Power. Durability. Reliability. Fuel efficiency. These are the primary attributes that you seek from the engines that power your professional lawn mowers. Let’s add one more characteristic that you’re going to appreciate from engine manufacturers sooner rather than later — smartness.

As small engine development continues, you will see engines that monitor other critical components that affect your mower’s performance. After all, need spurs innovation and innovation leads to improved productivity. I got a hint of what’s coming (yes, little more than a hint) in a recent tour of Kawasaki’s impressive new research and development (R&D) laboratory in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

The new laboratory is just part of renovation of the 200,000-square-foot Engines Division of Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (KMC) headquarters. I was one of the journalists participating in KMC Grand Reopening along with more than 100 Kawasaki employees, managers and executives (several from Japan), local dignitaries and others.

Briefly, the three-hour grand reopening was replete with ceremony, starting with a ribbon cutting and the raising of flags. That was followed by a luncheon featuring short speeches by three high-ranking Kawasaki executives, entertainment by a professional taiko drumming troupe and a ceremonial saki toast.

A professional taiko drumming troupe

A professional taiko drumming troupe Photo: Ronnie Hall

Ceremony aside, innovation and competition are the reasons why the management of the Engines Division of Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. relocated its R&D Division from Maryville, Missouri, to its renovated headquarters in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Missouri is where Kawasaki manufactures the general-purpose engines that KMC sells — more than 8 million since the plant (now almost 900,000 square feet) opened in 1989. KMC and its sales team have had a presence in Grand Rapids since 1992.

Dave Sugden, KMC’s newly installed director of research and development, said moving R&D from Missouri to Michigan will help drive innovation in engine development for two obvious and important reasons:

  • ­by enhancing and speeding communication between product developers (engineers) and sales, which is constantly seeking feedback from OEMs, dealers and, ultimately, better hearing the voice of end users.
  • by tapping into the wealth of engineering talent in the region, just a relatively short distance away from Chicago and the southeastern Michigan automobile industry.
Kawasaki Office spaces

Photo: Kawasaki

Touring the new R&D laboratory was the highlight of the afternoon for us journalists. No photos allowed. We had to deposit our smartphones in a bin before entering the laboratory. (I did mention that small engine development is a competitive business, right?)

Troy Smith, recently promoted from engineering supervisor to manager of R&D testing, gave us an informative walk around the laboratory — the engine testing and tear-down rooms, the dyno cells, rain cells, sound chambers, you name it. Making the move gave R&D the opportunity to replace some previous mechanical functions with state-of-the-art automation, said Smith.

Smith also briefly showed our small group the company’s the new FT730V EFI (25.5 horsepower) engine with an improved cyclonic air filtration system. The engine was developed off Kawasaki’s FS and FX 730V engine series, said Smith.

EFI continues to grow in importance in the engine market, as end users seek fuel efficiency and improved reliability, and Kawasaki continues to extend its EFI offerings into other engine lines. Currently, Kawasaki offers the FX Engine Series and the FS Engine Series (both series being air-cooled, V-twin and vertical-shaft) with EFI options.

“EFI is definitely where we’re going. That’s where the market is,” said Kurt Forrest, director of OEM sales.