Situated in the picturesque township of Weinheim north of Heidelberg, Vibracoustic has gained international renown as a specialist in vibration control technology for the automotive industry. But, it is the company’s ability to translate that knowledge into the commercial vehicle sector that has made it become a truly global contestant.
“Although we can draw on half a century of experience, we see ourselves as a young, innovative company that can come up with a game-changing idea at any time,” says Thomas Engel, Executive Vice President of Vibracoustic’s air spring division in Hamburg. “Our philosophy is simple – we want to deliver zero-defect quality and convincing efficiency at the same time. To achieve that goal, we try to apply our automobile know-how to the commercial vehicle sector, hence creating equipment that the market has never seen before.”
Regardless of the application – automobile or commercial transport – product development is driven by the OEM sector, whose ‘more-for-less’ attitude has been intensified by the recent economical crisis and the extreme volatility that once again plagued commodity markets in 2011. As a result, the equipment industry is under pressure to be as cost-efficient as possible without loosing the competitive edge – a balancing act only few have mastered.
One such tightrope artist is Vibracoustic. Cultivating a global information network, the company can tap the combined know-how of 29 branches around the globe. “Regardless of the application, the price-performance ration plays an important role. Every product must suit a specific application and meet a tight budget at the same time; so we need to tap all the know-how we have at hand,” says Engel. “In that sense, a global network can provide a distinct cost advantage in development, production and sales, but also fuel overall creativity.
“Although creativity is often considered a trait of the privileged few, we believe that any individual or department can help generate the breakthroughs that stimulate growth and performance,” says Engel. “We think that one business unit should inspire the next, that’s why each segment’s work is as transparent as possible. That transparency also enables us to maintain the same quality standard around the world.”
By assessing the performance of transport equipment through the eyes of an automotive expert, Vibracoustic’s suspension division has recently developed a product labelled Aircruise Bionic – an air suspension solution that has only been available in the automobile sector before. “Our new system will enable the industry to make the axle leaner and more lightweight than ever before.”
According to Engel, the Bionic’s range is smaller than on a standard air spring, but allows for up to 60 per cent more spring travel at the same time. “The basic idea was to bring the air spring closer to the axle and thereby allow for a lean axle and suspension unit. By doing so, a lot of material can be optimised or even removed, saving several hundred kilogrammes.”
In a world of rising transportation cost, that triple-digit weight advantage can make all the difference. “The new axle concept basically enables the OEM sector to decrease the overall height of the chassis, which will boost both internal loading height and payload,” he explains. “The new Mercedes-Benz Actros range is already based on our technology, and we expect the trailer industry to follow soon. We have already signed some promising preliminary agreements.”
Established in 2001 as a joint venture between German company Freudenberg and Phoenix, Vibracoustic now is a wholly owned subsidiary of Freudenberg. Although renowned for its automotive competence, the brand’s recent venture into the commercial vehicle sector has already proved a success – and the Bionic series is now meant to catapult the 3,304-people company into the air spring big leagues of the world.
“It is quite obvious that there are two very large players in the market already, but the growth we experience at the moment is well ahead of the growth prevailing on the market. As a result, we expect winning over more and more market share in the near future and reaching the second position in the medium term. And I am sure our open communication model will help us achieve that goal.”
According to Engel, most companies still struggle to create effective communication, a challenge that is significantly magnified across geographical, temporal, cultural and linguistic barriers. “We are proud to have the appropriate skills to capture the unique and innovative ideas that arise in all of our subsidiaries. I think the opportunities resulting from this approach are beyond measure.”