As the United States economy has opened up to foreign imports, domestic manufacturing has been dramatically reduced. In fact, most of the products that ordinary people purchase are no longer made domestically. The same applies in the automotive parts industry.
High performance engines typically require special components which are not available from automotive dealerships. Many of these parts are made of forged steel, which are cast in foundries abroad. This poses unique challenges for the modern day automotive machine shop as the parts they need to build high performance engines can often take weeks or months to receive.
Though consumers realize savings from imported automotive parts, the unintended consequences stretch well beyond savings. Besides parts availability concerns, which is quite common these days, there also is the issue of quality. Many imported automotive parts simply do not conform to standards which are required when building a high performance engine. In fact, there are many times when imported parts simply are so far out of specifications that they can not be used at all.
What is becoming more common is that some automotive parts, such as crankshafts, are being cast overseas and finished here in the United States. While forged castings made overseas are structurally sound, many machine shops have determined that it is best if they handle the finish operations themselves. This gives domestic engine builders the opportunity to have complete control over the finished engine component.
In many cases high performance engines require special tolerance considerations. For example, the align bore of a high performance engine block may require a crankshaft that has individual finish dimensions on the main journals. By grinding the main journals to different finish sizes, proper tolerances can be maintain for each main cap. These tolerances also take into consideration the circumference of the main cap housing bores and bearing crush.
Many of the automotive part manufacturers cite cost and the lack of government regulations as the primary reasons why they are producing engine parts abroad. However, this has also impacted these companies with a loss of efficiency. Without being able to serve their customers, because engine parts are out of stock, these same companies risk losing sales to competitors. Lost sales are quite common, especially in the high performance engine rebuilding industry, as many customers need their engines for racing. If they have no engine, they simply can’t race.
Though there are cost benefits of manufacturing engine parts abroad, the short term customer savings are often offset by headaches in availability, finish quality and poor supply line management. Many of the burdens that result from obtaining a more affordable part are shouldered by automotive machine shops and engine builders across the nation. While the parts themselves may be less expensive than a domestic produced part, the additional time involved with supply line difficulties is now being passed along to customers.
When all things are considered, the benefits of offshore engine parts production is negated to some degree by supply line complexities. Especially in the high performance engine rebuilding industry, this is of particular concern where engines are modified to produce the maximum horsepower possible.