Engineering entrepreneurship

Jan 20, 2006

Finding a niche in the small engine market, Kettering grad Kyle Schwulst '02 is poised on the verge of a post production fuel injector boom.

Kyle Schwulst '02 took his newly minted Kettering University diploma, his knowledge of engines and a desire to be an entrepreneur and founded ElectroJet Inc. in 2003, an engineering design firm that designs electronic fuel injection systems for small engines and does low volume prototype production for four-stroke one, two and three cylinder engines (like those used in all-terrain vehicles and lawn mower tractor engines).

ElectroJet uses patented technologies to reduce the complexity and cost of advanced engine control systems. These systems are just as capable, but less costly than competing automotive technology.

Based in Whitmore Lake, Mich., ElectroJet employs six engineers, with a client base that consists of large volume manufacturers producing up to three million units per year. "We contract with manufacturers to support high volume demands," said Schwulst. "We hand them a package so they can produce the product for us," he said.

The small engine post-production fuel injection market is the perfect niche for a young entrepreneurial engineer with big ideas. "New federal emissions regulations require the small engine industry to move away from carburetors," said Schwulst.

Small engines are currently very polluting. "A typical lawn tractor will produce as much emissions in one hour of operation as a Prius emits when driven across the country," he said. With roughly 30 million small engines produced each year in the U.S., emissions rapidly add up. New EPA emissions regulations to help solve this problem will go into effect in 2008-09 for all new small engines for sale in the U.S.. These regulations will affect every small engine product from recreational vehicles to generator sets and include hand held equipment such as weed-eaters.

Current EPA Phase II regulations take effect in 2006, requiring manufacturers to reduce emissions for off road motorcycles (ATVs) to 2.0 g/km (grams per kilometer of travel) for HC+NOx (hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides) and 25 g/km for CO (carbon monoxide), a reduction of 57-80 percent from previous standards.

Manufacturers of small engines are faced with re-designing their products to add electronic controls, which could require re-tooling their production facilities, or buying Schwulst's fuel injection system. The ElectroJet systems are designed to fit existing engines and will enable the products to meet new EPA emissions standards. "We design a highly integrated product that allows electronic fuel injection at a reasonable price," said Schwulst.

"A traditional automotive fuel injection system (including electronic controls, throttle body, injector, fuel pump and regulator) costs about $350 and a lawn tractor engine costs about $300," he said, "so to fit a lawn tractor with a traditional automotive system would double the price of the engine. The ElectroJet product costs roughly 25 percent of competing technology for a complete fuel injection system, allowing the customer (engine manufacturer) to apply our system without a large increase in final product cost."

Schwulst said his technology is completely compatible with existing small engine designs. Manufacturers simply unbolt the carburetor and bolt his throttle body fuel injector in place. "We can save our customers a half million dollars in re-tooling costs because our product requires no re-design of the engine castings to add complex features and multiple sensors," he said.

Electrojet developed this technology with a little help from contacts at Schwulst's alma mater. Early testing of the prototype was conducted in the engine dynamometer lab at Kettering, and funded with U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Michigan Economic Development Corporation grants to model system accuracies and fully test functional prototypes of the low cost fuel injection system.

Schwulst worked with Dr. Greg Davis, professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Ray Rust, senior lab coordinator in Mechanical Engineering, on a contract basis for this sponsored research to do engine dynamometer testing and emissions testing.

"What we have done at Kettering consists mostly of work in the engine dynamometer test cell," said Schwulst. "We did base line (carburetor) evaluation as well as tuning/calibration of our fuel injection systems while monitoring the engine out emissions. We also tested a single-cylinder lawn tractor prototype on the emissions bench, and while there was still room for calibration (and thus emissions) improvement, the initial results are very promising. We found our design was much cleaner than the stock carburetor."

According to Schwulst the emissions testing went well, in fact the results showed the prototype exceeded current California and U.S. regulations for emissions and were only 3 percent above the 2008 proposed EPA Phase III regulation standards for emissions. "There was plenty of room for improvement in the calibration. We feel we can meet those regulations without too much difficulty," said Schwulst.

"We feel our low cost fuel injection system will be able to meet 2008 EPA emissions standards in the small engine market, and our specific technology will allow customers to easily implement our products with their current engine designs," he said. The average consumer buying a fuel injected lawn tractor would get a better start in cold weather, better fuel economy, better load pick up, and better power all in addition to the emissions benefit of our product.

Schwulst is currently conducting more tests at Kettering, this time on an ATV system. "The information we have obtained from this testing so far has allowed us to build complex mathematic models of engine operation in MatLab/Simulink, allowing us to simulate our system operation in the virtual environment," he said.

A second grant for twin cycle lawn tractor engine development is in the works, with the funding available in 2006. He said ElectroJet plans to continue it's collaboration with Kettering to do the research.

While at Kettering, Schwulst was very active in Kettering Motorsports, working on the Ethanol Vehicle Challenge, a retrofitted full size pick up truck, as vice president of SAE, and a member of the Clean Snowmobile competition team. "He was always a go-getter on projects," said Davis of Schwulst. "I've always been entrepreneurial," said Schwulst. "I think Kettering should have an entrepreneur course." He said starting his own business was "a trial by fire. It would have been nice to have a little knowledge before making mistakes in the real world." Originally from Audubon, Penn., the young entrepreneur now calls Ann Arbor home.

Written by Dawn Hibbard