Two things this week. The primary news is that we are tooling up for a new line of Banks products for Jeeps. The secondary subject is the process of tooling up, otherwise known as prototyping.
We’ve been noticing a few questions and answers on web site chat rooms talking about whether Banks is going to make products for Jeeps. The answer is yes, we are. We are going to make TorqueTube exhaust manifolds; cat-back, all-stainless, mandrel-bent exhaust systems including a straight-through stainless Dynaflow muffler; and high-flow air intake systems. Our first target is for ’91-’03 Wranglers with the 4.0L straight six engine. As of today, we have a ’99 and 2001 model in our shop, to which we are fitting prototype TorqueTubes. We have the basic design determined. The question, and it’s not a really big one, is exactly how the outlet will be configured.
See, the big problem with prototyping is that Detroit (or Toledo) keeps changing their mind. One year the catalytic converter is here, next year it’s there. One year it has one here, then it has two there. Worse, on several lines of vehicles, they might have cats in California and something else in other states. For most of the ’91-’03 run the Wrangler used a welded steel tube exhaust manifold that they kept changing because of a persistent cracking problem. Then, a couple of years ago, they switched to a cast iron exhaust manifold set-up to solve the problem. So how are you supposed to design, and sell, a new exhaust system to replace—or match up to—all these variables? That’s what our engineering department is faced with constantly. And we’re only talking mechanical intake/exhaust system here. Imagine what it’s like when we’re trying to interface with ever-changing, highly complicated electronic systems—which we are daily.
While prototyping a new product here at Banks our first goal, of course, is to improve performance and reliability, not to mention economy, over the stock parts. But, at the same time, we have to maintain the emissions legality of the vehicle, we have to design the best fit and finish of the part, and we have to design a part with the best value for the customer. A big part of the value is designing a part that will fit the most applications, rather than having to build, and stock, several different part numbers. That’s the niggling point we’re at on the Jeep TorqueTube. We might be able to make one part, with different “down tubes” (connector tubes) to the stock catalytic converters, or we might have to make two slightly different manifolds to cover the ’91-’03 Wrangler line. They might have it decided by the end of the day or sometime next week.
But that’s the news—Jeep products are coming. After TorqueTubes for the Wrangler, intake and exhaust systems will follow quickly. Then we’ll do the same for Cherokees and Grand Cherokees. And there are even plans for product for the new Liberty, 4-cylinder and V6.
Actually, the prototyping for these new Jeep products has been relatively easy, compared to some, primarily because it doesn’t involve electronics and there have only been a few running changes in the year models we’re addressing (which is more than a decade). Another new product, that I had been planning to announce here for the past two or three weeks, has been significantly more complicated. It is electronic. We already have it in production for Ford Power Stroke and GM Duramax applications. But for the Dodge (and again we’re talking nearly a decade) we keep finding variations year-to-year. One big problem in prototyping is that you actually have to test, or fit, the part on every year and model of the vehicle you claim it applies to, unless you can be assured by the manufacturer that there have been no changes from one year to the next. These days we’re lucky if there haven’t been two or three running changes in one model year, not to mention regional differences. And imagine what it’s like prototyping new products for motor homes, where several different companies are using the same engine/chassis in slightly different configurations, and even the same make and model comes in a variety of different lengths.
I’m glad I don’t work in the engineering department. Tune in next week to see if I have news of another neat new Banks product. I think I will.