About a 30-minute drive southwest of Chicago and surrounded by residential housing, a large 2-story white and otherwise non-descript office building sits a ways off the main road. With the large tractor out front on display, the building is likely known by the locals as the Case IH offices. Yet, behind large heavy doors monitored by security and unseen by many employees are four Fiat Powertrain Technologies diesel engine testing labs. These labs contain the engines which could power your next truck, boat or commercial truck and their development is closely guarded.
What is Fiat Powertrain Technologies?
Fiat Powertrain Technologies is a relatively new company formed in 2005 when an alliance between General Motors and Fiat dissolved. The new company merged all the engine, transmission and axle knowledge from IVECO, Case IH and New Holland under one umbrella and claims 150 years of innovation experience through this merger. Among their accomplishments the company claims to be the first to use turbochargers on diesel engines all the way back in 1938 as well as several new technologies including Multijet – common rail direct injection turbodiesel engine range used in the U.S. on EcoDiesel engines for Ram and Jeep products.
It is a part of CNH Industrial and is basically the powertrain division focusing on on-road, off-road, marine and power generation applications. Essentially, FPT develops small engines used in boats to larger engines for commercial trucks and all the way to massive diesel engines used in construction equipment.
And yes, Sergio Marchionne oversees FPT operations as chairman of CNH Industrial.
Behind The Closed Doors
FPT uses 100 testing cells throughout the world with the large share of them in Turin, Italy. Here in the U.S., the Burr Ridge, Illinois facility contains six testing cells and runs non-stop. Since all the work is on future engine development, no pictures are allowed of the labs themselves. Not even with company executives as our tour guide Ken Waage, a long-time FPT employee and currently the Facilities and Endurance Testing Manager, informed us.
During our tour, they were testing large and small diesel engines along with one boat motor. This testing work is done around the clock and data is shared with the other labs.
These testing cells are setup with 2 labs on each side and a control station in the middle. They look precisely as one would imagine with large windows surrounding approximately 10×15” rooms with a single entry door. Inside the engines run on a stand with exhaust pipes running outside the room.
The exhaust pipes funnel the fumes into ductwork shared by the room and analyzed by a computer. Waage tells us at the flick of a switch really, he can change the computer’s algorithm to analyze the exhaust fumes for either the EPA or European emissions standards. These standards aren’t that much different.
“EPA and Euro standards aren’t much different for me,” Waage said. “It is all the same thing, just regional differences. For example, the EPA may say a range like 5-95 percent is fine while the Euro standard may say 10-90 percent.”
Inside this controlled environment, the lab tests all sorts of variables unique to North America including the air quality which can often be an issue.
“The air coming out of our engine is often better than the air going out,” Waage says. “This can actually mess up our equipment when we have forklifts driving around. They pollute the air and our machines pick it up.”
Another factor is the diesel-fuel blend used in the North America. Outside of the lab are big tanks filled with diesel fuel and one tank is labeled winter blend to indicate the different mixture. This fuel is one of the big reasons the lab exists according to Waage. It is very price prohibitive to ship diesel fuel across the ocean.
Old Case IH Proving Grounds
Opened in 1959 on a 440-acre farm, in what was then known as Hinsdale, Illinois until 1962, with much fanfare including a quarter-mile of flags and a steady flow of more than 8,550 visitors over four days including a helicopter touching down on the property, the Case IH proving grounds took over the 40-year-old site of an IH experimental farm. At the time, Harvester claimed this was the world’s largest farm equipment research and engineering center. It contained all the IH farm tractor and farm implement engineering.
It marked a large investment from Harvester which spent $14 million on all research in 1949. In 1950, Harvester spent $15 million on farm equipment engineering alone according to an August, 1959 Harvester World magazine which detailed the grand opening of the facility.
At the time, the center’s 1,360 employees ran tractors on treadmills to simulate years of wear and tear as well as tested them in hot rooms capable of reaching up to 130 degrees F and cold rooms dropping to 50 degrees below zero F. The hot and cold rooms still exist today.
There was and still is an outdoor testing track as well as a shaker lab. This shaker lab sees tractors shook violently for hours on end with the wheels mounted to different plates. Waage tells us they literally try to break the tractors and it isn’t strange to see the glass windows fall out and shatter.
Throughout the years, the facility has changed hands through company consolidations and acquisitions. In 1985, Case bought selected assets of International Harvester to create Case IH. Then, New Holland Ag merged with Case IH in 1999 to create CNH Global. Fiat Industrial is the majority owner of CNH Industrial.
These days, Fiat Powertrain Technologies shares part of the facility with Case IH and they are treated as separate wings inside the building. While each laboratory operates independently of each other inside the facility, the FPT engines do find their way into new tractors and off-road heavy equipment used in North America. For consumer and commercial vehicles, FPT U.S. lab doesn’t directly test new engines for this market; yet new powertrain developments do make their way into U.S. diesel engines like in the case of the EcoDiesel engine. In fact, the next big diesel engine development could be undergoing testing right now in this lab just outside of Chicago, Illinois. However, like the secretive lab itself, you may never know it.