The Southeast Asia & Australia sales manager for Klingelnberg AG tells Eliot Lobo what makes this leading supplier of equipment for bevel gear manufacture special, and discusses the directions he sees gear technology taking in India and worldwide.
What is Klingelnberg’s position in the Indian market today?
If you looked at the market situation in the early 1990s, a big competitor had about 80 percent of the Indian market. We were a minor player. And it was only by offering customers better technology, a better software system, and better machines, that we have been able to grow our business. At the moment we can very safely state that we own more than 80 percent of the Indian market. We are in a very strong position, but this has not made us lazy. We aren’t sitting back; we are still very aggressive.What we are actually doing is talking to our customers and educating them. We aren’t approaching them with a lifestyle product but with technical solutions. We address the difficulties they face in the field. Perhaps an automotive manufacturer has noise problems. Maybe he has an excessive number of warranty failures of his bevel gears. He is not able to decide where the problem lies — is it something in manufacturing, or quality control? We approach such customers, and address all their unanswered questions.
How does it work? How do you know they have a problem? Or is it they who come to you?
It happens both ways. If we are not partners with this customer yet, we go find out what’s happening there. So we make the first visit, talk to their technical department. And those people are normally very unbiased. They need a technical solution, and they don’t care where it’s coming from as long as they have a competent partner who can give this solution to them. This is where it starts. It’s like consulting.
Does this necessarily lead to the sale of a machine?
The selling of the machine is the last part in this entire process. The first is the technical interaction, then discussing and finding out where their problems are, then offering to analyse their problems, and suggesting solutions. In most cases you can very easily suggest a number of solutions, but the customer needs to really touch and feel this solution. In such cases we develop prototype parts. If they tell us they have parts that are giving problems when their cars are run at 160 km/h in South Africa, for example, and people are complaining about excessive oil temperatures and noise, we ask them to let us look into their problem, come up with an alternative design, and try it out. And in some cases we share the cost with the customer. We do the development for them, they put it on their vehicle and try it out.
Do you actually design the gears for them?
In every case. We have a total solution for all gear-related applications and problems. So when the customer tells me, ‘This is my vehicle, this vehicle is supposed to perform at this speed, this is my engine, this is the torque we have, this is my gearbox, etc, now give me an axle gear design that will work comfortably with these aggregates, and please make sure that it doesn’t generate noise or give me warranty problems’, that is what we address.
So then there is a lot of automotive functional expertise that you also possess, not just in the gears but also in how the axle fits into the whole vehicle?
Absolutely. We not only design the gears per se; we also analyse their running behaviour in the entire environment of the axle. So we take account of the deflections of the axle, and the rigidity of the bearings. We look at every possible thing.
How does it work for your Indian customers? Do you do the development in Germany or Switzerland, or onsite?
In most cases we interact very closely with the R&D department of the customer. Most of the OEMs in India, and even the aggregate manufacturers, have strong R&D skills. Sometimes all they require is the right tools. And it may happen that the right tool is with us. So we interact with them, they provide to us the information we need, and we come up with the first solution. We discuss it together, and we explain to them why we think this is the way they should go. We debate it and we take their inputs into consideration, because maybe a certain solution is not possible for them to accept. Then we look at alternatives. This is a continuous dialogue with the customer. Once the customer has approved our design, we cut the prototypes at our R&D facility in Zurich or in Germany.
You actually cut gears yourself?
Yes. We have our own development centre. We develop gears for Formula One (see box). That is the kind of expertise we have. We make enormous gears for the ship industry. We also make special gears for the mining industry and for steel mills. So we have a great deal of knowledge and experience in-house. And this is what really helps.And once we have done this exercise, the customer receives these parts and fits them either on their test rig or on their vehicle, and monitor the performance. And so far, in every case, we have been dot-on. This is the reason why the customers are switching. Because they are able, before they buy a machine, to experience the improvement, so they are convinced. It is always an informed choice by the customer. It’s not the normal selling process.
Do you also provide gear design software?
Yes. We have a very powerful gear design software suite called KIMoS. This is an integrated modular software. You can use it for basic design, plus it has add-on modules for optimisation and finite element modules for post-processing, and modules that can be used for fixture design, etc. Design, analysis, optimisation — the full circle. We offer all this to the customer.
Once you have the gear design in your software, can they integrate it with their regular CAD for the whole vehicle assembly?
Yes. People can take the information from KIMoS software and export it to Pro/Engineer or to Nastran for further processing. So they get a software system which that works seamlessly with their other modelling or design software.
Is this software tied to the hardware? Do they need to have your machines?
It is not. It is independent of any hardware. Pure R&D houses that may not cut any gears also use our software.
On the other hand, do all customers for your machines use this software?
Not necessarily. Klingelnberg’s philosophy has always been to make the customer independent, or self-reliant. We think the philosophy of other players in the market is to make customers depend on them. This way they always control the knowledge level, the accessibility to knowledge, and of course the commercial interest of the company in the market. And we think this is the wrong approach. We are always trying to give as much information to the customer as possible so that he makes informed choices.And we’ve designed our software system in such a way that the customer can use it with a minimum of training. He designs and develops his own gears. So previously, a gear development would take six months, in some cases a year, because for every step the customer had to go back to the provider. But customers have reported to me that after using our software system, together with the closed loop system for manufacturing, they are able to cut down the development time to one week! So we are absolutely convinced that giving the responsibility and power to the customer is the best way to get the customer’s confidence. And you keep the dialogue completely open. This is where we have the edge.
Has Klingelnberg’s closed loop gear design–manufacture–inspect system you presented this last July found acceptance in India yet?
Absolutely. We have already implemented closed loop for a number of our truck OEM customers and suppliers. We are currently talking to a few more potential customers in the farm sector. Some of them are using five-cut technology they acquired 30 years back. This is clearly inefficient and is not able to meet the challenges of today’s gearing requirements.
Any perspectives on the automotive market for bevel gears in India, and globally?
One, I find that over the last 10 years the knowledge level of automotive customers in India has come very close to the global benchmark. Now if you looked at a car which would sell very nicely in India 15 years back, nobody cared about noise. Nobody cared about driving comfort. Look at where we are now. People are very choosy. They are uncomfortable with even the slightest of noise. They want driving pleasure — they want the engine to respond as soon as they put their foot on the accelerator. The side-effect of this we see in aggregate manufacturing.For instance, 10 years back, people just wanted to make gears. The gears would sell as long as they had teeth. Believe me, this was the case. And from there, we have been seeing that the major OEMs in the country have upgraded their technology to global standards. Today when I interact with the same people I interacted with 10 years back, we are now talking about transmission error. We are talking about noise behaviour. We are talking about mesh harmonics. We are talking about the finer aspects of design. We are talking about worldwide benchmarking of quality levels. This never happened before.People know that this is the world standard, that they have to get there, and if they have to get there they need to invest in new technology. Now we have come to a level where I would say the technology is as good as anywhere.With the improvement in infrastructure we think the tonnage of vehicles that ply the roads will shoot up. And customers will have basically two choices. To cater to this additional tonnage requirement they can either come up with bigger gears, or they can optimise their existing designs to haul higher tonnage. I think in years to come more and more customers will look to optimise their existing designs, and I expect in the next 5–10 years the major players in the market will switch to [face milling and] grinding technology for bevel gear manufacture.
What is the benefit of grinding gears?
If we are talking about truck applications, or in some bus or passenger applications, grinding the gearsets can give you an extreme improvement in load-carrying capacity. And it can also give you significantly improved noise behaviour. It can give you both, but when you are doing your design you have to decide what your overriding priority is. For instance, if you are talking about a truck, the overriding priority is not noise, but load-carrying capacity. Because a lot of people do not care if it makes a little more noise – you have to have better isolation for the cabin, and this is normally done. We try to get a better noise behaviour, but this is not the number one criterion for a truck application. When we talk about buses, it is the other way. A bus is not going to carry 40 tonnes. You know how many people it will carry, and that the overloading will not be huge. But the passengers want to travel in peace — they don’t want singing buses! So there the design priorities would be different and your design would have to look a little different from what you need for maximum load-carrying capacity. And I can very safely predict this is coming to India in the next 5–10 years, if not sooner.
We are seeing the introduction of a new generation of trucks from the Indian OEMs as a response to the entry of MAN and the anticipated arrival of new trucks from the Daimler, Volvo, and Navistar ventures over the next couple of years. So right now, are the OEMs aware of this technology?
There are two aspects. When a European manufacturer is coming to India and setting up operations, he already knows at what technology level he is operating at in Europe. So for him, introduction of grinding is not necessarily a new technology. But the way the Indian manufacturer would react or would anticipate to react when they know that an Actros has a gearset which is ground, which can carry so much more load, he automatically is perceiving a requirement on his side to upgrade. And we have taken one year to talk to all the domestic customers in India, and have been making them aware that this is going to happen, alerting them to this option. This dialogue is ongoing. We are working with all our partners in India right now who are involved in the truck segment, and we are at an advanced level of discussions on introduction of grinding with a few of them.Right now our customers use the face hobbing technique for heavy duty truck applications, and face milling for lower application ranges. And for both, they are using lapping as a finishing process. But I foresee that they will eventually move over entirely to milling and grinding to match the load carrying capacities of other players in the market. Or simply to reduce the cost of developing a separate axle for a bigger load carrying capacity.
They could use the same housing?
Exactly. They save tremendously in their development cost. And anything you save is profit.
Is this a development they are capable of undertaking on their own, or does Klingelnberg have to help them do it?
For the first time we normally hold their hand. We do this together. And once this is proven in their lab or vehicle field test, or in some cases both, and they have obtained the necessary confidence, then they are on their own. Then our role is only as a consultant when they have a difficulty, or when they want to have some additional inputs.
So it’s not only machines that you sell; it’s also this high-quality soft offer.
Yes. This is high-end, high-quality consulting work. You can never say, ‘I will help you only if.’ This is not working in a partnership. We have plans for our future that our services department, which is basically responsible for service of our machines plus applications, will derive a lot of revenue from this kind of services to the market. This is our long-term strategy. And this is why we think that educating our customers, staying in contact with them, giving them value-added inputs, is what will help us in the long run. And it helps the customer even more… n
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