EPS awaits state funding to speed up engine developmentFor the past three years, an engine engineering firm has been quietly operating in basement offices of The Creamery building in downtown New Richmond.
For the past three years, an engine engineering firm has been quietly operating in basement offices of The Creamery building in downtown New Richmond.
Few people know they are there, but owners Michael Fuchs and Steven Weinzierl like it that way.
They are developing a new product that will likely have a huge impact on the local economy and they’d rather not have competitors snooping around.
But the company’s obscurity is about to disappear. A Sept. 10 public hearing has been announced by the St. Croix County Board’s Finance Committee to discuss an apparent $600,000 Community Development Block Grant for the company. The state funding provides $300,000 a year for two years to help the company continue moving forward.
The grant funds would allow Engineered Propulsion Systems Inc. (EPS) to develop a light-weight diesel engine for use in small airplanes and helicopters.
The technology could revolutionize the general aviation industry, according to Fuchs and Weinzierl.
Other companies have tried to engineer a diesel aviation engine in the past, but with no success. Fuchs and Weinzierl think they’ve figured it out.
Once the new engine is perfected, Fuchs said, “the diesel engine will be a replacement for the gas engine.”
That’s a big deal, Weinzierl said, because aviation fuel is scarce and expensive. Diesel fuel is available pretty much around the globe and is much less expensive.
“It will open complete new markets for airplane manufacturers,” he said. “They will be able to sell into places like India, China and Africa.”
Existing airplanes and helicopters can easily have their engines replaced in the future, Weinzierl said, saving pilots thousands of dollars in fuel costs.
In fact, over the 2,000-hour life of a typical airplane engine, fuel savings will more than cover the cost of the new engine, they claim.
“The engine may be more expensive initially, but it will pay for itself,” Weinzierl said.
In the coming months, EPS will work on transferring their new invention from paper to actual product.
“The concept is done,” said Paul Mayer, president of the New Richmond Area Economic Development Corporation. “Now we need a running engine.”
Once the first engine is completed, EPS officials will work toward getting it certified by the Federal Aviation Administration.
“An engine is such a complex piece of equipment -- none of them go off with everything perfect,” Weinzierl said.
To perfect the design, EPS engineers will eventually run the new engine until it fails. They will then go about fixing the problems that are uncovered.
It typically takes two years to manufacture a working engine and another two years to work through the FAA certification process. But EPS officials hope to speed that timeframe up thanks to the state grant and help from public officials who might encourage the FAA to act quickly.
If the process can be speeded up, Mayer said, new jobs will help to pump up the local economy even sooner. That’s why the state Department of Commerce decided to get involved.
“We needed dollars to accelerate the process,” Mayer said.
Projections are that the company will eventually add 127 new jobs in New Richmond as an assembly plant is constructed here.
Fuchs said EPS will employ 15 engineers this year as the company works on creating a prototype of the new diesel engine. By the end of the third year, EPS expects to employ about 45 people. They hope to be in full operation within 10 years, he added.
EPS hopes to be manufacturing 1,500 to 2,000 airplane engines a year when the plant is running at optimal capacity.
EPS has a major investor lined up once the engine is developed. The grant funds will get the company to that goal.
When constructed, the EPS assembly plant will likely be located near the New Richmond Regional Airport. Fuchs said the company will be seeking runway access to help serve customers.
That’s one of the reasons why EPS chose to stay in New Richmond, rather than moving into the Twin Cities area.
Weinzierl said the company would never get permission from the Metropolitan Airports Commission to operate a manufacturing plant next to an airport.
Fuchs said the company is working with Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Stout on a training program for future employees.
The New Richmond area is attractive to prospective employees, Fuchs added, because it is close to the Twin Cities yet retains its small community flavor.
“Also, we both live in this area,” he said. “It’s a good place to live and grow a business. Why should we move if we can execute our plans here.”
How Fuchs and Weinzierl ended up here in the first place is a story in itself.
Weinzierl worked previously as an engineer with Polaris Industries. For several years, however, he worked in Germany, where he met Fuchs.
The pair was reassigned by their company, engine manufacturer Schrick, to Osceola to work with the recreational vehicle industry.
But in 2006, Schrick was sold to a major competitor and Weinzierl and Fuchs decided to venture out on their own. They started an engine engineering consultant business (ASL, LLC) and have been working for various private and military clients ever since.
All of the profits they’ve realized from that business has been pumped back into the diesel engine project, Fuchs said. “It’s our bread and butter company,” he said.
The two have been working on plans for the new diesel engine when time permitted. They are now ready to take it from concept to reality.
“This is truly a grassroots work,” Mayer said. “It’s a tremendous story for the city of New Richmond. The project is extremely exciting.”
The story doesn’t end with EPS, Mayer said. Eventual suppliers for the new assembly plant may also move to New Richmond to better serve the customer. It could mean a significant influx of industries here.