SAF-Holland raises the stakes

From the January 2015 issue.

The transport equipment market is rapidly picking up pace as the OEM scene is discovering the aftermarket as a new revenue source. SAF-Holland’s response is a renewed focus on innovation.

Competing in an increasingly globalised, yet often incoherent market like trucking is a challenge for any equipment business, but it has become especially tough since Europe’s leading OEMs started eyeing the lucrative aftermarket as a new revenue source. What’s more, M&A activity in the supplier scene has risen dramatically during the second half of 2014, indicating just how fiercely contested the segment is at the moment. Global Trailer met Steffen Schewerda, President of SAF-Holland’s Trailer Systems Business Unit, at the IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany to find out how the global powerhouse is handling the heat.

Q: SAF-Holland let off a firework of innovation at the IAA Commercial Show in Germany. Do you see the 2014 showdown as some sort of watershed event strategy-wise or did you just happen to have a lot in the pipeline?
A: We’ve invested a lot into our R&D capabilities over the past few years and the presentation at the 2014 show was a logical result of those efforts. But we won’t stop here. While we still need to get many of the innovations you’ve seen in Germany on the road, we’re already working on the next generation of SAF-Holland technology – simply because we believe that continuous innovation is the key to success. From my perspective, the race to the bottom in terms of pricing does not always accommodate the fleets’ requirements for reduced overall cost. Intelligently engineered products can be more effective over the long run – and that applies to every market around the globe.

Q: You’ve presented an almost unparalleled variety of new products in Hanover, from a new carbon fibre axle through to a new brake drum. Which product will be most important for SAF-Holland as a business in 2015-16?
A: Next to those products that are already available since the IAA – such as UP, a very efficient system where the air bag disconnects from the suspension beam to transport trailers via rail – the INTRA S and the INTRA R are certainly two of the main focus areas. We found that the ‘one-fits-all’ approach does not work any longer. Today’s customers need tailored solutions for their specific transportation tasks. That’s why we’ve stripped the INTRA S off any function that’s not necessary for use in a curtain-sider or reefer application. Meantime, the INTRA R offers all the features and benefits that tanker and tipper customers require. We will introduce the INTRA S somewhere in the middle of 2015, with the INTRA R following later that year. In addition, the recent improvements on the drum brake front are essential. Although disc brakes dominate the European market, the drum brake still has its place. We’ve been working very hard over the past three years to increase the performance of our drum brake – from the measurements of different linings through to our manufacturing processes – which all comes at a significant cost, of course.

Q: Looking into the future, when will we see the carbon-fibre axle on the road?
A: Given the current stage of the project, I would say we will see the first commercially available version in 2019 or 2020. The carbon fibre axle is a different field for us and we have to learn a lot. We are facing different challenges than with conventional designs. For instance, we need to understand the impact of varying temperatures, ozone, chemicals and debris on the material. At the moment, we can’t even be sure we’ve provided for all contingencies just because the product is so new to everyone in our field. Of course we are looking at other industries to learn and understand, but we still need to apply all of this knowledge to the highly specific trailer axle environment. That’s why we will continue to perform extensive testing over the next few years to find out what works and what does not.

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