by Rob Mullner Chief Enthusiast
Photos by the Author
A crisp, cold morning greeted us at the Bilstein Technical Center adjacent to the Bilstein plant in Hamilton, Ohio. Once inside with a cup of coffee and the comradery of over 70 Porsche Club members assembled for the tour; the cold of the morning was quickly forgotten as questions about lowering, rebound rates and Walter Rorhl were batted around the room.
We were fortunate enough to get a chance to tour the Bilstein plant in conjunction with the local Porsche Club- Ohio Valley Region and the parking lots was full of interesting cars in spite of the cold weather.
Our group was welcomed by Fabian Schmahl, President of the Hamilton facility and Technology & Innovation Manager, Jason Engelman, who delivered a brief overview on the design, engineering and manufacturing operations and safety protocols in place in the plant we were about to tour. Attendees were divided into 4 groups and Jason was our tour leader. As we crossed from the technical center to the manufacturing plant we were greeted with a scene more like a pharmaceutical facility than an auto parts manufacturing plant.
The Bilstein plant was exceedingly clean, precisely organized and temperature controlled; Jason explained that the components in a Bilstein shock, particularly the oil, can expand or contract depending on the temperature during installation and that keeping the plant floor a constant temperature yields more consistent product.
Bilstein entered the US market in 1984 and the Hamilton plant opened in 1995 and produces OE shocks for manufacturers including Fiat Chrysler, Toyota, Nissan, Ford, Mercedes, Tesla and GM and has a “plant within a plant” for Aftermarket products.
Jason led us to the front end of the plant where monotube shock bodies are cut to the appropriate length from locally sourced steel tubes and the tube ends are hot formed to ensure a life -long seal for maximum service. After any cutting and welding steps are completed all shock tubes are washed to eliminate any contaminants before the shocks are painted and internal components installed.
We also saw the shock piston rod assembly coming together prior to be loaded into the shock bodies prior to the sealing process.
To speed design and improve engineering the product teams are based in the Bilstein plant and adjacent to their manufacturing lines to for open lines of communication that improves Bilstein products and processes.
In order to track finished Bilstein products in the field, each and every shock at the Hamilton plant receives a “born on” date printed on the shock body that corresponds to the exact batch and date the shock was completed for comprehensive traceability. All the parts used and staff responsible for its production are attached to the born on date and archived.
Finished product testing is integral to the high quality Bilstein strives for and 100% of its products are tested prior to packaging; and that’s after a 12 hour leak down quarantine to uncover any product defects.
For OE product, Bilstein packs shock absorbers in totes and ships them directly to the manufacturers assembly plants, Aftermarket products are shipped around the country on an as-ordered basis to distributors like JC Whitney. As we wrapped up the tour of the manufacturing plant we walked back over to the Technical Center and enjoyed a presentation from Iwan Loewen, Bilstein Channel Sales Manager who shared details on the working relationship that Bilstein has built with many OE’s and specifically Porsche. Iwan told us that every Porsche 911 produced since the models introduction in 1967 has been available with a Bilstein option.
We enjoyed the Bilstein tour, learning more about the company and its tremendous history as well as the opportunity to spend time with the Porsche Club and its members.
To see all of the Bilstein products available on JC Whitney please visit: http://www.jcwhitney.com/bilstein