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ZF Services Middle East talks expansion

ZF Services Middle East is investing in an enlarged Dubai workshop

ANALYSIS, PMV, Dubai workshop, ZF Services

ZF Services Middle East is investing in an enlarged Dubai workshop. PMV talks with the head of technical services in the GCC, Frank Schelkle

With a range of products including gearboxes, axles and steering boxes, German driveline component manufacturer ZF has a wide array of products across the PMV sector.

Their market presence is readily apparent by the use of their products by truck and bus manufacturers that include MAN, Iveco, and Hino, as well as heavy machinery producers such as Doosan and Case, and crane companies including Liebherr and Terex.

Given the number of ZF products in the market, it’s no surprise that this needs to be matched by a strong service presence.

ZF Middle East has workshops in the UAE and Kuwait, as well as official service partners in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar. Additionally technical support is provided to the ZF partner in Saudi Arabia.

It has 14 service technicians in the region, including flying inspectors, and holds approximately 7-8 million dirham worth of spare parts.

But it’s a growing business, and recently has enlarged its workshop in Dubai. This includes a $470,000 (350,000 EUR) test bench, used for testing repairs on components for construction equipment and marine, besides automatic, automated and manual trucks, busses and crane componentry.

The enlarged workshop will also service ZF’s Marine Division, a development which regional managing director Dr Khalid Alexander Sabbah describes as an entirely new development in the Middle East, not seen in the market before.

Head of technical matters at the workshops is Frank Schelkle. Aged 48, he has been working for ZF for 27 years, and was previously based at the German headquarters in Friedrichschafen, heading up a department supporting AS-Tronic automated gearboxes on busses and coaches world-wide.

Schelkle has now been working in the Gulf for nearly three years, his goal being to build up the technical competence of the service network in the GCC.

The increased presence and service efficacy of the company is required due to more sophisticated components, that require expensive diagnostic equipment to service.

This includes the automated and manual transmissions that are popular with vehicle manufacturers today. One of the main advantages of these new boxes is that the driver does not wear out the clutch, which has been one of the most commonly replaced wear-parts. (Automated transmissions use a dry clutch, manual use a hydraulic clutch with pneumatic assistance).

Overall, the skill of the driver is less of a factor in the vehicle’s performance and component longevity.

“These new products bring with them a lot of advantages: they are more robust, have less faults, can handle more torque and can have more functions,” he says.

“But on the other hand, the issue of maintenance is more complex, because it is not just a simple change of oil, you have also programming that is required. Someone buying a truck with new components will gain functionality, but he must be aware that he cannot go and repair it himself.”

Nevertheless, the length of service offered by the new transmissions can be phenomenal, says Schelkle, with examples including transmissions traveling for five years up to 1.2 million km without needing an overhaul, provided that the proper oil changes are carried out.

Using the correct oil is all-important, since the transmissions are developed by ZF in concert with the oil manufacturers. “Oil is part of the transmission. We can only give the warranty to the transmission and the oil change interval up to 500,000km if the correct ZF oil is used,” he explains.

Schelkle differentiates between the ‘1st and 2nd life’ of a transmission, with the 1st life the initial period of use, where only oil changes and any preventative maintenance are required. The 2nd life is where extensive technical know-how comes into play.

“Between 500,000-1m km the transmission may require a preventative overhaul to prevent even bigger damage. This is what we recommend, especially for automatic City bus or WG (heavy offroad) gearboxes, instead of having a huge repair invoice, working with preventative overhaul,” says Schelkle.

One of the big advantages of the new technologies is that fleet operators and service technicians can verify independently the existence and cause of faults.

“With the old manual gear box, you have no electronics, so you have to rely on what the driver tells you. But you don’t know if there was a bad influence (possible abuse) from the driver.”

“Today with the modern gearboxes we have on-board electronics and statistic memories. This is one of the biggest advantages, so we can read out if there was an abuse by the driver, or if there is a component problem, or if there is a possible bad influence from the driveline or peripheral components.”

For Schelkle, one of the challenges of working in the GCC is catering to the full range of gearboxes in the market, from “stone age gear boxes, 20 years old, to the most modern units”.

This represents a challenge he says, but with some of these 20-year-old units still earning money, such as cranes, ZF Services must be able to repair them as long as they remain in use.

“We have to have the modern diagnostic tools, and also have the old know-how from previous times to support the customer with their old products. ZF offers spare parts and documentation even for parts older than 15-20 years.”

Asked about the value of spare parts inventory, Schelkle says that the high volume of parts held (worth 7-8 million AED) is necessitated by the company’s desire to not only implement German standards with regards to quality, but also to repair it to German standards with regards to speed.

These standards govern the amount of time it can take to carry out a certain type of repair. “To maintain that, we need to make sure we have these parts available,” explains Schelke.

Additionally, in order to encourage the use of the correct oil, they have agreements with local oil manufacturers to get supplies on time and avoid long shipping times.

The new test bench, while a pricey addition to any workshop, is required in order to service the components.

“There are driveline systems today that require a test bench run – which means we have to reset the transmission system to zero after a repair, and we have to reprogramme them,” he explains.

“You cannot repair a gear box anymore and put it back into a driveline without passing a test bench run. We make sure the right software is on that gear box, because most of the gear boxes have on-board electronics.

“Previously the engine was the boss in the driveline, today it is the transmission. The transmission actually controls the driveline.”

Asked about the market share for ZF in the UAE, Schelkle estimates that in the truck market for manual and automated transmissions ZF has a market share of 50%, plus other OEM in-house products, 80-100% market share for clutch components; and 50% of the market share for steering boxes, plus other OEM in-house products.

In the crane market, Schelkle says that there has been a shift among crane manufacturers to automated transmission (AS-Tronic), and he estimates that there are approximately 5000 units in the UAE market. The cranes are also equipped with ZF two-circuit steering boxes and ZF clutches.

Two-fold function
ZF Services Middle East provides support OEM manufacturers in the region, as well as providing service contracts directly to customers.

For OEMs this can be providing expertise on a particular warranty claims without the OEM needing to contact ZF in Germany, training the local distributor’s workshop staff on how to service the new ZF components, or providing spare parts.

“The target of ZF is to develop driveline components with a world wide release,” comments Schelkle.

The second aspect can be providing service support to fleet operators who have chosen to manage their own fleet servicing.

ZF Services offer a number of packages for fleet owners, including service agreements with health checks and preventative overhauls; extended coverage programme (ECP) that can extend the warranty for up to five years; and life cycle contacts (LCC), a full service package including maintenance and repairs of the ZF transmission and all ZF peripheral components for up to 12 years or 1.2 million kilometres. They also offer a 24/7- field service, even on weekends and public holidays.

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