Internationally positioned

The volume of goods transported via roads with trucks and trailers is expected to increase as the middle class grows and brings with it more purchasing power and consumption primarily in various emerging markets. Equipment specialist, SAF-Holland, outlined in its 2020 growth strategy a series of business plans to align its operations and group structure accordingly.

While the business is actively tapping new markets, expanding its global position and extending its global aftermarket service offering, it relies on its established facilities to maintain consistency in output. Its headquarters in Bessenbach, Germany, is prime real estate in terms of production.

The plant, which was opened in 2000, has a production area of approximately 20,000 square meters. In Bessenbach there is still a second factory. The two together have a total area of 34,000 square meters.
This site has three key focuses : the high-volume production of the SAF INTRADISC plus INTEGRAL products; floating axle manufacturing, component manufacturing for other divisions as well as manufacturing of spare parts for the aftermarket; and a complete axle portfolio of SAF-Holland, SAF INTRA, SAF MODUL, SAF steering axles (drum brake and disc brake variants).

As this site is committed to production, the respective logistics warehouses were optimised and moved to an external location, further expanding factory capacities.

The most important areas and the core competencies of axle manufacturing, according to SAF-Holland Director Marketing Europe, Stephan Kleinschnitz, are welding, coating and assembly, taking into account health and safety as well as high quality standards.

“Currently there are around 800 employees in production,” he said.  “A qualification matrix allows flexible rotation of the employees between different workstations. This high level of qualification of the employees in production allows SAF-Holland to react to current market situations very flexibly.”

SAF-Holland planned to increase axle production volume of 215 per shift to 290 axles in Q4 2019. Kleinschnitz said this boost to productivity was completed successfully and within schedule. “This target for the cycle time of the work steps was achieved with a new welding line, an optimised coating process and workplace optimisation in assembly,” he said – adding that the production process typically follows this order: trailing arm production without mechanical parts, completion of axle by positioning and welding mounting parts, KTL painting and final mounting. “As for the cathodic dip coating process, electrically charged paint particles (+) are attracted by the negatively charged workpiece (-) and come to rest on its surface. The paint layer hardens at 180°C. The layer thickness is 35 micrometres to 40 micrometres, which is about the thickness of a human hair. The benefits: 504 hours of salt spray test resistance, ozone resistance, no rust formation from stone impact, water-based paint and durable, hard and even surface.”

SAF-Holland also has a Continuous Improvement and Development (CIP) process that shapes Bessenbach factory one’s operations.

“We focus on a continuous improvement and development process in production,” Kleinschnitz said. “All departments work with and according to KPIs which are continuously reviewed and developed further. If deviations occur in these indicators, different processes are launched to ensure correction. The implementation focuses on the areas of health and safety, quality and production.”

Of the products that SAF-Holland manufactures at the site, the premium coated axle is a standout component. Axles are generally heavily exposed to dirt and moisture which makes them susceptible to corrosion. With the new three-layer premium coated process, SAF-Holland is reported to achieve excellent corrosion protection with its Premium Coated Axle by adding a high zinc content to the coating.

“This corrosion protection ensures a long value retention for the product,” Kleinschnitz said. “SAF-Holland offers a 10-year warranty against corrosion for these components. The benefits include: a significant increase in corrosion resistance, a 10-year warranty against corrosion and continuous increase in operating efficiency. The Premium Coated Axle is available in the INTRA range.”

In addition to product developments, Kleinschnitz explained that there have been innovations in how SAF-Holland assembles its more advanced equipment.

“The special feature of the hydraulically driven SAF INTRA CD TRAK follows different work steps during assembly, including the manufacturing and assembly of the actual axle, leak testing of the hydraulic components and linking the electronic components to the rest of the system,” he said. “Dedicated workstations were set up and employees received special training to ensure a smooth process for this.”

Kleinschnitz said the SAF TRAKr with electric regenerative braking and the SAF TRAKe axle, which offers traction support in addition to regenerative braking, are currently still in the testing phase. “The axles are currently being tested in the different climate zones and are undergoing trials for production maturity.”

Bessenbach factory one is renowned for producing at high volumes while ensuring optimal profitability compared to other SAF-Holland facilities.

“On the one hand, the success of SAF-Holland is based on the quality of the axle and suspension systems which leave our factories worldwide,” Kleinschnitz said. “On the other hand, it is built on customer focus – whether in the selection of the suitable components before an order, in the qualification of customer employees for their assembly process through audits or in the support from the SAF-Holland service team.”
As for research and development (R&D), Kleinschnitz elaborated on SAF-Holland’s in-house test bench and quality assurance processes.

“Until it reaches production maturity, each product runs through a defined Project Management Process (PMP),” he said. “SAF-Holland follows a strict development process from idea to production maturity. During the prototype phase, the components are checked for composition and stress. A computer simulation shows which stresses this component will be subjected to.

Components and axle units are tested with regard to service life and functionality on the different system test benches at SAF-Holland. After various calculations, the real figures from practical transport operation are loaded into the test bench as load profiles in simulation programs. This allows SAF-Holland to test a variety of different extreme stress scenarios, such as different road surfaces, bumpy roads and roads with narrow turns or potholes.”

SAF-Holland is preparing for a global Operational Excellence Roadmap rollout which will guide all of the equipment specialist’s facilities to a common global standard.

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