Jacobs Vehicle Systems uses collaboration, name recognition, and an expanding global footprint to spur growth
“Before joining Jacobs, all I ever knew about the Jake Brake was: sometimes you’re driving down a hill on the highway and you hear the engine noise of a big truck braking. But, as I’ve come to learn the business over the last six months, I am now comforted when I hear that sound while driving on the highway with my family. In addition, I have learned that Jacobs Vehicle Systems is much more than just an engine braking company. In addition to being the world leader in engine braking technology Jacobs is also deeply involved with emission improvement technologies” explains Dennis Gallagher, President of Jacobs Vehicle Systems who was excited to recently join the team at Jacobs and make the challenging move from industrial automation into the commercial vehicle industry.
Of course, with the worldwide recognition of the Jake Brake®—an engine retarder that provides safety for heavy-duty trucks while also reducing emissions and saving wear and tear on friction brakes—clearly there are plenty of others around the world who get that same sense of security when hearing one of the company’s engine retarding systems in action.
With over 57 years in the business, Jacobs Vehicle Systems has a great amount of domain knowledge and very strong IP portfolio which gives it a competitive edge. The company has found a successful combination of innovation, collaboration, and expansion that led it to a record-breaking year in 2017.
Supply Chain Partnerships
Decades in the industry have allowed Jacobs to form invaluable partnerships with the businesses in its supply chain, most of whom are long-term suppliers and valued partners with whom they create a mutually beneficial environment. Both Jacobs and its partners have a great understanding of the product life cycle.
The heavy-duty trucks using Jake Brakes are well engineered vehicles with expected long lifespans, especially with regards to their engines. As Gallagher says, “Suppliers know that a relationship with us will be long-term.” In fact, Jacobs makes their engine retarding and valve actuation technology such that they far exceed the one million miles of operating life in commercial heavy-duty engines.
Additionally, Jacobs has extensive experience working with heavy-duty vehicle OEMs across the world and has put the knowledge gained over this time to use. While many of its competitors simply focus on exhaust brakes or bleeder brakes, Jacobs offers a complete suite of braking technology that allows them to mix and match technology based on the performance expectations of the customer or the regulations of a specific geographic area.
The company has a long tradition of cultivating relationships and working with suppliers to drive continuous improvement in their shared industry. Gallagher claims that the best suppliers are the ones that are engaged during product development, becoming a part of the design cycle and providing valued input.
Understanding its responsibility, not only to the drivers of commercial vehicles but also to those who share the road with them, Jacobs places a heavy importance on testing and durability—as evidenced in their extensive and robust “Design and Validation Plan.”
The first step of the plan is connecting with the engine OEM and collaborating in the design. This includes jointly creating a plan which utilizes early stage and iterative mechanical and hydraulic simulations, allowing the customer to have confidence in Jacobs’ design before one chip has been cut.
Next is the alpha prototype hardware stage, where metal is cut and parts are tested. Jacobs manages prototyping timelines by having the ability to make their prototypes in house, from billet, forgings, or casting.
One of Jacobs’ advantages is having the largest engine retarding testing labs in the world in its North American headquarters in Bloomfield, Connecticut. The extensive testing capabilities at the lab allow Jacobs to coordinate testing with customers. Testing starts at the component level to ensure strength and design margin. Once Jacobs has a customer’s engine, the new brake system is upfitted to the engine and performance is measured. The engine is then tested on a motoring dynamometer which measures the brake power output of the engine.
Following performance testing, the engine brakes enter durability test cells where the engines are run at very high loads for hundreds of hours, transitioning between braking cycles and non-braking cycles. During this time, massive amounts of data are collected and, upon completion, the components are analyzed for any changes during the test. Once a sufficient confidence in the design is agreed upon, Jacobs continues to work extensively with vehicle OEMs during their testing, leading up to actual road trials.
Every step is part of a confidence-building exercise done with customers, starting with design tools, rapid prototyping, and testing capabilities to demonstrate that Jacobs’ products are a low-risk solution for their customers’ safety needs. This thorough plan is also in place to ensure that roads and highways around the globe are safe when commercial vehicles need to slow down or descend a hill at a controlled speed.
China and a Record-Breaking 2017
In addition to its Bloomfield site, Jacobs also has a production facility in Suzhou, China, which was a major contributor to its success in 2017. The Chinese market experienced incredible growth, producing over one million heavy-duty trucks last year, and Jacobs was able to capitalize on that thanks to the local footprint they have established in Suzhou.
When asked about the factors contributing to Jacobs’ record-breaking year, Gallagher stated, “The ability of our operations teams to respond to the explosive market growth in China plus the very strong North American and European markets last year were the key drivers of our success.” He attributes success in China to Chinese OEMs valuing his company’s strong brand and market-leading technology.
Gallagher explains that there is truly a special relationship between the facilities in Bloomfield and Suzhou, one that is collaborative and strong. Looking forward, he expects continued market share growth in China even if their production of industrial vehicles slows.
The country is in the process of updating their emissions standards for commercial vehicles, an area where Jacobs’ technologies can help. Similarly, as the drivers of China’s new fleet of heavy-duty trucks expect the vehicle OEMS to offer it as standard equipment become more familiar with the benefits of supplemental retarding.
Jacobs Vehicle Systems is regularly conducting strategic planning on a variety of fronts. One such front is the path to an increased investment in reducing emissions industrywide. Gallagher explains that while Jacobs considers ways they can use their braking domain knowledge on non-internal combustion engines, should the day arrive when industrial vehicles shift to electric power, that is not the immediate concern.
While some smaller intermediary shipments may be made by full electric vehicles, the infrastructure is not yet in place for long-haul commercial vehicles. Instead, he believes, a a bridge strategy of increased utilization of natural gas may be more near term.
Such a shift would still use an internal combustible engine, meaning that engine brakes like the Jake Brake will still be useful. The company, however, continues to investigate emission improvement possibilities and ways to adapt to changing technology whether that be electric, natural gas, or hydrogen fuel cells.
Meanwhile, investment in geographic expansion is a key focus at Jacobs. They are continuing to invest in their infrastructure in China to maintain a competitive edge and are looking to expand their footprint in Europe to better satisfy the needs of vehicle and engine OEMs on the continent. To that end, in 2019, Jacobs will begin implementing equipment at a facility in Brno, Czech Republic.
Of course, an innovative manufacturer like Jacobs Vehicle Systems is never simply resting on its laurels. They will continue to explore new ways to spread and improve their brand. As Gallagher concludes, “Obviously, continued development and commercialization of the next generation of technology is very important for the growth of the company.”
For commercial vehicles, the road ahead is one with an ever-accelerating environmental change. It is a road where customers look for better performance, lower costs, lower emissions and increased safety at every turn. It is a challenging road, and Jacobs Vehicle Systems® is engineered to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Nearly 60 years ago, Jacobs Vehicle Systems revolutionized the commercial vehicle industry in the United States with its Jacobs Engine Brake®. Since then, the company has evolved into a global partner trusted by the world’s best-known engine brands.
These partnerships have led to the development of the highest performance per liter engine brake in the commercial vehicle industry along with other innovations that have led to improved performance, lower costs, lower emissions and increased safety.