Akrapovič Part 1 – Factory
Light weight, improved power, beautiful design, perfect fit, crisp sound: The exhaust systems from the Slovenian company Akrapovič don’t have a legendary reputation for nothing. The KTM BLOG went to take a look round the company’s factory.
The modern, shimmering silver factory buildings lie on the outskirts of the small Slovenian town of Ivancna Gorica, half an hour’s drive south-east of Ljubljana – you can’t miss them. When you get to the security lodge you see it has a 10 cm long Akrapovič sticker stuck on it, apart from this, there is no other company signage to be seen – astonishing. The security guy politely insists that we fill out a questionnaire with personal details and advises that there is a strict ban on photography, and just to make sure, he even places a sticker over my smartphone’s lens.
Mitja Reven from the marketing department collects the curious guest from the entrance; he has arranged a visiting programme through all the departments. Just to get me warmed up I am treated to a feast of basic information in a meeting room.
Immense expertise in titanium and carbon fibre
Akrapovič manufacture high-end exhaust systems for motorcycles with quite extraordinary precision. Most of them are fitted by customers as aftermarket accessories; however, some are also original equipment. For six years now they have also increasingly been making systems for cars, some of which have also been as a factory fitment. Titanium is the prime metal used in the manufacture; it’s lightweight, but difficult to work. The raw material comes from America and Japan. The required pipes, sleeves and sheets have long been produced in their entirety by Akrapovič themselves, using special titanium alloys which are in turn made in a separate works south of Ljubljana. This is where they also carry out their own carbon fibre work. They have also had their own in-house titanium foundry since 2009. The company’s production technology knowledge of how to use this precious material is immense.
25-year company anniversary approaches
The company was founded as a one-man operation in 1990 by Igor Akrapovič; the company’s first employee, Igor Rzek, still works in production and will be retiring this December. The exhaust systems were first sold under the name of ‘Scorpion’, until car-makers Ford trademarked the name for their Scorpio model of the day. So in 1997, the company had to change its name to the striking surname of the founder, Akrapovič.
At 25 years old next year, the company now employs 700 people, 70 of whom are doctorate engineers and scientists. The development of a new aftermarket exhaust system takes up to around three months until it is ready for production. For automobile systems, the period is five to eight months. The company now produces annually around 100,000 slip-on silencers as well as complete exhaust systems.
The development of a new aftermarket exhaust system takes up to around three months until it is ready for production […] The company now produces annually around 100,000 slip-on silencers as well as complete exhaust systems.
Extensive research and new advanced technologies, combined with a striving for perfection and the demands of motorsport seeking ever better performance, have always been a given for this company. Typical Akrapovič product attributes are: low weight, more power and optimised power development, first-rate workmanship, beautiful design and fit, and a sporty sound.
Igor Akrapovič used to be an active motorcycle racer who carried out all his own engine preparation, first of all for himself, then eventually, for others. When he discovered the tuning potential slumbering in exhaust systems, he made this his main focus, and started a business manufacturing high quality, performance enhancing motorcycle exhaust systems, which has since seen almost fairytale-like development. His systems soon caused quite a stir in racing circles, as they were lighter and delivered more performance than others. The business expanded continually, with its top brand image soon also attracting street bike riders.
Motorsport successes across the board
The successes in racing, in particular, meant that ever more manufacturers came knocking on his door. Every Japanese and all of the big European motorcycle manufacturers have worked in partnership with Akrapovič at some time or are still doing it to this day. As are numerous top teams. In MotoGP, World Superbikes, Endurance and the German IDM series, in BSB and the US Championships, as well as in offroad disciplines from Motocross and Enduro to the Dakar Rally. No other exhaust specialist can point to this kind of simultaneous partnership with companies that compete with each other, both business-wise and on the track.
It was Colin Edwards who delivered the first world championship title for the exhaust specialist in the 2000 World Superbike Championship, riding a Honda VTR1000 SP-2. Akrapovič is currently working with the Yamaha and Ducati MotoGP factory teams. KTM and Akrapovič cooperate successfully as partners not only in Moto3 and the Motocross World Championship, but also on a number of other works projects. The number of world championship titles that the Slovenian brand can pride itself upon is in the meantime approaching the hundred mark.
Cooperation between KTM and Akrapovič since 1999
The KTM and Akrapovič cooperation began in 1999 with Supermoto and since then has extended across other sports: on asphalt and in all offroad disciplines, including the Dakar. All factory KTMs racing under the works banner are equipped with Akrapovič exhaust systems. Only those being run by the US MX factory team use systems from another manufacturer. Akrapovič also makes OEM aftermarket exhaust systems for numerous KTM models, which are available exclusively through the KTM PowerParts program and KTM dealers.
In just a few years Akrapovič has also made a name for itself in the automobile sector. Systems for Porsche, Alpina-BMW, McLaren, Audi and quite a few other names from the sports car scene bear the Akrapovič name, either as original equipment or as an aftermarket upgrade. The Slovenian name has even been seen in Formula One – in 2004 on the BAR Honda. The Le Mans 24 hours has been won several times with Audi, with the Manthey Racing Porsche team at the 24 hour races at the Nürburgring, and in addition there are official partnerships with Audi and BMW in the DTM and with Aston Martin in the international GT race series.
A peek into motorsport R&D
Our company tour begins with the Racing and Experimental department (Motorsport R&D), which is run by Alioz Slavko Trstenjak. The friendly Slovenian, pretty much Igor Akrapovič’s tuning right-hand man, is a big offroad fan and has always maintained close contact with the KTM motorsport department. The cooperation with Mattighofen began with Supermoto, when KTM 660 SM-mounted Thierry van den Bosch, after winning several national titles, finally won the first Supermoto World Championship in 2002. KTM’s first Dakar victory in 2002, with Fabrizio Meoni aboard the Gauloises KTM 950 Rally, was achieved with an Akrapovič titanium exhaust system.
Benches, tool cabinets, assembly platforms and generous space all around – and with a white tiled floor, the race department comes across as spacious, clean and tidy. On the test bench in a side room, a Moto3 KTM stands all clamped up, and it can even be photographed! The exhaust of the 250 single cylinder racer is that typical two pipe system that has been used since last year. In 2011 the exhaust consisted of just a single megaphone. Slavko explains that in the 3rd Moto3 season with KTM, the 7th exhaust version (Evo 7) has just been developed and manufactured, which has once again improved acceleration without compromising top speed, in order to stop us slipping behind the annoyingly strengthened competition.
Development parts archive
Two 2015 four-stroke offoraders (recognisable by their orange frames), whose Akrapovič systems have been modified for racing, are also very kindly standing in the race department in preparation for our visit. The wall-mounted shelves are filled with blue storage boxes that are marked according to manufacturer and project, and point to just how many companies come and go as clients. “Yamaha 450 Factory 2013“, “Honda CBR1000RR“, “Moto2 Suter“, “Beta“, “Husqvarna TC 450 2008“, “Kalex“ and “Triumph Daytona 675 2013“ are just a sample.
A considerably larger number of the containers are, however, marked with KTM and with the multitude of orange motorsport projects. Not surprising, really! Two large crates sitting on the floor are also stuffed with various megaphones, end-cans and titanium pipes – remnants and memorials to three years of Moto3 development. With imagination, patience and lots of experience, designing, producing, fitting, and countless runs on the test bed, you can kind of imagine how things have been on the quest for more power, torque optimisation, while at the same time hopefully with improved throttle control.
Prototype construction department
Away out of the racing R&D premises and off into the prototype construction department on the other side of the huge hall, which from the exterior looks silvery and modern. There are a fair number of specialised metalworking machines standing between various enclosed workplaces. CNC machines gleam in a separate area. A number of employees are sawing, drilling, hammering and fettling pipes and silencer components. Welding flashes repeatedly illuminate the space from behind protective curtains. The atmosphere is bustling. There are clearly several items being worked on at the same time, both on new exhaust systems for later series production and on special racing systems that are only needed in small numbers. This is also where the necessary tools and jigs are made for later series production. There’s not a motorcycle to be seen (which is surely how it’s intended to be); there is only an Audi S7 standing on a ramp, the subject for an aftermarket system. My guide also tells me that only the most skilful craftsmen and brilliant welding magicians work here.
Impressive Akrapovič private collection
In the middle of the hall there is a broad steel staircase that leads upwards. On the first floor, an area has been set aside for Igor Akrapovič’s office. In front of it, in an open space, a handful of famous green, red, blue and orange racing motorcycles. In addition, arranged on a row of stands, are around three dozen racing engines – all with Akra exhausts. Single, twin, three, four and five cylinder engines. Thumpers, parallel twins, in-lines, Vs, boxers, every kind. Every possible brand, every capacity class. Every category, road and offroad. Silent witnesses to a legendary racing history. This private Akrapovič collection represents only a part of the machines the company has worked with. The sheer extent of these treasures leaves you speechless.
The orange proportion is absolutely worth looking at: KTM Dakar and MX world championship winning bikes, the GP1-V4 engine, the 250 SX-F power unit with gear driven camshafts from MX world champion Ben Townley’s machine, the IDM-winning RC8 engine, the engine at the heart of the victorious Moto3 bike and quite a number of 250, 500 and larger single-cylinders from the Motocross World Championship. Each power-laden jewel more breathtaking than the last.
Test benches for motorcycle and automobile exhaust systems
So we can get our breath back, we leave the hall and go across the yard into a separate building in which the test bench work is carried out for road-going motorcycles. This area has purposely been separated from the R&D department, so as not to get in the way with its consistently high workload. The prototype systems for new vehicles are modified and tested until they deliver convincing results in all relevant areas. Only then does it pass into series production.
The Superflow test bench is equipped with the very latest measuring technology to capture all the necessary data. A giant blower thrusts cooling air over the test piece. A new KTM RC 390 CUP has been placed on the rig for demo purposes. Together with the engine characteristics, power and torque, the acoustics and the emissions are also recorded and analysed. For the various homologations (E/EG) required for use on public roads, the company cooperates with the German TÜV authorities, whose testing engineers attend the necessary test runs on location, where they are then able to examine the technical data and accordingly approve the exhaust system.
There is also a perfectly noise proofed building next door that has a test bed for cars. This facility is just as high-tech. Cars developing up to 1500 PS can be thoroughly tested here, regardless of their being four-wheel, front or rear wheel drive. The whole building, with further work areas for the vehicles, is maintained at a steady cool and pleasant temperature in order to provide a consistent environment for test results and optimum comparability. It was particularly pleasant for our summer visit. Even after the end of the working day, the facility continues to be used in a meaningful way. Because the enormous fan of the cooling system generates an impressive wind strength, ski-jumping competitors enjoy regular use of the facility to help them in their training. An important part of ski-jumping is maintaining the correct posture in a strong airflow.
Testing and spot checking in the in-house laboratory
Onward to the next building. In the in-house laboratory there is continual spot checking of the home-produced titanium alloys and their chemical composition, in order to maintain standards across all possible components. Complete silencers and pipe assemblies are taken from production runs and are cut up and measured, welding seams are examined under the microscope and/or subjected to loading tests. Precise manufacturing and plug-and-play fitting accuracy of the Slovenian systems is not legendary for nothing. And the legendary reputation is also held on to with an iron grip.
“When someone fits an Akrapovic system,” whispers our guide Mitja Reven drily, “a hammer may only be used to remove the original system.”
Own titanium foundry
A separate area is reserved for the in-house titanium foundry. Certain components, such as some collectors for valve systems, X-formed pipe configurations or complicated hollow parts are manufactured in a casting process, which opens up advantages in construction and additionally helps to save weight. The temperature in a titanium furnace reaches a toasty 1,700° C. Even cutting residues from the costly titanium material, which previously had no further use can now, thanks to special recycling processes, be successfully reused.
No other exhaust manufacturer possesses such knowledge in working with titanium. This has in turn opened up completely new areas of business for the company, for example in the medical technology sector in which lightweight construction and high-strength, combined with precise manufacturing, is required.
Serial production of exhaust systems
When it comes to series production, this is carried out with high precision at an industrial level. Pipes of varying diameters are bent and then sawn using specialised machines, sheet material is pressed, laser-cut and formed. Extremely complex shapes can be realised through the use of a specialised hydro-forming machine, which operates using water at a very high pressure. Titanium and carbon are not the only materials to be completely processed in-house; non-rusting stainless steel is also used to some degree. For example, for large-capacity cruiser or scooter exhaust systems (from 125cc upward); this target group has also been served by Akrapovič for quite some time.
Once all the required parts have been prepared, the assembly comes next. Many individual parts are brought together using automatic welding machines, the greater part of all the work, however, is carried out by hand. There is a remarkably high number of employees working in the production department. In countless enclosures sit Akrapovič’s welders, male and female, each carefully bringing together components in the form of pipes, plates, mountings and brackets. In final assembly all of the component parts come together and are riveted and completed using the corresponding carbon fibre parts. Once they have been packed, the slip-on silencers and complete systems are shipped all over the world. Buyers are evenly spread in thirds across Europe, America and Asia.
Move to a larger factory
Because demand for its products, as well as the number of employees, is rising year after year, the factory is now bursting at the seams and every expansion measure is all too soon rendered insufficient. Therefore, only one option remains: In late summer this year, production is being moved some 60 miles to the south-west, to Crnomelj. This is where Igor Akrapovič has bought a former compressor factory, which offers four times more space for the titanium foundry and the whole of the series exhaust system manufacturing. The company headquarters, however, together with Research and Development, the Race department and Prototype manufacturing will remain where it is now, in Ivancna Gorica.
Photos: Akrapovič, Buenos Dias