Kawasaki moves R&D to Grand Rapids

June 1, 2017 -  By

Kawasaki executives cut the ribbon on the newly renovated headquarters of its Engines division May 18.

The Engines Division of Kawasaki Motors Corp. has moved its research and development wing (R&D) to the division’s headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., where it just completed a multimillion dollar renovation of its facility. Since 1995, R&D has been located in Marysville, Mo., where the majority of its engines are manufactured.

The company celebrated its “grand reopening” May 18 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and traditional Japanese celebration at the facility, which is also the longtime home of its OEM sales staff and marketing department. Media members, OEM sales partners and high-ranking Kawasaki executives, like Kawasaki Motorcycle & Engine Co. President Kazuo Ota, were in attendance.

“You have a very strong team here in Grand Rapids,” Ota said. “A team that works in harmony with each other.”

The goal was to create collaborative spaces and give employees more natural light.

The move brings together three branches of the company that have traditionally been 700 miles apart. The consolidation of these business components is part of a larger effort to foster greater collaboration and organic “collisions” between its brainpower, company executives said.

“Our teams mesh all the time, but when we were in Missouri before, it’d be a phone call or a teleconference—deliberate interaction,” said Kurt Forrest, director of OEM sales. “Now, you bump into people in the candy machine or the restroom. Nothing can beat serendipitous encounters in the work environment. “

The result, the company hopes, is a streamlined market-based development “funnel” where market research and information on OEM customer needs, trends and desires seamlessly flow into the R&D department.

“When we’re working in partnership with our customers and bringing their needs into this building, that’s when great stuff happens,” Forrest said. “We’re colliding all the time in this building, and creativity happens that way.

Employees enjoy wellness amenities like exercise and yoga rooms.

These interactions were considered when planning the renovation of the 200,000-square-foot headquarters. The office spaces and cubicles were strategically placed to create an open floor plan that would be conducive to the company’s collaboration efforts. The company also added public employee spaces like the “Oasis” quiet area, an exercise room and an upgraded dining area with amenities like indoor and outdoor seating, ovens and stoves.

Decor upgrades like wood and sky lights that provide natural light give the office a contemporary feel, but the highlight of the renovation is in the metal. Technicians have access to workspaces like sound chambers, rain cells and environmental chambers, where they develop, test and perfect the latest products for OEM customers like Hustler, John Deere, Scag, Gravely, Dixie Chopper, Husqvarna and more.

In the environmental chamber, for example, temperatures drop as low as -40 F and can get as high as 176 F. Testing cold and hot starts, technicians, who watch what’s going on inside the cell through closed circuit televisions outside the rooms, can even make it rain or snow inside these chambers.

However, this 40,000-square-foot facility isn’t caged to four walls. The Gerald R. Ford International Airport, which sits adjacent to the facility, provides Kawasaki with free access to acres of unmowed grass to test its latest products. Kawasaki mows the grass in return.

A main focus of the R&D facility will be developing and advancing EFI technology.

The company is pursuing an obvious engine trend: EFI technology. While the technology is already available on some Kawasaki FX- and FS-series engines, the company is working to expand its offerings. One ongoing project is the FT730V engine. It builds upon the FS series but offers an air filtration system designed with centrifugal force to keep the machine cleaner for longer.

“EFI is definitely where we’re headed,” said Forrest. “That’s where the industry is going, and that’s a big focus of ours in terms of innovation and technology and where we’re going next.”

Michigan has other perks, too. Proximity to talent attracted the company to the state. It brought only 12 employees from Marysville, and the R&D facility already employs 40 people. With further expansion expected internally, the company projects plenty of future job openings.

“Grand Rapids is close to Detroit and Chicago, which has allowed us to recruit experienced engineers with automotive skills, electrical engineers with experience and also EFI engineers (with experience), which is very important to us going forward with our new EFI systems,” said Dave Sugden, director of research and development.

Photos: LM staff, Kawasaki

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Dillon Stewart

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

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