Manufacturers of automotive parts wanting to survive in a strongly competitive market, should avoid getting caught in the price trap. Asian high-volume manufacturers often underprice, only with the purpose of staying in business. That makes it difficult for companies working on Northern European conditions and labour agreements. In that case it is better to score points on unique engineering, says Christian Lübke, owner and CEO of NAP Sportauspuff Manufaktur GmbH, a German manufacturer of exhaust systems. For many years, Mr Lübke, a qualified engineer, travelled around the world for the big car makers to open new markets. He has thorough knowledge not only of the fundamental economic rules of the business but also of the automotive technology. „Christian has petrol in his blood - cars are and will remain his keen interest“, says his wife Simone, who also works in the family business.
Three years ago, Mr Lübke purchased NAP Sportauspuff Manufaktur including its twenty employees. In many parts of the company, Mr Lübke and his wife restructured – with the overall aim of adapting the production for future requirements and making NAP and the exclusive CL-brand an international brand, representing ”superior quality made in Germany” and a quite special „exhaust experience“. Each day, exhaust systems for a variety of models and custom-designed single-unit products – all carrying EU type approval – leave the factory in Bad Bentheim close to the Dutch border. Meanwhile, the annual production has increased to 3,000 exhaust systems. Christian Lübke soon realised that in this large-scale restructuring and development of production and brand, welding technology would play a major part.
In addition to the special NAP sound, customers also buy the amazing optics, which naturally aesthetic welds are decisive for. Even car dealers being used to perfect original equipment quality, long for total accuracy. Time delays in mounting owing to lack of dimensional accuracy would cost them the total profit. That is why Mr Lübke has chosen Migatronic MIG/MAG and TIG welding machines offering excellent arc quality and a variety of intelligent functions. One of the features of the Sigma Galaxy MIG/MAG welding machine is IACTM (Intelligent Arc Control), a low heat input function which ensures spatter-free welding.
Requirements for exhaust systems also increase because tuning of sports cars and refurbishment of vintage cars are more and more frequently entrusted to professionals. „DIY mechanics are in decline, while the number of professionals in the field of tuning and vintage cars is growing rapidly”, Mrs and Mr Lübke explain. Owing to the low rate of interest, many business people prefer to invest their assets in veteran cars rather than in securities.
The high expectations of end users as well as dealers have lead to several actions in the field of quality management, also among the new staff in NAP. Chrome-plated steel is no longer being used, only V2A stainless steel. Accurate work and reproduceable quality are the keywords. That is why Mr Lübke prefers the programmable Migatronic Sigma Galaxy welding machines. „We save the programs relevant to us, and all employees use the same welding parameters and come to the same results. This is important in order for us to stay competitive.“
Perfect weld quality is vital to luxury products such as exhaust systems for sports cars, not only for optical reasons but also for technical reasons: penetration into the welded material has to be perfect in order to be able to uncompromisingly match the quick-accelerating hard-suspension sports cars. Exhaust systems for 500-900 hp heavy cars require skillful handling of the exhaust gases which have to be transported away from the motor very fast. In terms welding technique it means that the pipes must be filled with an argon-hydrogen-mixture in order to achieve quite smooth welds. This makes sure that no adverse turbulence occurs in the exhaust gas later on in the process. Another advantage is the 1 to 2 per cent improved performance because accumulation of exhaust gas is avoided.
Mr Lübke co-operates with MeierSchultz in Bocholt, a Migatronic dealer and supplier of welding equipment. The MeierSchultz welding experts are always ready to advise on optimization of welding processes as well as choice of welding torches, filler materials, shielding gases and accessories, such as contact tips, which is an important component when it comes to welding in hard-to-access places. NAP and MeierSchultz are presently developing a method to mount type plates on silencers, using the Migatronic TIG-A-Tack technology. This function, incorporated in the Pi TIG welding machines, is a particularly gentle tack welding process using a minimum of heat input and causing a minimum of discolouration.
„The pure price of the welding machine is secondary to me. What I buy is the value of this tool. The welding process makes up a big share of our production costs. The Migatronic IGC© function (Intelligent Gas Control) for example allows us to save a lot of money because it optimises gas flow throughout the welding process and prevents unnecessary gas consumption, for example at the ignition. The time saved owing to programming options is also important. Our welders can set the optimal welding cycle, without having to set parameters again. The result is reproduceable welds which we do not have to manually rework. That saves a cycle of operations – plus valuable time“, Mr Lübke sums up the added value provided by the Migatronic and MeierSchultz experts.
NAP attaches great importance to details such as packing and type plate which are the driver’s or car dealer’s first optical impression of a newly acquired exhaust. The acoustic stimulus does not come until the exhaust has been mounted. Then the magic begins to work, which is what Mr Lübke, his team and suppliers such as Migatronic and MeierSchultz do their utmost to provide every day: the characteristic NAP sound getting its worthy resonance chamber in the perfectly welded stainless steel design