Higher ground

Deutsche Kipper to introduce its product portfolio in India.

Autocar Pro News DeskBy Autocar Pro News Desk calendar 23 Jul 2009 Views icon9067 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
Higher ground
Jochen Görlich has a passion for high-performance sportscars of one particular German marque that has been conspicuous in the news of late. Porsches, the chairman of Deutsche Kipper India emphasises to this correspondent, are for him “a religion”. But rather than wax eloquent about his prized “997” Carrera, the current-generation 911 model he calls “the solid one for daily use” and proudly displays a picture of on his computer desktop, he enthuses instead over Porsche’s unbeatable brand values.

Görlich makes no secret of his admiration for the Stuttgart automaker’s obsession with detail, and that this is something he wants his own year-old tipper manufacturing enterprise in Chakan near Pune to emulate. “For 40 years I have been fascinated by that company’s ability to ‘finish’ their products. To my knowledge there is no other company that has as much right to use the word ‘finish’ as Porsche does,” he declares.

Porsches are “rounded” not only in their shape, he points out, but inside as well, underneath, and in the engine compartment. “And they do it silently, with a curtain understatement, not ostentatiously like Ferrari. They are good both for the racetrack and for simple daily use.” Bottomline: “Porsche is the best engineering company in the world and Deutsche Kipper will strive to come as close as possible to them.”

“German quality for an Indian price”, as Görlich wants to position his products, is something nobody has achieved as yet — not in the tipper segment at any rate. But he believes his fledgling company has what it takes to deliver on that promise. Deutsche Kipper has already come up with two products that are superior to existing offerings in the market, and a third that is unique, all at an advanced stage of production readiness.

But even as these projects proceed apace, Görlich has a more exciting piece of news to break: Deutsche Kipper is preparing to introduce a new three-way tipper built to the latest design from F. X. Meiller Fahrzeug- und Maschinenfabrik GmbH & Co KG, the world leader in high-performance tipping technology, and powered by the compact, high-pressure hydraulics for which Meiller is renowned worldwide.

The three-way tipper, which Meiller pioneered in Europe in 1925, is today the dominant type in the “highly industrialised” countries of Western Europe and North America. It is also the largest-selling model in Meiller’s portfolio at more than 7,500 units a year, accounting for 40 percent of its volumes. In Germany, Europe’s largest truck market, the company supplies three-quarters of the demand for three- and four-axle tippers.

In fact, Görlich says, 95 percent of the low-volume tippers (up to 12 cu.m.) in Europe are three-way tippers. They are particularly popular with small construction companies transporting their own materials – “10 cu.m. of sand here, 5 cu.m. of gravel there” – because of the flexibility they offer. You can tip where you need to, without having to manoeuvre the truck in the tight confines of the construction site.

“The system we make will correspond exactly to the one that exists in Germany at the moment,” Görlich says. This design, with smooth, horizontally profiled sideboards (picture above), was first introduced at last year’s IAA Commercial Vehicle show in Germany. Deutsche Kipper will produce variants for 4×2 and 6×4 chassis configurations such as the1616 and 2518 from Tata Motors, on whose plans the eventual launch depends. “We could supply them a prototype in 2–3 months’ time; we are only waiting for the order,” he adds.

The three-way tipper is the ideal transport for aggregates used in road widening projects. The problem with the tippers that exist in India is that they have to stop in the middle of the road, back up perpendicular to the kerb, blocking traffic in both directions while they tip, and then move off. A three-way tipper can go right up to the spot and just tip sideways — no traffic jams, nothing. “The three-way tipper will complete the tipping technology in India,” Görlich says.

A few of these – “not even 100” – have already been sold by others, but this type has not caught on yet because of faulty designs. “The primary problem with these designs is that they are unstable while tipping sideways,” managing director Lalit Wankhede explains. “To add to that, opening the sideboard when loaded is a risky operation. Moreover, having to select the tipping direction by manually engaging pins at the hinges can have disastrous consequences — in many cases, while attempting to tip with all four hinges left locked, the hydraulic ram has ripped through the tipper floor. Ours will be a proven design that has none of these problems.”

Wankhede is convinced he can make a success of the Meiller product in India despite widespread scepticism even among the OEMs. “Imagine the amount of work needed to widen all the highways and feeder roads and connect the rivers — such projects really justify the use of this product over others. Since our philosophy is based on application-optimisation and on making German quality available at Indian prices, we will give the market a better tipper for a reasonable price.”

Of course the product will carry the ‘Powered by Meiller’ sign, as will all other Deutsche Kipper products that use Meiller hydraulics. “We are proud to be so close to Meiller,” Görlich points out. “That comes down to our philosophy — we would like to be an Indian company with a German quality standard and with a German quality culture.”

Interestingly enough, this is only the beginning of a wider relationship with Meiller. Asked about the prospect of Deutsche Kipper using Meiller technology in its existing front-end tipper designs, Görlich says: “Our cooperation is based on very close dialogue about everything regarding tipper technology. It is not possible to isolate specific items. We have unlimited access to Meiller knowhow, and our own tippers will include more and more Meiller experience.”

Associating with Deutsche Kipper finally gives Meiller the entry to the Indian market it has sought for the last four years, following abortive attempts to forge collaborations with Kailash Vahan Udyog in 2005–6 and Asia MotorWorks in 2007–8. “We have agreed to support Deutsche Kipper with our hydraulic kits and technical knowhow in tipper design. In turn, they will support us with marketing and in certain other common areas of interest,” a Meiller official wrote in reply to an e-mail enquiry by this correspondent.

One of these “common areas of interest” is evidently component sourcing, another endeavour in which Meiller was not particularly successful earlier because it did not have somebody on the ground in India. Now Deutsche Kipper will be responsible for validation and vendor development. “We are going to be the long arm here for Meiller’s global sourcing,” Görlich reveals.

The company will initially seek to source forged and machined components for the three-way hinges and locks for the three-way tipper. The idea is, since it will otherwise have to import some of those parts from Meiller anyway, why not localise as many as it can for domestic use, and then supply them back to Europe? “These are small parts, but highly quality-orientated at that. For the lock parts, for example, you cannot have a material that does not last long enough under wear-and-tear conditions. The quality has to be very good, of the Meiller standard, and we will use this quality for the Indian market as well,” he says.

In March the company supplied its first dumper-class body to Mercedes-Benz for trial use on the latter’s Actros 4840 four-axle chassis. From a Mercedes source Autocar Professional learns that the test vehicle is presently engaged in overburden removal at a coal mine in Ramagundam near Hyderabad. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive — the customer has reported he can load two excavator buckets more with confidence that the vehicle will not topple.

Contacted by this correspondent, Mercedes general manager (product) Shailesh Zinge admitted that a Deutsche-Kipper-bodied Actros is being tested by a customer, but he refused to elaborate or comment on the tipper, saying simply that it is “under development”. Our source reveals that, because of customer dissatisfaction with its present tipper body supplier, the OEM is seriously evaluating alternatives for the new Actros 4841 MP3 due to be introduced next month. Consequently, it is likely to place a follow-on order for a batch of 10 beta prototypes that will have to be delivered by October.

The Deutsche Kipper folks at first maintained a studied silence over the product, but a pin-up of the vehicle at their office was the giveaway. What’s immediately apparent is that the body sits lower on the chassis and has lower side rails. Weighing in at 6.7 tonnes, it is about 10 percent lighter and has “the lowest centre of gravity anybody can offer in the industry”, according to marketing director Palak Bhattacharya, but is actually designed to carry almost a whole cubic metre more (compared to 18 cu.m).

Topping the list of this sandwich-floor rock body’s distinctives, however, is the provision for exhaust-heating, needed specifically for sand applications to prevent the material from sticking to the floor and sidewalls when wet. “The OEM does not have to maintain a separate inventory of exhaust-heated bodies when it can very well use the same body — now it’s just a question of whether it wants to put the exhaust heating in or not. Second, the exhaust-heated bodies today need a separate twin-split muffler, which means the OEM again has to maintain an additional inventory of twin-split exhausts; with our design they can just use the regular ones,” Bhattacharya explains.

The customer is the most significant beneficiary because, for one, he no longer needs two different types of tippers in his fleet, one for exhaust-heated applications and another for rock applications. The exhaust-heated tippers in the market today all come with smooth single-plate floors without rock-breakers and aren’t designed to withstand impact loads from falling rocks. If tomorrow the customer has to shift his entire fleet for a rock application, he can now use the same body for that application as well.

Equally important from the customer’s perspective is the life expectancy of the tipper. “Ours has definitely got more life than the competition,” Görlich declares. “And apart from its own life, its integration with the chassis better protects the rear stabiliser and brake chambers, fuel tank, and some of the filter components from damage. Moreover, outer marker flashers unique to our design help excavator operators to gauge the height of the body better in the dark, minimising the chances of them hitting and damaging the sideboards.”

In prospect is a production order for 10 bodies a month starting at the end of 2009, to be increased progressively to 30 a month over the following year. Meanwhile, Deutsche Kipper will be the first tipper manufacturer in this category to offer a true alternative to Hyva when it begins to fit Interpump Hydraulics (IPH) India’s wet kit at the beginning of 2010. Autocar Professional learns that IPH, the only supplier worldwide of end-to-end solutions in tipping hydraulics, is planning to send out trial kits to truck OEMs in India free of cost from next month onwards.

Apprehending a threat to its monopoly, the competition has reportedly reduced its prices for the OEM to around Rs 7.5 lakh including the hydraulics. But rather than be dragged into a price war right from the start, Deutsche Kipper has chosen the approach Bhattacharya calls “zero-based costing”, which means that every single component in the bill of material is costed at its actual cost to the company excluding taxes and excise, which are in any case included in the Cenvat when the OEM is billed for the tipper.

“We’ve opened out all our cards to the OEM, showing them exactly what our materials cost, what each input costs part-number-wise, and what our total cost is. And we charge only 10 percent on direct costs and 5 percent on indirect costs, which is very reasonable. They have access to the invoices for the steel we purchase from Essar, for the kits that we buy from Hyva, and the bills for the various other components. It’s all very transparent,” he points out.

Besides, there’s an additional benefit of stating costs upfront that this former Hyva marketing man experienced when there were two price increases during his time there: “If there is a sudden spurt in input costs such as, for example, for steel, I can close my eyes and go to the OEM and say this is what the cost to me is, I cannot maintain my price.”

“With the OEMs you have to be very clear about your costing, whereas outside customers who often come to the company in urgent need are willing to buy at a higher price because of the high opportunity cost,” he adds. “Over and above that, we have often walked around a tipper we’ve just built and seen areas where we could reduce costs and pass on the benefit to the OEM. For example, we found in the field that the mudguards fall off because of the weight of the mud accumulated on them which the operators don’t clean. We’d been using 4mm-thick St52 steel, and since it was going to fall off anyway, we saved costs using a lower-grade material.”

At Deutsche Kipper product enhancement is a process institutionalised in the form of its MOD programme (see interview on page 32), and available to every OEM it is supplying to on a regular basis. To wit, for each of the designs it supplies, the company will have an upgrade every year. “We will observe the product for a certain period and take in feedback from the customer, based on which we will revise it and then release it back into the market with new features. So it’s a continual, rather than continuous, process,” Wankhede explains.

The company has three design patents pending on its dumper, one of them pertaining to the lowered centre of gravity. Though unwilling to elaborate till they are allotted, Wankhede does drop a hint later. The subassembly-level designs – such as of the rear hinge, scissor stabiliser, and rear underrun protection device – “which we normally patent” will be common across its offerings, he says, but the other specifications will be tailored to the OEMs’ wishes.

Commonising as much as possible makes manufacturing easier, but if an OEM is not willing to pay, for example, for a lower centre of gravity, then it gets what it wants — “because that isn’t free of charge,” Görlich points out. “It takes a lot of design effort to lower the centre of gravity.”

Prioritising the volume market

Görlich retired from German concrete equipment specialist Schwing GmbH a couple of years ago as member of the main board responsible for sales and marketing worldwide, and founder and chairman of Schwing Stetter India. Being “much too young to be 60”, he decided to start a new life building tippers, for which he had already seen huge emerging demand when he was at Schwing.

He teamed up with “Mr Tipper”, as he likes to call Wankhede, the former Hyva India technical head he had earlier met on his search for a good technician for Schwing and who in the mean time had left Hyva and started a tipper manufacturing outfit of his own. Wankhede, for his part, had been looking for an opportunity to mount transit mixers for Schwing in Jamshedpur.

The two were introduced by a common acquaintance. “We talked to each other and realised we could work together in something like a father–son relationship,” Görlich says. “He’s a good technician, is Mr Tipper, and the human chemistry was there as well.” The company started off in June 2008 with 14 cu.m. and 16 cu.m. standard construction-class tippers for Tata’s 2516 and 2518 before the economy nosedived and promised orders for “thousands” vanished into thin air. “When we started, the economy was quite good. Exactly when we finished our first tipper there was an overhang, so we now have three tippers in stock,” he says with an air of resignation.

Although its scope encompasses all classes of trucks, from the Tata Ace to the Actros 4841 and everything in between, it appears that Deutsche Kipper is right now addressing the needs only of the highest end and the lowest end. A deliberate strategy, Görlich admits, because the company is still small. “In five years maybe I’ll give you a different answer, but now we have to concentrate ourselves and are trying to do it in a way that we show the market both that we are a competent supplier and can have a growth strategy.”

It has used the lean period of the last several months to innovate, coming up with a unique elevating tipper for the Ace and a special model for Tata’s upcoming 1616 semiforward-control chassis. It has also submitted three proposals to the OEM for the World Truck — a standard 19 cu.m. tipper with and without a hydraulic tailgate, and a larger, 20 cu.m. model built from a “very high-tensile” material. In the meantime it is in “permanent contact” with MAN Nutzfahrzeuge in Germany, awaiting the introduction of the four-axle TGA WW — “they promised to give us the first one,” Görlich says.

Choosing Chakan as headquarters meant a return to the place where, over a decade ago, Wankhede oversaw the construction of his very first prototype for Hyva on an Ashok Leyland chassis at a local workshop. The present leased facility has adequate capacity for 250 tippers a month, and Deutsche Kipper’s original plan to set up its own plant nearby in a couple of years has now been delayed at least till 2011 because of the market conditions.

In a second phase, the plan envisages dedicated assembly shops in Jamshedpur (for Tata), Indore (for MAN Force Trucks and VE Commercial Vehicles), and Chennai (for Ashok Leyland and Daimler) that will “cube” semi-knocked-down bodies delivered from the “mother plant” in Chakan, where the company will continue to build complete bodies for Mahindra Navistar nearby and for premium European-spec vehicles like the Actros. Bhattacharya estimates that a good 40 percent of business could come from Actros conversions in the near term.

Depending on how much the market for standard tippers picks up, Wankhede thinks the company could generate up to 30 percent of its turnover from these models for two- and three-axle trucks. Competition in the 6–14 cu.m. range is intense, so margins will be relatively thin. “But our products in this range will have value-additions such as low-cost coverings, ultra-low weight body for higher payload, modern cutting-edge designs, and better durability and reliability,” he promises.

First in the works is a somewhat radically styled front-end tipper for the 160 hp evolution of Tata’s bestselling SK 1613 bonneted truck, which accounted for 80 percent of this 18,000-strong market in 2008–09. Deutsche Kipper has both proposed this design to the OEM’s fully built vehicle unit, and begun working on it alongside with TAL Manufacturing Solutions, the Tata subsidiary that wants to establish itself in front-end tipping hydraulics with a newly developed wet kit complete with PTO, pump and cylinder.

The SK 1613 is a throwback to the era before power steering was introduced. Situating the cab behind the engine was a design expedient to ensure that the steering effort was never beyond the driver’s endurance. It simply shifted the weight distribution of the loaded truck towards the rear, disproportionately and often excessively loading the rear axle.

With his design Wankhede has attempted to shift the load distribution forward a bit, using a front-end ram that is both more reliable and capable of tipping a load almost twice as heavy as is possible with the traditional underbody cylinder because of the Class 2 lever effect. And the trademark lowered sideboards are now single-sheet panels stiffened by bending them into horizontal profiles that have a skewed pattern along their length. “This reduces the dead weight of the body considerably compared to conventional rib-stiffened sideboards and increases the payload,” he points out.

Unlike most front-end tippers, which have sloping headboards and a wide gap to the cab of the truck allowing easy access to the hydraulics from either side, in this case a sheer headboard was necessary to maintain the 8.5 cu.m. capacity of the conventional designs. As a result, Wankhede has had to accommodate the hydraulics and ram within a doghouse that allows easy access to the cylinder, hoses, and connectors via a door that can be opened from inside the body.

Apart from the load distribution and the high centre of gravity, this vehicle had another problem — the outer rear-view mirrors were largely ineffective because the headboard blocked the driver’s view and he could only see the body, the cab being much narrower. “In our design the headboard is trapezoidal in shape, narrowing upwards. This allows the driver a clear view of the rear in his mirrors,” he says.

Racing with the Ace

While all the aforementioned projects will take time to stabilise and generate a steady revenue stream, it is the unique elevating tipper Deutsche Kipper developed for the Ace that Bhattacharya sees more immediate returns from because the competition in this segment is far less intense. That apart, none of the aggregates or materials is imported, and they can moreover be sourced from multiple local manufacturers. This model will probably become the “constant source of earning our bread and butter”, he says.

The aim is to produce “up to 50 per day” starting in the next few months, and the tipper will be marketed mainly through Tata dealerships because the OEM has not yet articulated a strategy for fully built vehicles in this category. Tata is understood to have contracted Accenture to develop a blueprint for this purpose, and so far the consulting firm has reportedly been visiting dealers gathering information as part of what’s been dubbed the ‘Race with Ace’ project.

The first prototype was delivered to Pune dealer Bafna Motors three months ago for a price of Rs 78,000 inclusive of excise duty. Right now the company is busy trying to reduce the weight of the body and hydraulics from 450kg, which presently allows an effective payload of only 300kg. This is adequate for garbage, but not for carrying heavier loads like building materials.

The 1.75 cu.m. tipper was designed to transform the Ace into a multimission vehicle that would also enhance the efficiency of the evolving hub-and-spoke distribution chain by facilitating direct transhipment. “A large truck can discharge its cargo straight onto the elevated body, eliminating the need for warehousing. This saves both cost and time, and the cargo can be delivered more flexibly to the point of sale or consumption,” Bhattacharya explains.

When Autocar Professional visited most recently, the company was preparing to cube its second proto using a pair of curved 1.6mm steel sheets with bent-in profile reinforcements it had just received from a supplier. This design requires the sheets to be spot-welded to each other along one overlapping edge to produce the tray, whereas in the first prototype the halfpipe was fashioned from several 2mm strips seam-welded together. The flat floor allows the tipper to discharge completely, unlike the scow-end models used for waste disposal that require manual intervention.

And whereas the existing tippers on the Ace all use electrically driven powerpacks, the Deutsche Kipper product employs a robust, direct-mount PTO and pump from IPH and a special tipper valve from Polyhydron, both developed expressly for this application. “The problem with a powerpack in duty cycle operation is that you either run down the battery or cut short the life of the generator because of constant use. Again, powerpacks draw a very high starting current, so either the battery goes or the alternator goes,” Bhattacharya points out.

The single-cylinder mechanism for both elevation and tipping cuts both cost and complexity — the driver does not need to alight, engage a lever to lift the tray, and then get back in to operate the tipping valve. A critical, albeit hidden feature is the technique by which the elevation and tipping are sequenced. The tray is first lifted to its highest elevation, locked in that position, and then tipped — all in one motion. “You have only to select the application. Do you want it for normal, or elevated tipping?” Wankhede says. The tray pivots on a subframe that overlies another mounted to the chassis. The two are joined by a scissor-action lifting mechanism with rollers at the front and pivots at the rear. When the subframes are locked together, the tray is tipped in the standard position. Unlocking them allows them to separate, the upper subframe lifts till its topmost elevation, and the tray is tipped. A patented catch automatically locks the sliding ends of the scissorlift to the elevated subframe to prevent it from collapsing should the cylinder fail while tipping. When the tray returns to rest it releases the catch, allowing the subframe to be lowered by gravity.

Another novel feature of the “totally patented” design is the dual-hinged tail door for the tray that swings open while tipping but automatically locks when the tray is horizontal, and can also be dropped downwards till it hangs vertically, allowing long objects like pipes to be loaded, or goods to be transferred from larger trucks.

A simple redesign is all it will take to adapt the tipper for Mahindra’s upcoming LTV, and possibly AMW’s Pug. “Our ultimate aim is to outsource the body supplies, while we do the critical components – the scissor and the hydraulics – and assemble the tipper,” Bhattacharya says. Indications are he will be able to sell 1,000 in the first year itself.

Much depends, though, on the Pune Municipal Corporation, which according to Wankhede has expressed a desire to change its tender specifications to include a lift-and-tip body. For many years the PMC has used skiploaders on Tata 608-class chassis, but it is now keen to have the Ace with this arrangement because it is more flexible and can go into inner-city areas, where the roads are narrower.

In the meantime he’s looking forward to the Ace 1T that is being road-tested right now. The multi-utility tipper will only really come into its own on this heavier-duty version of the vehicle, whose higher axle loading capacity and better springs will permit universal applications, not only waste handling.

The journey has just begun, and Deutsche Kipper is looking to the future with confidence. Having seen the vicissitudes of the market over a lifetime of being closely associated with the German and Indian truck industries, its otherwise exuberant chairman refuses to be swayed by suggestions of rapid growth around the corner in all its segments.“We are working on all our three product lines with the same intensity and hope we can manage to maintain a balance in our business,” is his uncharacteristically sober conclusion.
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