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Back in 2015, NAF Neunkirchener Achsenfabrik started with the spare parts sales for construction and industrial axles that were already in the field for the OEMs. That was just the beginning of their history, and there have been no setbacks for them since. The company started with a million dollars’ worth sales and has now ramped up to a level where they have reached around four million dollars worth of business by producing precision, high-quality axles backed by an impeccable in time delivery record to their customers. As the leading market manufacturer of drive trains for self-propelled forestry machines, NAF AG has been serving customers to tackle extreme deployment conditions. We spoke with Wier Ben, President North America, NAF Neunkirchener Achsenfabrik to learn more about the company and its growth plans for 2019 and beyond.
Tell us about the challenges companies face today in Forestry space, and how does NAF help solve that challenge for them?
One of the biggest challenges would be the durability and longevity of the life of the axles. To this end, our axles have service intervals scheduled at 1500, 3000, 5000, and 10000 intervals and we provide a maintenance plan where key components should be changed and checked at each one of those service levels to keep the machines in the field reliable for as long as possible. If they are looking at their forestry application as far as harvesting, they need not worry about having any breakdown or emergency maintenance with the newer axles because our axleslast much longer than the competition.
The North American market faces many challenges when it comes to the durability of axles as it keeps axles in circulation longer than the European or Scandinavian markets. Most of the times, we deal with second or third owners of the machine; as the first owners of the machines are running these things through a lease program with the OEM dealerships. This proves the durability of our machines in pre-owned equipment.
Could you elaborate more on the company’s core offering?
About 70 per cent of total majority applications are inclined towards forestry, and the remaining 30 percent is geared towards agriculture, construction, and material handling. With the vision of providing answers to the practical, economic, and logistical challenges of tomorrow, NAF has come up with the bogie axles for heavy-duty vehicles. Our bogie axle with the balanced bogies system with the kind of torque that it produces—keeping the axle on the ground makes us unique in the market as a world leader in the forestry space. We cater mostly to the German and Scandinavian markets and now the North American region as well.
The portal step bogie is the poster child of all the bogies wherein the gear ratios are stepping down out towards the wheel ends, which reduces the cost for the customer. So they're delivering the balanced power at the right ratio to get the tractive effort that they need. Also, it's the most cost-effective and reliable option because it's manually driven gear system built from the centre out. This allows customers to have them most cost effective production runs. Our axles system is a modular concept building and then the most tractive effort down to the wheel end based on their tire.
Our modular build concept allows customers to be a part of the design process to build what they need, thereby not compromising with the warehouse standard OEM product
The main difference in our bogie axle is the permanent bogie balancing system (PBBS). It consists of the oil immersed brakes and the differential lock. We specifically match the gear ratio based on the customer's application, such that there's a lot more involvement far from our modular concept. We pick the category that is the closest and most economically feasible based on production runs, while at the same time offering dedicated individual axles to a customer’s application right down to what they're looking for as far as gear ratios and performance on the ground. Our competition operates around a standard warehouse option. The axles are built and sold only off platform from the axle manufacturer and not from the customer application. So our axles are more centred on the customer's application rather than us inventing something and selling a standard product to the world.
We keep our customers at the centre of the process and build from the ground up to match their specifications with the main features already established in the forestry market. Thus we ensure that our products work for their project plan along with considering cost-effectiveness. Our modular build concept allows customers to be a part of the design process to build what they need, thereby not compromising with the warehouse standard OEM product.
Are there any support options in place to help your client’s throughout their journey?
We have added new customers in the agriculture space and material handling market in the United States. We offer them the chance to be the part of the design process, taking off of our modular concept. Once we have an established a prototype axle for them, and after they've had the runoff, we'll bring it back or go to their site and offer a teardown inspection and training course. The first time for the OEM to see how the axle is starts with taking them apart correctly and then putting it back together. In the long run, we also have training for their service mechanics to understand the manual maintenance necessary in the intervals that we have suggested. We go ahead and go to the field or have a training course scheduled at the OEM site or ours, where we do the same thing with the field mechanics. They're the first people to engage with the axles in the field; so we help them understand the concept behind the modular build and then how to maintain that modular axle, so they have the correct knowledge, documentation, and the tools to actually tear into the axles and do the maintenance that's necessary to keep these axles going efficiently as possible.
What is the unique feature that sets you apart from other players in the market?
The specific customer dedication starting with engineering, training, and instruction and then down to our operational level if necessary sets us apart from other players in the market. Any time a new customer is looking at us, they have a relationship in close communication with not only sales and service team, but also they have a direct line of communication if necessary to the engineering team in the factory. What we're gathering is from the customer base, which is not available with any of our competitors as it's more of a sales team first where that's not our approach. We keep our sales team as the first point of contact, but then they're quickly setup with engineering and then with the services and support parts department.
What does the future hold for your organization? Any footprint expansion plans or any new solutions that you are coming up with?
For the next 12 to 18 months, we've already started our expansion program to meet the customers’ demands. In the forestry industry, we've seen 18 to 25 percent growth worldwide. So to achieve that growth we've started on the expansion of automated paint line at the factory in Germany and the prototype test runoff is also done and it'll be online in the upcoming days.
We've also invested in the machining applications because the bogie axle casting is the core intellectual property of NAF. So we have expanded the machining territory taking on a new hall in Germany as well to support that with machining. Also, we have invested in logistics to support more machining and finished goods capacity. In the United States, we are expanding our production capacity to now have the capabilities of finish assembly and production test. We are ramping up for North American customers and assembling rigid axles. By the next year’s end, bogie axles will also be assembled, tested, painted, and then shipped complete, instead of a just in time warehouse system we use for product delivery in the United States today. Lastly, in terms of footprint expansion, we are plan to assembly more products in the US location to support that continuous growth of our customer’s markets.