Royal boom

If you ask fifth-generation Nooteboom chief executive, Marinka Nooteboom, what the Dutch brand is all about, she will most likely reference US powerhouse Apple during the conversation. Known to have the ability to foresee ‘the next big thing’ in technology, the Californian company has made a name for itself by pursuing a design philosophy strictly focused on simplicity and ease of use – a feat Nooteboom is aiming to recreate in the heavy vehicle sphere.

“Deep in the culture of Apple is this sense and understanding of how product design, build process and final application are all connected,” she says. “Steve Jobs’ guiding tenet was simplicity – not merely the shallow simplicity that comes from an uncluttered look and feel and surface of a product, but the deep simplicity that comes from knowing the essence of every product, the complexities of its engineering and the function of every component.”

Following that example, Marinka Nooteboom is on a mission to bring back some of the “magic” that has gone missing during the long and strenuous Eurozone crisis, which followed the bursting of the US housing bubble in 2007 and forced many a European manufacturing business to scale back and rationalise.

Ironically, the model that is supposed to mark the turning point is called Manoovr – a name more related to Motorola’s famed Razr clamshell phone than Apple’s revolutionary iPhone. But regardless of the nomenclature, the new Manoovr range could indeed herald the start of a new era for the Dutch OEM, which is the only business of its kind to ever be awarded the honorary title of ‘Royal’ by the Dutch monarch.

The main point of difference is the model’s new suspension system, says Nooteboom. Even though the CEO is confident about the company’s overall standing in the marketplace, she says the competition has moved in a different direction in the wake of the crisis, with the pressure on Nooteboom to find an appropriate response. The new Manoovr range could be just that.

“We have realised that businesses in the heavy transport industry continue to embrace the idea of a passenger car-like independent wheel suspension that will allow them to reduce the ride height and add more stability to a float,” she says. “At Nooteboom, we traditionally use a pendle axle solution, so we had a bit of gap in our portfolio for a while. With the Manoovr, we have now developed a technology that has the same advantages as an independent system, but without giving up on our traditional pendle axle philosophy.”

According to Nooteboom, who took over as CEO in 2012, that unique engineering approach caught the industry by surprise when the system went live in July. With OEMs such as Doll in Germany and Broshuis in the Netherlands successfully selling new generation semi low loaders that are lower and more stable, many an expert was expecting Nooteboom to simply follow down the same path, so the outcry was notable when it didn’t.

In the first product presentation to the press, Marinka Nooteboom made sure she pointed out exactly why an independent suspension solution had been rejected: “[In an independent system] there are many moving parts which need to be lubricated regularly, and that jeopardises reliability in the long run. Also, when the suspension moves to cope with the irregularities of the road, the wheel positions tend to change and cause additional tyre wear,” she said back then. “As a result, the wheels suffer from camber and toe-in as the suspension is working. With pendle axles, the position of the wheels remains the same, no matter the motion of the suspension. This is very important with regard to tyre wear, maintenance and tyre cost.”

As part of the newly interpreted pendle axle construction, Nooteboom’s engineering team came up with an upside-down pivot arm. Put simply, the suspension now starts out as a traditional pendle axle, but by turning the arm around and altering the construction a little, it gained the decisive 70mm in loading height it had been missing compared to the competition.

A full-length one-inch steel plate now serves as the new load platform. Beneath it is a suite of conical openings to make space for the new pivot arms, allowing the load to spread more evenly across the solid floor slab. A central longitudinal beam provides additional stability and the possibility to extend the trailer to a length of up to 10.1m if needed.

Nooteboom is quick to point out that the new design won’t make the model heavier than a rival one. “Mounting pendle axles with the unique Manoovr technology makes it possible to install a very high central beam. This central beam can then be much lighter and still have the same strength and torsional stiffness,” she says – shutting down any tongue-in-cheek reference to the famous iPhone bending debate before it can even flare up. “What’s important is that the lightweight construction, together with the simplicity of the pendle axle construction, results in a very favourable tare weight for the Manoovr range.”

She adds that with the new construction, Nooteboom has secured a 12-tonne axle weight allowance all over Europe, which is said to be a key selling point for the new range going forward. “Because we stayed with the pendle axle design, the Manoovr has a rated load capacity of 12 tonnes per axle line in the Netherlands. This is significantly more than semi-trailers with independent suspension can offer, which is usually no more than ten tonnes per axle with permit,” Nooteboom says – acknowledging that many independently suspended low loaders were recently awarded a 12-tonne allowance for Germany only.

Still, the newly developed suspension could be a game-changer for the brand, she insists. After all, the loading height is now comparable to the competition at 780mm, with a maximum travel of 500mm. On top of that, the 70° steering angle ensures ample manoeuvrability, which is important for the demanding oversize/ over mass market. The main advantage, however, is the reduction of tyre wear compared to the independently suspended design, says Nooteboom, who expects each tyre unit to last three to four times longer, up to 300,000km or more, on a Manoovr than on a competing model. If the company’s claim about wheel travel proves true as well, Nooteboom’s new model would thereby have quite the edge over Doll, Broshuis, Goldhofer et al., according to the CEO.

Another issue Nooteboom’s engineering team took on with the new model was trailer width. The Manoovr can now be supplied in two sizes, at 2.75m or 2.55m. The 2.55 width would allow the client to travel throughout Europe with an empty trailer on a normal permit – an improvement that should not be underestimated, says Nooteboom.

“You can load 60 tonnes on our new trailer and use it without a special permit when empty,” she says. “Almost anyone can operate a Manoovr, which is something we considered very important when designing it. We wanted it so simple and easy to use that you can send off almost any licensed driver on a trip with a Nooteboom.”

For that very reason, Nooteboom had a special feature added that could come in handy when using a dolly: The ratio between the fifth wheel load and the weight on the front axles of the trailer can be adjusted hydraulically to adjust the respective axle load. The gooseneck can be gradually adjusted from 18 tonnes for a 6×4 truck to 30 tonnes for an 8×4 unit at 12 tonnes per axle line on the front group. The adjustment is operated via two vertical cylinders in the neck construction.

In line with Marinka Nooteboom’s Apple-inspired design philosophy, the company has made a committment to improving both ergonomics and safety on the new model as well. The controls are all simple to understand and logically positioned underneath the gooseneck, for example. The new suspension, meanwhile, has up to 50 per cent fewer pivot points across the steering and suspension function compared to semi-trailers with independent suspension, with the pivot bushing claimed to be completely maintenance-free.

“The result is a cleaner look and less complexity,” says Nooteboom, who estimates the family business is currently ranking second in the European semi low loader market, out of a total of five businesses. “I think we’ve really managed to take customer feedback on board and designed something they will love. Creating that kind of unique customer experience is the most important aspect to us.

“We are not specifically aiming to be the number one player in our field. Customer satisfaction is our main goal. With the Manoovr, we expect to bring back customers who have bought other semi low loaders and hope to sell to customers who have so far opted for the competition.”

Leaning heavily on the Apple example, she says Nooteboom intends to sell the new model in as complete a form as possible. “We want people to come to us and embrace the brand. With a Manoovr, many businesses will find that’s all they need in the current environment. It’s beautifully engineered, simply and sophisticated, just like we wanted it to be.”

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