It is less than 24 hours before 250 potential customers descend on Goldhofer's headquarters in Memmingen, Germany to witness the unveiling of its Faktor 5 high girder bridge. Amid the hive of activity CEO Stefan Fuchs takes time out to talk to IC's Euan Youdale
With a major international event just hours away, you would think there was little time to pause for breath, let alone undertake a major interview. For Goldhofer's energetic CEO Stefan Fuchs, however, juggling the needs of his employees, customers and an IC journalist is, it seems, all in a day's work.
The truly global segment of Goldhofer's trailer output is its heavy-duty module range, in which the Faktor 5 proudly sits, (see Linked Articles for a product report about the Faktor 5).
Thanks to a payload range of 10 to 10,000 tonnes, pretty much all industries and their components can be covered by the manufacturer's THP sand PST modular vehicles.
In that segment, the energy sector has been making many headlines in recent years with its increasingly heavy and varied components, whether they be power plant transformers or wind turbine blades, says Fuchs. "We had heavy duty modules in 70 countries last year in the energy industry. There are a lot of heavy offshore windmill projects coming up but this area is difficult because of the grid. A lot of projects are on hold because they cannot transport the energy." Often, existing energy providers have a monopoly on the grid system and want to keep it that way. "[Renewable energy plants] are not allowed to use the grids, or the owners want too much money."
Every sector, country, specific location and individual customer has its own challenges, however, and all these have to be taken into consideration. "In the USA every state has a different law, for example," explains Fuchs, "So our job is to find the best solution for the situation, not only in infrastructure, but also law, regulation, permits, etc. We cannot just say, 'take this, it is our best trailer', because maybe for that country it would not work. We need to sell them a trailer for the next 10 years."
"So we have our own project department that knows all the laws and regulations, and considers the load, the streets, the inclination, the bridges."
The company also offers digital solutions, like Easy Parts, for instantly locating components; Easy Track, for visualising a planned transport on screen; and Easy Load for planning the load. Fuchs sums up some of the benefits: "You can exactly simulate the truck and trailer. You can see how it is bending, you see all axle loads, the pressure and you get a green, orange or red light. For example, you know if only 80% of the trailer is being used, or you can see if it is overloaded. When everything is green, you can give a drawing to the truck driver showing how to load and one to the [government] permission department, and you can show it to the customer," Fuchs explains. "In Germany especially, and now in Europe, if you overload the trailer, you may not have to pay a fine, but you have to reload, so you need a second pick-up trailer and a crane."
Another Goldhofer product range is the trailer segment, sales of which are concentrated in Germany and about 1,000 km around the headquarters. Semi-trailers, is the other major segment, aimed particularly at Europe, with Germany being the biggest market.
Then there is the aforementioned international heavy duty modular trailer. These markets change continuously depending, mainly, on their economy, explains Fuchs. "Once that market is full, there is a boom somewhere else and, then the next country comes along. At the moment Germany is very good, the United States is picking up, South America is not bad, Eastern Europe is also picking up, but India is slowing down because the Rupee is weak."
Fuchs continues, "In China, we sold a lot of equipment five or ten years ago, then it slowed down because they started copying the products. But then people learned that the copy is not as good as the original and now they have started buying Goldhofer again.
"Because the steel quality is not available or the educated welders for high grade steel are not there, the copy looks the same but inside it is completely different," Fuchs adds, "Our product is the result of 40 years of development and in those 40 years we have made mistakes and the mistakes you make become experience. But if you copy it, this knowledge will not be inside the trailer, nor will the knowledge around the product."
Wherever possible, Goldhofer does seek to protect its intellectual property but Fuchs looks upon the problem philosophically. "Our view is that we will be copied, and if we are copied then we are on the right track, because only the best will be copied."
Another major issue facing manufacturers is import duties. Two notable examples are the USA and Brazil. The former is threatening to introduce a 25% import duty on self propelled modular transporters. "In the United States everyone is still fighting against this. The last word is not spoken, but it is a problem, created by countries to protect their own suppliers. [On the other hand], if there is not a supplier in that country then everyone is in the same situation," says Fuchs. "If you want to solve that problem you have to open a factory, but the numbers of units is often not high enough for this to make sense. You could invest for a one, two, three year period and then the country is covered and there is no demand."
Fuchs continues, "Brazil, for example, is going up and down. But regulations make finance very hard and difficult to get insurance for export. New factories are always under discussion but the risk is always very high and at the moment we have no decisions to do that."
In recent weeks a new launch included a heavy-duty trailer with low deadweight, again highlighting the issue of payload. "In Europe we have many regulations, so we have to bring more payload on the street with the same axle loadings - we have to make the combinations lighter. We have also sold it to other countries outside Europe."
A new frame construction for the THP/SL light and THP/SL series is designed to give a low deadweight. Fuchs adds, "If you move on the street and deadweight is too high then you lose payload and, if you go against regulations, you get in trouble. This situation will increase more and more as states want to protect their infrastructure because they are suffering from a lack of money."
Products will increasingly be designed for regions of the world with the customer in mind, says Fuchs. In Russia, for example, particularly Siberia, there is a requirement for trailers to withstand freezing temperatures, able to work down to minus 40 centigrade.
Then there is the question of tyres. "The tyre is the weakest part of the trailer but now we have a 245 tyre which is allowed to take 12 tonnes," says Fuchs, "So we have two product lines merging; the step frame trailers now have pendular axles. This is a very interesting development. If we spoke 10 years ago about this we would say it is not possible.
Fuchs continues, "The other question is of infrastructure. With traditional trailers you have two lines, with a pendular you have four lines, so the load is spread more and it is better for the street. I think more countries are looking to Germany and middle Europe to see what they are doing to protect their infrastructure."
Ultimately it is a question of customer requirements. "We have to look at a good solution at a good price, because transporter companies are getting lower rates, especially with the pressure in the windmill business being very high," Fuchs adds, "We have to say, okay, this is a task that we have to do, and we are fighting everyday for our customers and to give them the best solutions. We want to sell but we always want to make our customer smile, maybe three or four times."