Head of Engines Division at Kawasaki Motors Europe talks potential of hydrogen and robotics in industry overview19 Oct
Andy Pringle, senior product manager at Kawasaki Motors Europe, heads up the Engines division in Europe. We spoke to Andy to get his thoughts on current industry topics.
From the rise of robotics to the latest breakthroughs in alternative fuels, the landscaping sector continues to evolve. We sat down with Andy Pringle, the head of Kawasaki's Engines division in Europe, to discuss the latest innovations and challenges we’re seeing in the industry – and take a closer look at what sets Kawasaki Engines apart.
Join us as we explore everything from the impact of rewilding to the differing power requirements in engines for manufacturers and learn a little more about Andy himself. With decades of experience in engineering and the garden machinery sector, Andy offers a unique and valuable perspective on the industry.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved in the industry?
How long have you got! I’m really the standard family man, with a wife and two kids – twin 18-year-old boys, which are more than enough of a challenge – a dog, and, according to my wife, far too many projects in the garage.
As for how I came to the industry, well, I’ve always been interested in the way things worked. My parents said I was always taking things apart, sticking my fingers into clockwork toys and seeing how they worked, only to put them back together again. I found I was better at the mathematical side at school, which then led to studying engineering and becoming a mechanical engineer.
In my time, I’ve handled sales for a wide range of products, from motorcycles to snowmobiles, and even electric bicycles, at different points in my career. But the majority of my career has been in powered products, which includes garden machinery but also things like ATVs and UTVs as well.
What do you love most about your job? What gets you out of bed in the morning?
The alarm clock and the dog certainly get me out of bed in the morning! But what makes me keep turning up every morning, each and every day is that the people in the industry and, indeed, in our team, are great to work with. Covid brought exceptional challenges for everyone and we’ve stuck together through all the issues we’ve faced – the team have taken whatever has been thrown at them, and found a way to work through it together. So I really have to thank them for that.
I also love the variety of the job – no two days are the same. There's always something new and different to deal with. It's been an interesting journey so far!
Is there anything that sets professionals in the landscaping industry apart?
I think the people who work in it are practical people who really know their stuff. It's not an industry where you'll succeed by putting on a smart suit and blagging your way through it.
People are experts in their fields, and more importantly are really passionate about what they do. I think that in some ways, people are more genuine and upfront than in other lines of work – if they're shouting at you, it's because they've got a real problem. Everyone wants what’s best for the professional or consumer using the equipment.
For example, from a dealer’s perspective, I think they’re driven by their legitimate need to try to get better products or a better service out to their customers. They will quickly, and sometimes strongly communicate any customer issue directly back to the manufacturer so that it can be fixed and, ultimately, they can provide a better product. There’s honest, frank and open communication throughout the industry, which is really refreshing.
What makes Kawasaki Engines different from other manufacturers?
We’re part of a massive engineering group under Kawasaki Heavy Industries, which encompasses about 100 different business entities that sell all different types of engineered products. This gives Kawasaki a fantastic reserve of engineering, technical and materials knowledge, so there's a tremendous pool of expertise that all these different businesses can draw on. Having this collective resource helps improve all the products whether it's an aircraft or helicopter or satellite or even one of our engines.
Something we have in common across the whole group is that we’re always trying to listen to the customer and meet their requirements. As a group, Kawasaki is always trying to bring in new technology to get to these better solutions – you can’t just keep making the same things all the time, you’ve got to innovate to keep the products fresh for the future. We really value originality and innovation at Kawasaki Engines.
In terms of innovation, what developments have you seen during your time at Kawasaki?
We have had different bits of technology going into our engines in my time here, with innovations similar to those in the automotive industry and a few unique to our industry such as our “Vortical” air filter system. Of course, more power and lighter weight are a few of the more obvious ones.
But I think some of the most important advances we've had in recent years have actually been in our manufacturing technology. We've been bringing a lot more of our manufacturing back in-house at Kawasaki Engines, so we have more control of the process.
There’s been tremendous investment into both machines and people at our manufacturing plants. We can make sure that we're producing components with more accuracy and, from the perspective of our OEM customers a lot more quickly as well. So the lead times on our products are shorter and we can react to changes in demand far more quickly.
What have been the most significant changes in the wider industry?
Battery technology is an ongoing significant change, but has been in the industry for longer than some might realise.
In some ways, our industry is “greener” than automotive, as electric has been around for a while. Even 10 years ago, about half of the walk behind mowers were electric, although plug-in. However, the machinery has quickly transitioned to cordless when technology allowed. The more recent battery-powered models are frankly more convenient than their older corded counterparts – there’s been massive growth in battery-powered machinery, as corded continues to decline. It’s all about convenience really; what is easier for someone to use.
Combustion engines continue to dominate in demanding environments, which is something that hasn’t changed all too much.
Robotics is an interesting one. We’ve had a rapid rise in robotics over the last four or five years.
Can you tell us a little more about the impact of robotics?
Well it’s providing that extra convenience and it's seen as a fit-and-forget solution. However, while you can just put the machine outside and you don’t have to put any time into it – your grass is cut for you – there is still a requirement to maintain the machine, particularly the blades and to monitor the battery condition over time.
The interesting thing is that while sales have grown quickly, other products have continued to have strong sales so this innovative solution is helping grow the machinery market and provide more choice and convenience for end users. We can certainly learn from what's happening in the consumer market in terms of designing for more convenience and apply that to the professional market. I think that's going to be the challenge in the coming years.
What do you see as the future of combustion engines?
Kawasaki power in turfcare currently comes from our internal combustions engines, which at the moment are entirely gasoline-powered, but I think that is likely to shift over time. There are several potential solutions here – it’s not just a hard line of battery or gasoline engines, which some people may think; there'll be other things between the two.
There's low carbon fuels coming, and they're getting more widely adopted – and synthetic fuels are being developed that have the potential to replace fossil fuels entirely. It could be expected that we may end up designing internal combustion engines with alternate fuels in mind. Many different avenues are being explored, but of course, no-one knows exactly what the final solutions will be.
Even in the automotive industry – is it going to be hydrogen cars, battery-powered or something else? We follow that industry closely in terms of innovation, and we’re all working towards potential solutions. As I’ve mentioned, as part of the Kawasaki Central Technology Group, we will have access to – and be able to depend upon – innovations that are developed in other parts of the business.
We’re looking at a number of solutions to find the ones that are most applicable to our industry. There’s bound to be a look at hydrogen; Kawasaki has already said we’ll launch hydrogen in motorcycles and ATVs – we’ll be looking at its potential in our application. Ultimately, hydrogen is internal combustion as well. So where we might not make gasoline internal combustion engines in future, we may well be making internal combustion engines with alternate fuels.
I think there’ll be a number of steps and different solutions to push combustion engines towards becoming more sustainable. Over the next few years, I think the pieces of the potential future jigsaw will begin to fall into place.
How close is hydrogen to being the solution?
We do follow the automotive industry in many regards, and are likely to do so with this as well. It’s not imminent, I think we can all agree. There are many technical challenges involved, and the infrastructure isn’t there yet. Adapting the power into a smaller machine, refuelling issues, transporting hydrogen; these are all things that will have to be solved before we can truly put it forward as a solution.
The motivation to make it work is there. While there isn’t immediate demand for hydrogen-powered equipment, we’re always exploring ways to become more environmentally friendly. In the medium-future, stricter regulations for cleaner air in cities and lower emissions are likely to be introduced and hydrogen could be a solution to that.
What are your thoughts on the skills shortage in the landscaping industry?
It’s certainly continuing to be an issue – and it’s not just in landscaping, but any profession involving machinery, whether it’s cars, motorcycles, or agricultural machines. Both at the end-user side of the coin and within manufacturing.
I think there’s an aversion to professions seen as ‘dirty’ in the younger generation, and there’s a distinct lack of apprentices coming through. I know youngsters generally prefer the sound of a warm office! But I think this is a bit of an image problem – it doesn’t necessarily reflect reality. As technology has changed, environments that were once dirty are actually very clean.
As people become more aware of the realities of a career in the industry, I think young people will be less averse to it. We have to do whatever we can to encourage people to consider what is a very rewarding career.
How does Kawasaki Engines work with manufacturers to develop landscaping equipment?
We work very closely with the manufacturers to continue to try to understand the changing requirements of landscape professionals. Indeed, at our R&D facility in the US, they have a number of machines from different manufacturers, which they run themselves so they can understand the machine, how it does the job and, importantly, what are the requirements for the engine?
Different engines will provide power in their own way – an engine for a car will be different to a motorcycle, which will, in turn, be different to an industrial engine. We certainly engineer the products to try and provide the most usable power for the application.
For example, it’s not just about absolute power. The equipment needs enough power to cut heavy grass with a big blade, but at the same time, it's got to be relatively quiet, so it can't have a high buzzing engine: it’s a balancing act. We look at power, but we also consider fuel efficiency. Again, it’s what’s convenient for the professional using the machine. That’s how we develop an engine.
At the other end, when a manufacturer makes a new product, we have an engineer that does a “matching check”; to guarantee that the engine is meeting the requirements of the machine and that everything is a good fit. Both sides need to sign off an installation – and I will admit that our checks are a little bit more lengthy than some! But that's to guarantee that the installation is going to be safe for people to use. It has to meet the manufacturer’s and the user's requirements, and meet all the regulation compliance as well. So it's quite a lengthy process.
Do you see any emerging trends that landscape professionals should be aware of?
Rewilding is certainly one – though I’m sure they’re more knowledgeable on this than me.
But I think this is also helping drive a more positive trend for the industry, in that people are getting closer to nature, and the value people place on spending time in green spaces is increasing. This should help create more pressure for the protection of green spaces and, indeed, to create new green spaces as well. It benefits the whole community, and means more landscape maintenance work to go around.
Thank you for your time and insights Andy! To explore the results of Kawasaki Engines' innovation and collaboration with manufacturers, take a look at equipment Powered by Kawasaki.