Testing times

Following the tie-up between Fuel Parts and SMP Europe, we paid a visit to check out the product testing facilities

Published:  23 April, 2012

IF YOU'VE

The latest firms to decide to join forces are Fuel Parts and SMP Europe. For those that aren't aware, Fuel Parts was set up in the 1980s, back when carburettors ruled the roost. At the time, it was only possible to get carbs directly from Weber or from the vehicle manufacturer. Sensing a gap in the market, Fuel Parts started manufacturing and selling repair kits in 1985. This turned out to be a winning strategy as emissions testing began the following year.

Standard Motor Products in the US offered similar products related to fuel systems and ignition, only it started much earlier - way back in 1919. However, it wasn't until the 1990s that SMP set up its European division.

Both firms expanded their ranges to include sophisticated electronic management equipment but, with mergers going on everywhere, the two firms decided they would be stronger together. This involves a complicated tie-up of logistics operations between Fuel Parts' Bromsgrove base and SMP-E's headquarters in Nottingham.

Testing

In the testing section, products are first identified and sorted into two categories - namely warranty returns and new lines of products awaiting test. The firm order half a dozen samples of any new product line in order to subject them to a number of gruelling tests.

The first stage of testing a new product is the most basic but, in some ways, the most vital. The product is measured using a variety of devices including a highly accurate Fowler caliper. This gadget traces the object with a probe to analyse its dimensions precisely.  There is also an array of calipers, rulers and graphs to get the measurement precisely.

You might wonder why the firm is so concerned with the dimensions of the products it plans to sell. The answer is simple - if the screw holes and mouldings on an aftermarket part don't precisely match, the part won't fit.

Products are then tested for function. In the case of ignition coils, this involves plugging them into a special spark generating machine and measuring the results with a lab oscilloscope.

Next up is a test that really separates the good products from the rest. The objects are placed in a glass-fronted cabinet, not unlike an industrial oven. Also like an oven, the components are roasted at a temperature of 120 ºC but the twist is that they are then brought down to a temperature near freezing, in a flick of a switch. This rapid temperature change closely simulates what happens under the bonnet of a car in the real world but it is very hard on the products. Staff tell me that anything that doesn't use premium grade resin for the casing or decent quality sealants will be likely to fail.

Assuming the product survives, a couple of other trials still await. Next in line is a humidity test where the unit is placed in a special tank into which steam is pumped. If the previous test has damaged the seals then the product quickly fails. While it might seem extreme, the humidity test mimics the conditions under the bonnet very closely. Despite this, a number of items do fail and these products will never be added to the range.

The final test looks the most terrifying. The work piece is strapped to what looks like the chair in Reservoir Dogs and is spun up to an eye wateringly high speed, while simultaneously being shaken up and down. This puts a component through years of use in just a few minutes.

Surprisingly, most parts survive this sequence of destruction, meaning that the reference is likely to be stocked by the firm. The parts that didn't survive the test are retained for analysis.

It is refreshing to see aftermarket parts getting such rigorous inspection and testing before being put on the market. With standards such as these there is every reason to believe that the new venture will be a success for many years to come.

Speedy turnaround

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