Starting from humble beginnings, Igor Akrapovic (pronounced Ack-rap-o-vich) began designing and building custom exhaust systems for his own racing motorcycle. Work spread to friends and the local community to the point where his became a viable niche business in 1990. For the past 20 years the Slovenian company Akrapovic has skillfully and diligently worked to bring its high-end brand of street, track, and off-road motorcycle products to true legendary status among riding enthusiasts and factory race teams alike. With that mountain climbed and development and production ongoing in the motorcycle aftermarket and racetracks worldwide, Akrapovic challenged itself further in 2007 by setting its sights on its next target: the automobile.
In order to work toward equivalent success in the automotive world, Akrapovic plans to utilize its industry leading knowledge of lightweight materials (titanium and carbon fiber), in-house R&D and production, technical expertise for designing performance exhaust systems for both increased power and quality sound, and a very high-level of quality control and visual aesthetics. These are the precise principles that brought Akrapovic its amazing initial success, with one important additional dimension: full involvement in motorsport. With this, Akrapovic concluded that it would start its move into the automotive world in the same way the company started with motorcycles, at the racetrack (as one must begin to make a name for one’s self in any new venture in the automotive aftermarket). Partnering with the Manthey Racing Team in Germany, Akrapovic designed and tested a full titanium exhaust system for the Porsche 997 GT3 RSR racecar. Its first major victory in sports car racing occurred at the prestigious, and legendary, 24-hour race at the Nürburgring in 2008.
Let’s talk about titanium. Back in 1997, Akrapovic introduced its first mass-produced titanium exhaust system for the motorcycle aftermarket, setting the trend for the future. Prior to this "Titanium Revolution," such an exotic material was previously reserved exclusively for race teams. The two most useful properties of titanium are its resistance to oxidation at high temperature and the fact that it has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal. Today, after years of metallurgical R&D in its in-house laboratory, Akrapovic utilizes unique alloys of titanium manufactured under an exclusive contract by American and Japanese suppliers. These titanium alloys are stronger yet 40 percent lighter than stainless steel, and can be exposed to temperatures of 500 degrees to 800 degrees Celsius for prolonged periods of time without deformation, unlike lower grades of titanium. The special titanium is delivered to the factory in sheets of various thicknesses to allow for the creation of any shape with state-of-the-art laser cutting machines, and also in rolls, so that there is no limitation in the pipe diameter size availability, as all pipe is manufactured in-house.
Akrapovic’s modern 32,300 square-foot facility is nestled in the rolling hills near the small village of Ivancna Gorica just outside Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city. Here, approximately 430 skilled employees turn the sheets and rolls of titanium into ultra-lightweight, high-performance exhaust systems. All research and development for new systems and manufacturing is done in-house in order to stay independent of outside suppliers and maintain 100 percent control over product quality. On the factory floor workers use TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding to piece together the titanium systems. TIG welding is an arc welding process that uses a nonconsumable tungsten electrode while the weld area is protected from atmospheric contamination by as a shielding gas—in this case, argon. The workers are trained to achieve strong and flawless welds to pass the rigors of their in-house quality checks and material testing laboratory and the immaculate aesthetic requirements of a completely exposed exhaust system (as is an absolute necessity on a motorcycle application, and a quality which will be continued for all automotive systems). During manufacturing, Akrapovic also uses many state-of-the-art pieces of equipment, some of which were developed in-house, to create and dress the individual components for the exhaust system. Laser cutting, laser engraving, hydro-forming (bending tubes using machines that mold metal with high pressure water, this process maintains maximum metal strength and optimizes exhaust flow as the precisely desired shape can be achieved), and investment casting are just some of the high-tech processes performed during the manufacturing workflow.
In 2009, a one-of-a-kind titanium foundry was constructed in a new 8,600 square-foot building at the main Akrapovic facility. It comprises all phases of the investment casting process, from wax injection of the model to the final inspection of cast parts with X-ray radioscopy and other quality control procedures such as chemical analyses, mechanical property testing and digital dimensional accuracy. The foundry’s main purpose is to recycle shavings and unused pieces of titanium created in the exhaust manufacturing process. This titanium is separated based on quality and chemical structure, and is then shredded, cleaned, and pressed into briquettes to prepare it for the vacuum oven necessary to melt the titanium alloy in a non-reactive environment. The recycled titanium is blended with new titanium to achieve the precise alloy characteristics for the vacuum-cast exhaust components. In the future, the company plans to expand the foundry proportion of the business into other fields of application, such as medicine (structural implants), powerplant equipment, entertainment and art.
Akrapovic also possesses great expertise and experience in the field of carbon-fiber composite parts design and manufacturing. Anything from fenders to fairings, or from trim to muffler casings on motorcycles, and from newly styled exhaust tip casings to heat shielding for sports cars can be created in a state-of-the-art carbon fiber facility, with more new products on the way. The main benefits of carbon-fiber strengthened composites are: It is up to eight times lighter than steel, it can withstand extreme mechanical loads, it has an extremely high tensile strength (80 times per weight unit more than steel), and can be easily manufactured into complex shapes of various sizes.
At Akrapovic, the exhaust system R&D department is truly the heart of the company. The experienced and highly motivated team has a wide array of modern high-tech equipment to create enhanced performance exhaust systems, including three dynamometers (two motorcycle and one four-wheel automotive), a digital 3D scanner and a 3D printer that allows the rapid creation of full-size prototypes from ABS plastic for fitment simulations. It takes approximately one month for the full cycle process of completely redesigning the exhaust system for superior performance, high quality and TV approved sound, reduced weight and greatly improved aesthetics on a typical high-performance car. The OEM exhaust system is first analyzed for temperature and backpressure characteristics, and from this it is determined which components require redesign. The main goal of creating an exhaust system with improved performance is to reduce backpressure in the system, but at the same time maintain or increase exhaust gas velocity. Temperature data throughout the system, although not as critical, is utilized in the new design prototype to account for material expansion and to minimize pressure changes. The prototype development also creates a performance exhaust system such that individual components can be replaced separately in a modular fashion. And, of course, all final prototypes are fashioned in full titanium.
Akrapovic sold its first aftermarket full titanium exhaust system for a mass produced street car in April 2009; that system was for the Mk I Porsche 997 GT3. Setting the bar high and towards the top end of the performance sports car spectrum they now manufacture full systems and mufflers for many European brands: Audi, BMW, MINI, Porsche, Volkswagen; Mercedes-Benz and Renault were added in late 2010; and Ferrari and other exotics are being considered for 2011. Several North American and Asian models will also be targeted. Akrapovic plans to add 12 to 14 new models per year. In addition, the company plans to partner with OEM manufacturers, which will account for approximately 15 percent of its automotive activities. In their first OEM project, Akrapovic successfully partnered with Porsche on the 2008/9 Porsche 997 GT2—not a bad place to start.
Getting truly serious about the automotive world also means creating a strong presence in North America. On July 12th, 2010, Akrapovic opened its new subsidiary, Akrapovic America in Irvine, Calif. From this new headquarters, orders, distribution, warehouse, dealers and PR will be organized for all North America. This will undoubtedly streamline the availability and flow of products from Slovenia.
Akrapovic’s ultra high-end brand of performance exhaust systems will most certainly fill a unique niche in the automotive world. So let the next titanium revolution begin.
The Akrapovic Stylized "Skorpion" Logo
Back in the early days Skorpion was used as the company name. It seemed fitting enough as the founder’s name Akrapovic could be loosely translated from Turkish (Akrap) to mean Skorpion (spelled scorpion in English), and the company’s exhaust systems certainly provided a stinging bite to all competition. However, in 1997, with continuing world-level success in motorcycle racing, it was decided that this name had to be changed as it was very similar to other registered trademarks around the world. The logical solution was to revert back to the family name of the founder of the company, Akrapovic, who was very well known in the industry. Today, Akrapovic uses an abstract pictographic representation of the scorpion as the company logo. Interestingly, the founder’s wife was strongly involved in the design process of this logo; she is a successful artist, and also designed the buildings and interior workspace of the new factory.
Getaway to Slovenia
When Primoz Jurman, Akrapovic’s P.R. Head, offered me the keys to a BMW E92 M3 equipped with a full Akrapovic Evolution exhaust system and a full tank of gas, who was I to say no? The lightweight titanium system provided a true motorsport chorus and some very welcome extra punch through the lush green Slovenian countryside, however, it was also memorable to stop and take in the sights along the way. Slovenia is a beautiful little off-the beaten-track country in the European Union lying directly south of Austria and east of northern Italy. It has its very own share of the Alps, plenty of history, wine growing areas, excellent roads and infrastructure, and can be driven across in less than four hours, although you’ll want to take a week or more to fully explore it by car. (Things to do on page 59.)
Ten Things To See And Do
• Explore the modern and beautiful city of Ljubljana
• Tour the amazing kocjan Caves, an official UNESCO World Heritage site
• Take in the award winning World War I museum in Kobarid
• Have a fabulous seafood platter for two at a seaside restaurant in trendy Piran
• Drive the scenic and challenging Vrsic Pass (5,285 foot elevation, and over 40 hairpins)
• Hike in the Triglav National Park
• Try "Rezina"—a delicious local cream cake
• Explore a medieval castle such as Ptuj Grad in Ptuj or Predjama Grad in Postojna
• Wine tasting in any or all of the three distinct regions
• Visit the famous white horses of Lipica (Lippizanners)