PARTS: Voith transmissions

By: Amie Hickland


There’s one ‘invisible’ supplier stepping into the light, ready to shine

PARTS: Voith transmissions
A Voith DIWA SmartBox which is used to remotely diagnose bus transmissions

It’s the invisible components of the bus industry that can sometimes be taken for granted, but where they come from and what these important parts do are worthy of a moment or two in the sun.

Voith products are used in everyday commodities from coffee grinders to wind turbines but despite a worldwide presence, this distinguished German company is not a household name.

In the bus industry, Voith are mostly known for their automatic transmissions but have also made a mark in the compressor and retarder markets.

General Manager Sale and Service Crinel Geaboc and Regional Manager Queensland and Northern Territory Bruce Shay say the company is pushing the quality of their products to expand its presence in the region.

Shay explains the company manufactures components often used in conjunction with other bits of equipment, and that this is what makes Voith unrecognisable but yet their presence is everywhere.

"When people deal with Voith they don’t actually know what it is, yet they deal with our products every day," Shay says.

The company has recently undergone a re-structure, broken into regions and divisions.

It is made up of 30 per cent Paper, 27 per cent Turbo, 23 per cent Hydro and 19 per cent Industrial Services divisions.

The heavy vehicle component business — which also includes trains with recent contract agreements between Queensland Rail and train builder Bombardier — falls into the Voith Turbo division.

Voith has a presence across 50 countries with 42,000 employees and has been family owned in Germany since 1867.

As a whole, the company sells €5.6 billion ($8.1 billion) worth of product each year.

The Australian head office is located in Sydney, after a re-location from Western Australia due to rapid business expansion, according to Geaboc.

"When I started with the company, Perth had 800 transmissions on the road. Because they grew a lot in WA Voith had to move onto the east coast," he says.

"We now have 22 per cent of the market in Australia in terms of new registrations — but still not half the market. But you have to understand five years ago we had nothing."

Voith’s main product in Australia and New Zealand is the DIWA (Differential Wandler) transmission with about 3,600 buses on the road with the product to date.

Perth was the first city in Australia to have more than 500 Voith transmissions.

Geaboc explains while the DIWA transmission is suitable for Australia, in India for example, there are nowhere near as many.

"But we have a huge market of retarders in India," he says.

IMPORTANT COMPONENTS

Geaboc says while the company manufactures a variety of components for the bus industry it has focused on city bus applications in Australia.

The company’s transmissions move from 0 to 25km/h on a single gear which limits the impact of the stop/start effect found on buses in urban areas.

"You expect all the time to shift gears but Voith does not do that. We don’t have that problem," Geaboc says.

"It’s just a long first gear. It’s what you need to take off."

The company’s transmissions are designed with Euro 6 buses in mind and the company has plans with Volvo to use Voith transmissions in production for December next year.

This comes as the Australian market is making the move to Euro 6.

"The transmission is the second most important component after the engine," Geaboc says.

Although the transmissions can be used on buses used for other purposes other than urban routes, Geaboc says the Voith transmission has been optimally designed to meet the demand of the city bus market.

"This is why we’re targeting the city bus application, because the design is specifically for the city bus application," he says.

Voith also has a portion of the truck market with their retarder and also specialises in components for agricultural and special vehicles. The company also conducts bus industry business in NZ.

In its early days, the Voith factory was the only one not bombed in an area of Germany in World War II.

This company then proceeded to make bank notes for the country as they were the only place able to produce them.

This was the start of what was soon to be an extremely diverse manufacturer.

"It was quite an interesting time for them," Shay says.

AUSTRALIAN APPROACH

But while the products themselves are proving popular and the figures speak for themselves, Voith are still pushing for local customers to use its transmissions.

"I’m actually pushing it through the OEM and pulling it through the customer — it’s a push pull approach," Geaboc says.

"If you have a bus that goes from Melbourne to Brisbane all the time, I would not go to the customer and push this transmission.

"But if you have a bus that goes on the Brisbane busway, then this is where Voith is at home."

Geaboc says the number of suppliers in the market far outweighs the need for such a small market which makes it crucial to keep customers aware of their options.

As part of its customer care, Voith offers health checks for vehicles and for those in more remote regions, a DIWA diagnostic tool — SmartBox — is sent out instead of a technician.

The SmartBox concept is a cheaper and easier option for both operators and Voith as it can be couriered overnight as opposed to sending someone to site with ongoing costs.

Shay describes the SmartBox as a "unique" approach to aftermarket support.

The SmartBox connects to the transmission and information is sent back to Voith for technicians to diagnose.

"We know before the driver does what’s wrong with the bus. It’s a really interesting concept," Shay says.

He says this service offered by the company is one of the many things bus operators appreciate in regards to Voith’s aftermarket care.

"To be successful in bus with a product, quality is one thing, but the way you’re projected is how quickly you respond when something goes wrong," Shay says.

"You’ve got to have respect in the industry and you’ve got to have support."

And with this respect the company hopes to move forward in claiming more market share.

Given Voith’s high standard in precision engineering, Geaboc’s local vision for Voith could soon be realised.

"Go to any Voith bus and you will be absolutely impressed with the quality."

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