Systems such as kingpins and couplings, landing gear, suspensions, bumper tubes and liftgates make up about 15% of total trailer costs.
Whether such systems are sold directly to trailer manufacturers or to fleets and owner/operators in the aftermarket, it’s a critical part of the North American trucking sector to be in, and one that has been moving towards integrated systems. Back in 2006, The Holland Group and Germany-based Otto Sauer Achsenfabrik GmbH -commonly known as SAF -merged operations with a vision to advance their position, direction and impact on the heavy-duty market, employing a strategy of “global reach, but local touch” in introducing new integrated technologies. This January, the new entity, SAF-Holland, brought magazine editors together in Warrenton, Mo. to go over its considerable progress to date towards this lofty goal. Warrenton is home to the company’s axle and suspension plant, which opened in February 2009 and marked a milestone for the company in terms of integrating new technologies and expanding its footprint in North America.
SAF-Holland’s Steffen Schewerda illustrated the company’s evolution with the example of an air suspension system. Before moving to a “systems” focus, its air suspension NS-400 offering was a basic product with the slider purchased from a competitor and no axle or braking systems offered. That evolved to the CB- 400 product, which had a focus on axle integration and increased system content. The axle, however, was still non-dressed and was available only with a drum brake. Significant add-ons were required: hubs, drums, slacks and brake actuator, bearings, oils and seals, tires and rims, and pneumatic control. The latest offering, the CBX40, however, shows how far the company has come in terms of axle integration and system content. The CBX40 comes with a fully dressed axle and purchasers have a choice of either drum or disc brakes. The CBX40 also has complete brake hardware and requires limited add-ons (basically the tires, rims and brake control valves).
“All the (part) interfaces are controlled by our expertise and it all works together,” said Schewerda, adding that such integration makes for improved performance and lower cost of ownership for trailer buyers.
SAF-Holland is also banking on leveraging its global experience to migrate advanced axle and braking systems into the North American market. Outside of North America, it has a manufacturing presence in Brazil, Germany, India, Japan, China, Thailand and Malaysia.
But SAF-Holland’s Sam Martin cautioned that his company has no intention of taking a “one-size-fits-all-across-the-world” approach and understands that while integrated systems is the preferred offering of the trailer industry today, OEMs still want various levels of integration and customization to meet their specific needs.
“Regional markets are regional markets. You have to pay attention to that. You can’t be successful otherwise,” he emphasized, adding that SAF-Holland is making localized investments in manufacturing facilities, such as Warrenton, around the globe. The company’s global design centres focus on the needs of regional representatives who have direct ties to customer requirements.
The 100,000-sq. ft. Warrenton plant has the capacity to produce 80,000 axles per year and is basically capable of producing an axle every three minutes. Its axle production processes are based on lean manufacturing (the plant averages about 14 inventory turns per year with customers typically receiving their orders in three weeks or faster, if necessary), with a one-piece flow process. All data is bar code driven, ensuring each part is made to the correct spec’s.
SAF-Holland holds particularly high hopes for disc brake technology.
“SAF-Holland has an installed base of over one million suspension systems with disc brakes in Europe. You get a lot of feedback from your customers and we’ve had 10 years to learn how parts work together best,” Schewerda pointed out. “We will play a key role in managing the North American transition from drum to disc brake technology.”
Although the SAF-Holland merger that is making such new product technology possible is relatively new, both companies were very mature names in the heavy-duty market in their respective sides of the Atlantic and shared similar beginnings. Holland began in 1910 as the Safety Release Clevis Company and shifted its focus to the heavy truck industry at the start of the Second World War. SAF dates back to 1881 and the invention of the “Zill’sche two-way plough.” It transitioned into manufacturing axles for heavy-duty trucks by 1950.
The product synergies between the two companies at the time of the merger meant the two companies didn’t need to focus their initial efforts on closing redundant plants and terminating superfluous products, as is often the case with mega- mergers, and could concentrate on designing new technologies, said Schewerda.