Under the skin of the automation systems that speed away insideevery modern distribution centre is a range of critical componenttechnology. David Priestman digs deeper.
WAUNAKEE, WIS , 2018-09-05
Nord Gear is a German family-owned specialist in geared motors, electric motors and inverters and its American subsidiary is its largest. There are three plants in the USA, employing 380 staff with headquarters near Chicago. “Nord posted double-digit sales growth last year and is repeating again in 2018,”
Torsten Schultz (pictured), President of Nord Gear Corporation (USA), informs me. “Post and parcel, intralogistics and food/beverage are strong sectors for us.” What makes things tick for Nord across the Pond? “The key thing for Nord in the US is being on the approved vendor list for OEMs and end-user projects,” he says. This is because all their sales are indirect. “Three of the top five materials handling suppliers use Nord, and with two of the suppliers, we have long-term supply agreements.”
“We’re globally-integrated,” he adds. “This means that wherever the customer operations are, we can co-operate efficiently in all the continents.” He’s not kidding. Nord has 36 wholly-owned subsidiaries.
Parts are delivered to America via containers from Germany and Italy. 300 motors and 600 gearboxes per day are assembled in the USA. “We assemble Driving Supply Chains to order, with parts in stock, so we can configure products for just-in-time delivery,” Schultz reveals. “Thirty percent of what we deliver is customised. One thing that is different about our US operation is that our lead times are quicker.” Nord ships 25 percent of all orders received in just 24 hours.
He suggests that the company is very competitive because of the quality of its technical engineering team, specialists in mechanical and electrical control. “Local support is important, especially for understanding our customers’ needs and developing optimized solutions,” said Schultz. “Nord can also conduct onsite energy consumption tests on drives to demonstrate energy efficient options. Customer service is our forte, for example with our 24/7 call line for breakdowns. Given a serial number, we can dispatch a replacement part in hours, shipping the same day or next day.”
What about the life expectancy of drive and gear components? “Five to ten years, depending on the torque,” he advises. Increasingly, remote diagnostics are a key part of the modern package. “Predictive maintenance is the objective,” he confirms. “Our products have this capability. We’re Industry 4.0 ready. We can monitor sensors virtually in the cloud, analysing the current, voltage and temperature. We can build a predictive model showing after how many hours maintenance may be required. External sensors detect vibration and we can feed that data via inverters to the cloud too.” Such online monitoring saves labour costs in site visit inspections.
Does he detect demonstrable differences between the European and American materials handling markets? “Europe leads in energy efficiency and savings, we in America follow the trend. Via system integrators, we have the technology ready for remote testing and energy savings. We haven’t yet used it on a big project in the US, though.”
So, why should OEM customers choose Nord over its competitors? “There are prime differentiators. High efficiency drive products at competitive prices; technical support; short lead times; global integration. We can optimise solutions at deployment and maximise them.”
Schultz concludeds: “Nord re-invests much of its profits in research and development and to expand supply chain capacity. For example, a new US paint line went online this month, doubling our production capacity. Longterm is important to us.”
Globally, Nord recently completed intralogistics projects in eight countries across Europe, and airport projects in Australia, Canada, Russia and Kuwait.
“It’s not just the quality of Nord’s drive systems that is fuelling our growth, but also industry-leading expertise, response time, and customer support,” he sums up.