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JCB opens secret doors on recent innovations

The giant manufacturer has invested heavily in ‘secret’ new facilities and a new engine.

JCB has plenty of reason to be pleased with itself even in an economically depressed market.

The company revealed record pre-tax profits of £365m in April and is making more machines now than at any time in its history. With 11 plants in the UK and another 11 abroad, it says it now produces more units per year than Jaguar Cars – at one time also a proud British company.

Innovation in R&D

Earlier this month the firm opened the doors of its headquarters in Rocester, Staffordshire, with an evening themed around innovation. Proceedings appropriately kicked off with a tour around the company’s top secret Innovation Centre, a new R&D facility opened only three months ago.

Dominating the centre is the ‘power wall’. This single, continuous interactive LCD screen measures 2.6 m high by 11 m wide and is used by project teams to brainstorm problems and test ideas in 3D.

Although similar tools are used by some motor manufacturers, JCB claims to be the only one in the off-highway sector to employ this technology.

Another innovation is JCB’s ‘instant’ manufacturing capability: a dedicated workshop that uses 3D printers to make prototype components sent electronically straight from the design lab.

Both tools are more than just gimmicks, insists head of industrial design Mike Turner. “This is changing the way we work,” he says.

New 6-cylinder engine

JCB also took the opportunity to unveil its latest innovation: the new six-cylinder, 7.2-litre Dieselmax 672 engine.

This development represents an investment of some £45m and will have created around 50 new jobs when it goes into production later this year.

Considering that JCB only started making its own engines 10 years ago, it is remarkable that today around 70 per cent of the company’s machines are powered by them.

The latest breed of Ecomax T4X engines, developed to replace the existing Ecomax T4i interim models, reach Tier 4 (Stage IIIB) emissions standards purely through improved combustion technology, rather than relying on filters and after-treatment systems to clean up the exhaust gases.

On a practical note, the firm says, this also benefits customers who will want to sell their used equipment to less regulated markets as they update their fleet in future.

Buyers in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa will not be keen to buy a Tier 4-compliant machine and then have to buy fuel additives and particulate filters where the local regulations don’t require them.

In any event, the company says, its engines can be easily ‘de-tiered’ by JCB dealers worldwide.

Emissions design is Stage II

The new six-cylinder 7.2-litre Dieselmax engine launched this month is itself aimed squarely at these less regulated markets.

The engine will be built to meet Stage II emissions standards and marketed mainly in Brazil, China and Russia – all fast-growing markets. The first machine to be fitted with the engine will be JCB’s JS360 crawler excavators; other machines will follow suit in due course.

Based on JCB’s existing four-cylinder 4.8-litre Dieselmax engine with which it shares many parts, the 672 will have a maximum output of 225 kW and is claimed to be up to 8 per cent more fuel-efficient than the engines currently used in the JS range of excavators.

JCB is also preparing for the departure of CEO Alan Blake, who is retiring at the end of this year. He will be replaced by the firm’s current chief operating officer Graeme McDonald.

Mr Blake says he will remain with the company in a part-time advisory capacity.

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