a lot for the LDD team. About 30 of them have been with the program from the beginning.
“They were pumped up,” he said.
Katzenmeyer said the dedication of his team erased any doubts he had about the project and prompted him to keep fighting for it.
He said he also took a page out of Cummins’ playbook: You do what you said you were going to do. He had made a commitment to the engine, and he was going to make sure it would be built.
“The team has been very resilient,” he said.
The resilience paid off about a year ago, when the first Cummins-powered Titan prototypes were trucked to Columbus Engine Plant, which resulted in lots of engineers immediately running down to take a look, Katzenmeyer said.
“It’s a really gratifying experience,” he said.
Katzenmeyer said he has driven some initial versions of the Cummins-powered Titan and said he noticed especially how quiet it is — and how much torque and horsepower it provides across a good range.
“Clearly it’s got very good performance,” he said.
The LDD production line, which stretches nearly the length of a football field, a few feet behind the big Cummins “C,” sat idle on Friday evening. But with Linebarger’s pledge that the first of the engines will power commercial vehicles in the fourth quarter of 2014, the line will not be idle for long.
“I’m really anxious to see the first ones of these rolling off the line,” Katzenmeyer said.
Think your friends should see this? Share it with them!
Note: All comments left on our sites are first reviewed by an automated comment moderation system. Your comment may take up to 5 minutes to appear. If for any reason your comment can not be approved you will receive an email from this system with a detailed explanation.
All content copyright ©2013 The Republic, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.