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Interview with Ironman 4x4's Kristian Ristell

By 4X4 Australia staff, 29 Jul 2019 Opinion

Ironman 4x4 Kristian Ristell interview feature

Kristian helps design and supply suspension kit for Afghan-bound Rangers and armoured rigs, through to everyday Aussie off-roaders.

I HAVE BEEN with Ironman 4x4 for more than 16 years, beginning in sales and technical services following the completion of my Automotive Machinist qualifications.

I was originally responsible for setting up the first Ironman 4x4 fitment centre in Clayton, Victoria, then promptly escalated to be in charge of the suspension product later in 2003, about a year before Ironman 4x4 produced its first non-suspension 4x4 accessory. Since then, I have led the development of every new suspension kit and product released over the last 15 years.

As an instrumental member of Ironman 4x4’s growth I have been involved in countless major projects, many of which have shaped the company to what it is today such as designing and supplying suspension to more than 35,000 Ford Rangers for Afghanistan and developing suspension for thousands of armoured vehicles built for the Middle East.

Ironman 4x4 operates all around the world and we are always involved in developing product solutions for a variety of clients including OEMs, military organisations, fleets, as well as for unique vehicles only found in certain areas. As a global brand we need to be at the forefront in all markets; a lot of my time is spent developing suspension for vehicles that don’t exist in Australia.

Most recently I travelled to Yakutsk, Russia, known as the coldest city in the world. I was there at the height of winter, testing and assessing suspension performance in -42°C temperatures – a huge contrast to the hot weather testing we do in the Australian Outback. Doing this OS testing gives us a huge amount of specialist knowledge, much of which flows into future product design.

We’ve just wrapped up the first phase of being the official tuning partner for SsangYong Motor Company in South Korea, where we have spent the last four months developing next year’s SsangYong ute suspension and tuning it for the Australian market.

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We are proud to be in a position to work with OEM companies, finding ways to increase sales as a result of improving their cars. We have had similar success in recent years with other brands overseas such as GM, Suzuki and Nissan.

I am also an avid photographer; starting out photographing motorsport events with my dad’s old film camera, it evolved from a hobby into being the prime photographer at Ironman 4x4. I run the photo studio at Ironman 4x4, shooting many of the product shots, as well as going out on site to photograph new vehicles and products.

Managing the suspension category at Ironman 4x4, my daily involvements are quite varied. I act as a junction for technical support for all of our overseas distributors. I often travel to visit them and to support them at exhibitions, and also undertake training their workshop and sales staff.

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Currently I am in Hungary and next week I am in Romania, visiting our key dealers and working on that next opportunity. I do a lot of travelling, now nudging nearly 60 countries. Often, it’s for trade shows or visiting suppliers and key distributors, as well as specific environment product testing and photo shoots. Every day is different.

When I am in the office, we’re working on the next suspension kit or product. Our team turns out no less than five new part numbers every month. Sometimes it’s keeping up with new vehicle releases, other times it’s an entirely new product line.

I am also entwined in the marketing and cataloguing of the product. Suspension is a very complex and technically heavy category which requires high levels of accuracy and detail. We have more than 5000 part numbers, many of which require a good level of expertise when choosing the right part for a customer’s vehicle.

Managing suspension is different to any other product category as there is more variety and choice for a given application; in many instances we offer the choice of nine different shock absorbers and five different springs for one vehicle.

We need to ensure the right product finds its way to the customers’ vehicles, and that takes quite some time with a good team of people. I also manage the underbody protection product, of which we currently have around 25 different models.

One of our most notable new product releases is the Pro-Forge Upper Control Arm project, which sees us as the first aftermarket company in the world to develop a fully forged alloy upper control arms with raised height geometry correction. It involved a mammoth effort from our team of development engineers to bring that idea to reality.

With today’s advances in technology and the increasing need for product compliance and testing, we are investing in equipment and machinery at a rapid rate. This includes fabrication machinery for rapid prototyping, testing and logging equipment for product validation and GVM upgrade compliance, then to things like 3D scanners and printers to accelerate product design. This is only the beginning of what is yet to come, in an industry bound for electronic integration and autonomy which will reshape the automotive landscape.

Manufacturing in Australia is in decline, but the need for innovation and specialist expertise is what keeps our industry alive. It’s no surprise why Australia is at the leading edge when it comes to 4x4 and off-road products, as there is an insatiable demand for upgrades and mods. It’s been an exciting 16 years being part of Ironman 4x4’s growth, driven along by the popularity of utes and the need for 4x4 vehicles around the world.

It’s not a question of whether we remain motivated; it’s a matter of keeping up with the relentless demands of the industry and clients around the world. Sometimes I need to remind myself to breathe and go out to explore our beautiful country by 4x4.

Meet the Expert
Name: Kristian Ristell
Role: Suspension Product Director, Ironman 4x4
Experience: 16 years at Ironman 4x4