Motors are all around us, hidden in machines in our homes, streets, farms, and workplaces. They are things we do not notice until the day they stop working, and one of the most important components of your motor is the chain or belt that is running it.
“You may not be aware, but belts are used in everyday applications. When you wake up in the morning to use your Vitamix to make your smoothie, start your washing machine before driving in your car to work, or on your way home when you stop by the ATM: they all use our belts,” says James Wideman, President of Mitsuboshi Belting Limited, USA (MBL).
This premier manufacturer of power transmission belts supplies to a wide variety of industries, specializing in automotive, powersports, agriculture, lawn and garden, and oil extraction. With its headquarters and research and development based in Japan, MBL has branches and manufacturing plants around the world. It boasts 4,300 employees and has annual sales that exceed 650 million dollars.
The 240 dedicated employees at its American branch recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. “We started in Lombard, Illinois in 1973 as a trading company and have grown to be one of the leading manufactures in the belting industry,” says Wideman. “We do this through a consistent building process incorporating the highest quality controls and standards.”
MBLs belts are in many cars on the road in North America. “Mitsuboshi’s belts are in almost half of all vehicles on the road, and we are very proud of our partnership with the global automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).” But MBL was not always at the top.
Just a few years ago, many engine manufacturers were moving away from using belts to chains to increase product longevity. Belts had a maximum lifespan of about 80,000 miles, whereas similarly priced chains were getting 150,000 miles before they began to falter. The major problem for OEMs was the warranty. Belts that were lasting 80,000 miles often needed replacement before the engine warranty had expired. This led to thousands of dollars in repair costs over the lifetime of a vehicle. Chains, although not as fuel-efficient or as quiet as belts, were outlasting warranties.
To get back into the game, MBL needed to develop a product that could last 150,000 miles. Not only that, engine designs had changed to use chains that were thirteen millimeters thick, while the old belts were twenty-five millimeters. MBL needed a product that was twice as durable as a standard belt and far thinner.
After years of research and development, MBL did the seemingly impossible. It matched the 150,000-mile mark and almost halved the belt thickness to sixteen millimeters. This was a huge gain to vehicle manufacturers, as belts are less prone to stretching, run more quietly, and offer superior fuel economy, compared to chains.
“The belt is less weight, less friction, and less stretch than a chain, providing better fuel economy,” says Wideman. “The automotive OEMs are looking for better fuel economy and this oil timing belt provides the answer.” With the move towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, automotive makers were quick to jump on board.
“We are very proud of our partnership with the global automotive OEMs. We work hand-in-hand with their design and engineering teams to develop the best solutions for their vehicles, and we are very proud to state that we have parts-per-million (PPM) that are in the single digits, and our on-time delivery ratings are at 99 percent or better,” says Wideman.
“We have perfected our building process to ensure the highest performing belts. We have dedicated employees working together for one common goal which is to ensure the highest customer satisfaction,” he says. “We employ 240 people who are very dedicated and hardworking towards the common goal to support our customers.”
MBL’s belts are not just making headway in the automotive industry, but are also making waves in the powersports arena where they are found in powersports vehicles like snowmobiles, ATVs, side-by-sides, snowmobiles, and personal watercraft.
MBL entered this market by working with a manufacturer on a single project. “It all started off with one customer,” recounts Wideman, “and it slowly expanded into other OEMs.”
That initial customer defined the problem as one of durability. “In the upper peninsula of Michigan, there are trails that are one hundred miles long, and you’re out in the middle of nowhere on your snowmobile. If that belt breaks, you’re stuck, and it’s not like there’s a maintenance place or a store anywhere, you’re in the middle of a trail in sub-zero temperatures. Many snowmobilers would actually carry a spare belt in case of emergency.”
After working on the project for some time, the company’s offices in Japan developed a product that far surpassed any competitors in the industry. With its advanced engineering, MBL developed a belt so strong, that consumers no longer needed to carry a second belt.
“They had enough confidence in our belt that they could ride on those trails and not worry about the belt breaking, and that’s what really launched us into the powersports industry. That’s been our claim to fame: that we provide the highest performing belt in the industry.”
Customers and end-users have lauded MBL, but it has also received numerous awards from Polaris, BRP (Bombardier Recreational Products), and Arctic Cat for high quality and outstanding delivery. For its systems and process controls, the company is TS16949 certified and has the environmental standard of ISO14001. It has received annual audits and always comes out with top scores.
“We pride ourselves on supplying the highest quality belts to our customers, delivered on-time and error-free. For these efforts, we have been recognized by our customers, including Yamaha supplier excellence in quality for 100 percent on-time delivery with 0 PPMs. We have received the GM supplier of excellence six years in a row and Ford Motor Q1 award,” says Wideman.
When new products, such as the belt for snowmobiles, are being developed, MBL takes a personalized approach to its work. A client works with an account manager who oversees the entire project alongside them. It forms a partnership with existing departments in a client’s company to ensure top quality, transparent communication, and common goals.
“Our engineering department works with their engineers to ensure the best design. After receiving their parameters, such as loads and pulley dimensions, we produce a software simulation for the client to look over.” Once an agreed-upon design is reached, durability testing begins in the US and Japan. Component testing is conducted in Illinois, and accelerated durability testing – such as vehicle level or field testing – is overseen in Japan.
“From the management team down to everyone who works in manufacturing our belts, we remain committed to our customers. We work with the highest integrity and transparency. We like to have a transparent relationship with them where we’re disclosing our designs, why we designed it that way, what we believe the life and durability will be. We’re working with them on advanced technologies to solve problems. We’re with them not only from the beginning of the design process but all the way through the life of the product.”
Currently, MBL is taking its same approach to its research, development, and manufacturing and applying it to the lawn and garden, agriculture, and oil industries. In these applications, durability is paramount. Whether it is agricultural combines or oil rigs, any lost time can easily cost a company millions.
“In many industrial applications, the cost to downtime outweighs the costs of the belts. We supply solutions such as the Giga Torque GX to extend the life of the application to reduce downtime,” explains Wideman.
“The Giga Torque GX can last 160 hours and outperforms traditional chain drives. We have also developed new belts – high-performance belts – Maxstar Powergreen for the agriculture market. These are providing our customers extended belt life on these combine applications,” he says.
MBL provides many over-the-counter products for these industries, as well as customized solutions. “Some are very, very confidential, where we’re working on applications that will meet their unique demands.”
While MBL has been incredibly successful over the past century, it is not resting on its laurels either. “We see many challenges and opportunities in the future. We are constantly challenged to provide higher-performing belts to increase durability, reduce warranty, and reduce downtime. We welcome these challenges. We see these as opportunities to work with our customers to develop solutions to ensure their customers have the highest satisfaction.”