'Flagship facility': Murray Pollok visits Wacker Neuson's new compact equipment factory in Austria.
By Murray Pollok12 November 2012
Wacker Neuson’s new compact equipment factory in Hörsching, Austria, has a capacity of 15000 machines a year, but it is quality as much as quantity that counts, as Murray Pollok reports.
German manufacturers are renowned for their high quality production methods, but even in that context Wacker Neuson’s new €65 million compact equipment facility stands out.
The factory - located in Hörsching, near Linz, Austria, about three hours drive east of Munich – offers plenty of evidence of the investment. The canteen is lovely and the floors suitably shiny, but it is in the assembly lines, and quality control, where money has clearly been directed.
To give one example, Wacker Neuson has installed - for the first time at one of its facilities - a two-stage machine testing process that aims to further reduce the likelihood of hydraulic leaks and other teething problems.
On each of the plant’s six assembly lines – including the single line that builds both Wacker Neuson and Caterpillar sub-3 t mini excavators – there are two enclosed testing chambers. The first is where all the lubricants, hydraulic oils and other liquids are put into the machines. At this stage, basic machine functions are tested.
Following that, the machines are placed in a cool-down area between the two test chambers for a period of three to five hours before being moved into the second chamber. This cool down process is seen as important in subsequently checking for leaks.
In the second chamber the machines are heated up again and checked for leaks using ultraviolet light scanners – a colouring agent is used in the hydraulic oil to allow for easy identification. It is only in this second stage that the full half-hour functionality test, with weights, is carried out.
This two-stage testing is just one aspect of an impressive new facility that will have a capacity of 15000 machines, making crawler and wheeled excavators, skid steers and site dumpers. Four of these lines are for excavators and there is one each for wheeled dumpers and skid steers. Current production about is around 10000 units annually, based on a single shift, and about 98% of these machines will be exported.
The new factory is the culmination of more than 40 years of production activity in the Linz area. Neuson started making excavators there in 1981 and Hörsching is the third relocation since then, replacing the 6000 unit capacity Leonding facility.
With around 550 employees, including more than 80 temporary staff, the factory opened in May this year just 11 months after construction started. The facility has 50,000 m2 of production space and each of the production lines is 100 m long, around double the length of those in the old facility.
Wacker Neuson has now invested around €200 million in production and office facilities since 2007. It has eight production sites worldwide, including new plants in the US (the Norton Shores location for heaters and lighting towers opened in 2008) and a light equipment facility in the Philippines, built in 2007.
Hans Neunteufel, chairman of Wacker Neuson’s supervisory board, speaking at a formal dinner to mark the opening of the facility – one of a series of events held in late September for thousands of dealers, customers and locals – said that “in spite of the difficult economic situation this year we stand by these actions [to build the facility].
“It is not normal these days for international companies to invest in Europe. Many are moving to the Far East of South America. We decided against it. It was logical for us to stay in Upper Austria where we have an excellent team who have made us a worldwide leader in compact equipment.
“That’s why Caterpillar chose us [as its partner for mini excavators]. The cooperation with Cat had a decisive part to play in bringing the plant here – for one thing in the speed of construction and also in terms of the size of the plant.”
“It is the largest industrial investment our group has ever made”, said Mr Neunteufel, “It is a flagship facility.”
China factory planned
Wacker Neuson plans to establish a Chinese manufacturing facility but has not yet decided when it will build the facility.
Martin Lehner, the company's chief technical officer, said the decision to build a Chinese factory had been made; "We will certainly have a production facility in China - it's a matter of when, not if." Wacker Neuson is also considering a facility in Latin America.
He said that the initial focus for the China plant would be light equipment - the company's range includes compaction and concreting equipment - with compact machines (excavators and wheeled loaders) to follow.
The planned facility will help Wacker Neuson reduce its reliance on Europe, where 71% of its revenues were generated last year. Just 3% of sales originated in Asia Pacific in 2011.
Mr Lehner made his remarks during a press conference in Austria to mark the opening of the new compact equipment factory in Hörsching.
Wacker Neuson is working on a number of electric mini excavators models although there is no indication of when production versions will be available.
Steffen Wiesener, a product manager at the new Hörsching facility, told IRN that Wacker Neuson was working with a Swiss technology partner to develop both mains supply and battery powered 1.5 t minis.
“For us this is a very important project”, he said. “It is a niche, but we see a lot of interest from customers.” He said it was not clear if the company would be ready to show any electric machines at Bauma next year.