Dyno Daze

Dec 2, 2009

Dynamometers have been around for quite awhile, but often these traditionally large, complex pieces of equipment haven’t found their way into the average shop because of their specificity and cost. A lot of that’s starting to change.

The cost of dynos can range quite a bit, from just over $10,000 to more than five times that amount. On average, however, Allison Blackstein, director of sales and marketing for Dynocom Industries, located in Dallas, Texas, says the typical dyno with load control will cost about approximately $35,000. That’s on par with a Stuska turnkey package that can handle up to 1,600 horsepower.

The time until a return on investment is achieved for an average Dynojet, including dyno, installation components, electronics, straps and wideband AFR system, averages 18-20 months, estimates Dan Hourigan, vice president of dynamometer sales for Dynojet, North Las Vegas, Nevada.

“The average ROI is much quicker than most people think,” explains Matt Schultz, sales and product manager for Stuska Dynamometers in Sussex, Wis.

As an example, he says a turnkey dyno can be purchased on a 5-year lease, with options, for around $700 per month, depending on financing. The average rate for dyno time is $100 an hour, with a minimum of four hours. By eliminating the cost of purchasing dyno time from other shops, travel costs and time away from your shop, the savings add up.

Schultz adds, “Taking all of that into consideration, the payback can be immediate if you test one-to-two engines per month.” Assisting the payback is the increased business many of his engine builders report immediately after installing their first dyno.

Michael Caldwell of Mustang Dynamometers in Twinsburg, Ohio, says shops that offer tuning services can’t afford not to have a dyno. When looking at the monthly payment, which will vary depending on the cost of the dyno chosen and the financing agreement, “A dyno is not an expensive piece of equipment, considering most successful, professional tuning shops can expect to bill anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000 a month in tuning services. The most successful shops have reported over $200,000 a year for dyno services.” With maintenance costs “less than a welder,” it’s almost a must-have.

For those who are still holding back because of the initial pricing, Bob Bergeron says that Land & Sea has designed and priced engine and chassis dynamometer systems for “modular” purchase, installation and operation.

“This means a shop can start with our least expensive units, but they can still, over time, gradually add other custom tailored features as their needs evolve. This is without having to duplicate any of their initial investment,” says Bergeron. He adds that this allows even a one-man (bucks down) shop to buy a budget system, realizing a 24-month ROI.

Gotta’ Getta’ Dyno

No longer out of reach financially, the dyno is becoming a necessary tool. Schultz claims, “A dyno is no less important than the machining equipment in the shop; it is a quality control and performance verification tool. We are an information-driven society and a dyno is how you obtain information about the engine’s performance. The only other real method to test an engine is at the track, which is both costly and time-consuming.”

Besides, he adds, lap times don’t tell the whole story. “I believe it’s safe to say that you can’t be a leader in the industry today without a dyno. Customers will see you in a different light.”

That’s because an in-house dyno lends credibility, Blackstein believes. Customers turn to a shop with a dyno for recommendations for tuning and for parts. A dyno builds customer confidence in a shop’s workmanship, Schultz claims, because performance will be improved and problems will be corrected before the engine leaves the shop.

“The credibility of the shop is crucial,” Hourigan affirms. He considers “performance verification” essential for instilling confidence in the products sold and the engines tuned – for both jobbers and customers. “If you sell junk that doesn’t perform, enthusiasts are going to go elsewhere. Buyers are savvy to what actually works.”

Credibility goes hand in hand sales. Blackstein contends that dynos always help sell more parts and increase shop labor rates.

Hourigan states that, “A dyno is a wonderful cross-selling tool for a typical high performance workshop, but it especially complements the service and parts operations, as well as performance product sales. Most shops see a 12-20 percent increase in performance product sales.”

Bergeron points out that, “Almost any racing business (team, builder, engine or driveline equipment manufacturer, speed shop, tuner, etc.) can benefit from having a dynamometer in house – regardless of the size of the shop. Most racing businesses sell horsepower, but who would trust a doctor without an X-ray machine or buy from a butcher without a scale?”

Most shop owners, Hourigan adds, know they need a dyno to be competitive. Despite the cost and spatial requirements, he’s seen a tremendous growth in the sales of chassis dynos in the last three years.

Any shop that offers any form of performance enhancement tuning needs to have a dynamometer, Caldwell advocates. Tuning on a dyno is safe and allows various repeatable conditions for a controlled testing environment with quantifiable, documented results. Tuning on the street is irresponsible, illegal and unsafe, he cautions, and tuning on someone else’s dyno is like paying for someone else’s business to have one.

“It doesn’t make sense,” says Caldwell. “Dynamometer tuning is a very profitable enterprise for those shops with the expertise required of quality performance tuning, perhaps the most profitable component of any performance shop.”

Shopping List

Once convinced of the need for a dyno, a shop owner must determine which dyno to get and where to get it. Dynocom recommends that a shop purchase a dyno with the necessary features to support their particular business. For instance, shops focused on engine management tuning and power upgrade package sales should purchase an eddy brake (load control) dyno that allows the operator to hold the vehicle for steady-state testing. “Of course,” Blackstein adds, “a shop that focuses on Subarus or Evos will want an all-wheel-drive dynamometer.”

Caldwell explains, “It depends on the goals of the shop. The success of your business will have a lot to do with the dynamometer you’re using. Lowest price shopping for a dyno is a very bad idea.”

Since successful shops use it for performance tuning, not just performance power pulls, Caldwell says, they need specific qualities, such as: eddy current load capability with a load cell and real-time data feedback for all testing parameters, not just air-fuel ratio; road-load simulation, including vehicle weight match and rolling losses.

A prospective buyer should go out in the field and inspect existing chassis dyno installations, Hourigan proposes. Questions to ask include: What kind of power/torque can the dyno handle? What’s the speed rating? Can you upgrade it with a power absorption unit or load control? Can you upgrade it to accommodate all-wheel-drive vehicles?

In addition, Hourigan advises, research the company’s background and the utilization rate of the dyno, and try out the software. One thing that gets overlooked, he says, is software. He estimates that an operator spends 90 percent of his time interacting with the software.

Bergeron agrees, and notes that no matter what a shop is looking at hardware wise, the most important components are actually the software and support. She says too many buyers get hung up on the mechanical components (because they understand the nuts and bolts best) and just hope the software is suitable.

“That is a terrible assumption to make,” says Bergeron. “This would be like buying a PC without knowing if it ran DOS, Windows or the Mac operating system. Be sure to test a working demo copy of the software and push the salesperson to walk you through all its features before you sign a purchase order.”

Bergeron also advises to ask for real evidence of technical support. Everyone promises it, he says, but a smart buyer makes each vendor prove it. “Does their salesperson want to talk to you in specific technical detail about your needs and how they can help, or do you feel like you are buying a used car? Carefully review each vendor’s software help screens, owner manuals, web support resources, user forums, etc., and talk to other owners.”

Whatever package you choose, be sure it comes with all the pieces and sensors for your application, Schultz adds. “The engine being tested and the data you wish to capture will determine this.” Learning how each system works and why it’s designed the way it is, how data is captured and processed and how the system operates can help with purchasing decisions. Whatever system you choose, he advises selecting a single source for all components too, because they’re made to work together.

Caldwell has a checklist that begins with controller technology. “Most dynamometers purchased today are the eddy current type, and the most important aspect of an eddy current dynamometer resides within the capabilities of the system’s controller, so ask for a complete specification of the system controller. This is the most important aspect of the overall system.” It includes: response time, resolution of data, sampling rate, data channels available and controller methodology.

Other points to consider include equipment construction. “Less is not more!” Caldwell emphasizes. “If it required less steel to build, it is probably cheaper to make, but more likely to flex and break. Look at shipping weights and make sure you’re not purchasing a dyno that was designed to minimize cost at the expense of quality and longevity.” Compare system capabilities among the brands, then investigate the brand by checking references of customers who have the same equipment you’re considering.

“Most importantly,” Schultz says, “make sure you’re comfortable working with and are confident in, the sales and support staff. You will be spending a considerable amount of time working with the manufacturer during set-up, training and beyond.”

Hourigan considers service after the sale critical. He says the technical support staff should respond to emails within 24 hours and be available via a toll-free number.

An innovative supplier is also important, according to Blackstein. “Look for a dynamometer company like you would look at a car company: Do they offer neat features? Are they technologically advanced?”

Posted: Dyno on Premises

Once you have a dyno, how do you make sure it earns its keep?

“You need to make people aware that you have a dyno,” Hourigan says. “That’s number one.” He and Blackstein suggest “Dyno Days” for local or regional car clubs, race teams or enthusiasts to increase store traffic.

That’s advice that Bergeron believes in as well. “Hosting regular Dyno Day events dramatically increases a shop’s traffic. This creates new sales opportunities, ranging from regular maintenance jobs to selling complete high-end performance modification packages.”

“Horsepower is addictive,” Hourigan says, “so having a dyno and using it as a cross-selling tool for your performance parts and installation services is very effective.”

Schultz says many shops fail to market their dyno to its full potential. “Use the dyno as a showpiece and attention-grabber for your shop. Have an open house in the off-season and run an engine for potential customers. Incorporate the dyno in the business plan by running every new or freshened engine on it and build the fee into a package price. Don’t be bashful about charging a fair price. In the long run, this will make you more money and increase quality and customer satisfaction.”

Many shops use the dyno as a salesperson, Blackstein believes. They do a free baseline run of horsepower/torque and air/fuel mixture as a “before” image of the car, and they offer “after” reports once new parts have been added so customers can see the actual gains. “This keeps the customers coming back and helps sell more parts. Many customers are skeptical of what gains a performance part can really add.”

On the other hand, Hourigan believes the average sport compact enthusiast has done the research and knows what parts work well. They’re looking for modern tuning centers with the latest chassis dyno technology. “It’s very important as a shop owner to do your homework about the various end markets, as well as equipping your workshop with the right tools to meet the expectations of the enthusiasts seeking your services.”

The Homework

Adding any equipment that requires a substantial financial investment can be a simultaneously exciting and nerve racking endeavor for any shop. To help alleviate the stress bound to accompany the purchase, prepare a business plan oriented around achieving ROI, and in it, be sure to include the costs of training and getting you and your staff up to speed on its operation and promoting the equipment as well as its monthly cost.

This will help you track progress and will be a barometer of your progress toward ROI. If you’re on course, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you made the right move. If not, look and possible reasons as to why. Are you promoting the service? Are you charging the correct amount? Your new dynamometer may prove to be a diagnostic tool for your business as well as its customers.