When one thinks of a large German manufacturer, it is often assumed there must be some cold, dark, grey industrial German city playing host. And while many would consider H&R Springs to be a rather large German manufacturer, such is not the case when it comes to the firm’s hometown of Lennestadt.
Lennestadt is an idyllic German village located about 150 kilometers northwest of Frankfurt. Far from the above-described typical German industrial city, Lennestadt could well be just another quaint and charming sleepy German town as seen in countless storybooks and postcards. It teems with history, and at the same time, serves as a friendly reminder that there’s good reason why many people still long for older days and older ways.
More than twenty years ago, Werner Heine and Heinz Remmen took the first initial from their two respective last names and started the company now known as H&R Springs. H&R was the first manufacturer to present a lowering spring to the strict German Technischer Uberwachungs Verein (TUV), the government agency that regulates automotive products and maintains motor vehicle safety standards, for an Approval Certificate. They were also the first to receive such a certificate. It was originally thought that no lowering spring could ever pass strict TUV standards and H&R is widely credited for paving the way for others to follow suit. In other words, it could be H&R who actually created the market for lowering springs in Germany.
Not satisfied only with meeting TUV guidelines, which merely guarantee a product is fundamentally acceptable and properly designed, in 1993 H&R announced that their suspension kits and spring sets now met the even tougher Allgemeine Betriebs – Erlaubnis (ABE) certification standards. ABE certification is important because it means that the product is ready to be installed and enjoyed without the hassle of getting TUV to approve the installation. To say that H&R is committed to offering only quality product smacks of serious understatement.
The H&R factory consists of a rather impressive series of buildings, and in many ways it’s more than a little obvious when compared to its more diminutive Lennestadt counterparts. Add to the fact that there’s a McDonald’s right next door and we tend to imagine that the two businesses must get their respective share of double-takes from first time passers-by.
Inside the facility things are very German indeed. That is to say that order, efficiency and modernity are all present and accounted for. The phrase “a beehive of activity” also comes to mind. With H&R’s North American ambassador, Roland Graef, acting as our enthusiastic tour guide, we were given a very comprehensive tour of the entire H&R facility.
Most people undoubtedly put little thought into what is involved in manufacturing an automotive suspension coil spring, but in all honesty, the process is quite fascinating. H&R uses nothing but state-of-the-industry equipment and they start with only the highest quality metal wire for their springs. This metal is of the high tensile steel variety, yielding springs with less weight, smaller diameter and more consistent performance. Such material also necessitates some very expensive machinery to work with it, and H&R has spared no expense in making sure they have the equipment they need.
The springs are cold wound on the computerized Wafios CNC spring coiler, which is programmed to determine specific spring tension, length and diameter. Afterwards the springs are heat-treated. This process is necessary because as the metal wire is wound, it creates heat and stress compromises which must be removed from the metal so as to guarantee consistent performance. This process needs to be completed within a mere hour or two after the wire is wound into a coil.
The next step in the spring production is shot-peening, a process that further relieves internal stress within the metal, as well as for removing surface imperfections and providing a smooth surface for coating. H&R says that the shot-peening process extends the life of a spring by more than 200%.
Next, the spring is involved in an operation called pre-setting, whereby the spring is fully compressed and held for a prescribed period of time so that all of the coils are touching one another. This process is repeated four times and is designed to keep the spring from sagging during its lifetime.
The penultimate step in the spring making process is coating the spring. This process involves three separate phases: Phosphate cleaning, powder coating and heat-curing. How thorough is H&R with this process? Consider this: each spring hangs by a metal hook as it makes its way through all three processes. After these steps are complete, an H&R employee takes each spring and by hand applies paint to the tiny area left bare from contact with the metal hook.
The manufacturing is complete with the application of part numbers to the actual spring and then boxing them up and getting them ready to ship.
H&R Springs has been around for more than twenty years, and as such, they’ve forged some pretty impressive relationships with both original-equipment manufacturers and tuners alike. As Roland walked us through the vast warehouse facility, we noticed bins full of springs ready to be shipped to famed Porsche tuner Gemballa, and a small distance away were boxes headed for the Bratislava birthplace of VW’s famed R32 Golf. No surprise, really, considering the fact that VW has contracted H&R to design and manufacture suspension springs for all R32 production.
Though spring production is certainly the bulk of H&R’s business, they are definitely not content with limiting themselves to only this area of suspension tuning and design. It would make perfect sense for a spring manufacturer to also design and produce shock absorbers engineered to complement their springs, and this is exactly what H&R does. Their shocks are designed to match a variety of different performance spring rates and as such, H&R offers perfectly engineered spring and shock combinations for a huge number of vehicle applications. H&R chooses to use shocks with a monotube design. They believe this approach offers less friction, better cooling, better stability and less emulsification of the oil and water mixture. Before being boxed for shipping, each shock is tested on a shock dynamometer to make sure it performs within its prescribed parameters.
We asked H&R to give us their take on the material they choose to use for their coil-over shock bodies. While some manufacturers are using stainless steel as their material of choice, H&R prefers to continue to offer the quality of steel they’ve been using for years. They told us that stainless steel is somewhat less rigid than other types, and as such, in order to maintain the integrity necessary for this heavy-load bearing component, it is necessary to make a thicker and heavier shock body to compensate. In addition to added weight, a thicker strut body will not dissipate heat as effectively as a thinner structure, and therefore, H&R chooses not to use stainless steel for these applications. They suggest that with proper maintenance and care, their coil-overs will last as long as any on the market, even in areas where road salt is used in the winter.
In addition to springs and shocks, H&R also offers a huge array of different spacers and wheel adapters. Want to put BMW wheels on your Volkswagen? Want to put Porsche wheels on your Audi? No problem, H&R has what you need. They also manufacture a wide variety of sway bar applications and are currently looking into producing their own line of tie bars.
There’s still more to H&R’s story, however, and we’re quite grateful we had some extra time to spend with several of the people involved in the manufacturing process, as well as those who spend the bulk of their time behind the scenes. H&R employees tend to be a rather close-knit group of individuals and they spend quite a bit of time after hours socializing and simply enjoying life in Lennestadt. After closing shop, a bunch of members of the H&R team, including Herr Heine himself, frequently head down to a local hotel/restaurant called Haus Buckman for some local cuisine and drink. We spent three nights at Haus Buckman and each night was better than the one before it. Incredible food, outstanding German pils, and a true local flavor one simply cannot get from the Hilton in downtown Frankfurt. Though most of the H&R crew speaks precious little English and our German is nicht sehr gut, communication was absolutely no problem. Roland speaks fluent German and the conversations never seemed to lag. A definite family atmosphere was a constant presence, with Herr Heine as the acting patriarch, and Roland defining the prodigal son role to a T.
We noticed a sense of pride and enthusiasm from everyone involved with H&R Springs and in light of today’s business climate here in North America, this was very refreshing (and somewhat surprising) to encounter. Big business is a sign of the times, even within our rather small automotive tuning niches, and this is certainly not always a negative thing. Still, in the case of H&R Springs, it’s good to know that even behind the scenes of what may certainly appear to be a big business, there are friendly folks who genuinely seem to enjoy what they do.
You can find more information on H&R online at: www.hrsprings.com
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