Gleitlagerertechnik Weißbacher GmbH (GTW) is one of the first companies to have put the new SSeries to a practical test. A S30L LPG truck with a three-ton capacity has proven its ability for five months at the Alpen plain bearing specialist. The conclusion: both drivers and management are delighted with the ergonomic improvements and active safety systems. Not least, they enable fatigue-free, safe and productive operation.

GTW specialises in the production of plain bearings and plain bearing systems for mechanical and plant engineering. In addition to the rolling bearing, the plain bearing is one of the most common types of bearing in mechanical and plant engineering. A distinction is made between plain bearings with solid, liquid or mixed friction, which are used in different areas. GTW specialises in plain bearing technology for fluid friction in industrial applications.

Wide product portfolio based on high level of development skills

“In the beginning we started with the production of semifinished material based on customer drawings, then we added the machining of parts and since 1998 we have been developing our own plain bearings according to customer requirements”, explains Christoph Weißbacher, Managing Director at GTW. “In order to survive in the industry and to keep customers long-term, it is essential to have your own intellectual property.” According to Weißbacher, the percentage of outsourced production is only 25 percent, the rest is in-house. And he adds: “We secure our competitive advantage not only through our in-house development expertise, but also through the flexibility of being able to develop highly individual and innovative solutions for our customers.”

The plain bearing specialist can now consider a very wide product portfolio as its own. This includes both plain bearings with 30 mm diameter and a weight of 1 kg as a bearing insert for high-speed expander compressor units as well as plain bearings with 6,000 mm diameter and a weight of 20,000 kg as segment bearings for large horizontal tube mills. Bearings and bearing systems are developed and manufactured for grinding technology, gearbox construction (for industrial, ship and turbo gearboxes), electric machinery and water turbines. The customer base includes renowned industrial companies from Germany and abroad. In particular GTW serves the European market, which accounts for around two thirds of its revenues. Thanks to the international presence of its customers, GTW plain bearings are used worldwide.

In addition to the housing plain bearing and bearing insert divisions, there is also a third pillar, the service division. Here too, the bar is set high. GTW customers can rely on rapid and straightforward assistance in the event of repairs, because machine downtime is a knockout criterion. With this range of services, GTW, with around 80 employees and an annual turnover of 18 million Euros in 2017, is also able to compete with larger competitors. Over the years, the company’s operation has expanded continually. In 2017 the plain bearing manufacturer bought another hall and now has an operating area of approx. 8,000 m2. Of this, the hall area accounts for approximately 3,500 m2 while production accounts for some 2,500 m2. The site also has a design office and the engineering department as well as administration.

Order-based production of small series

Since GTW specialises in the production of small series, the company manufactures on an order basis: Production planning manages the orders for the different production sites, and the shift supervisor compiles the corresponding unmachined parts and drawings for production. “This approach gives us a high degree of flexibility that we wouldn’t get with other production systems,” explains Christoph Weißbacher. GTW is also somewhat conservative with its supply of stock. “We only hold identical parts in the warehouse or parts for customers who have concluded framework agreements with us,” says the company boss.

Targeted future planning

Nevertheless, the outlook is always forward-looking. For this reason, the bearing manufacturer was quick to show interest in testing the latest forklift generation from Clark. GTW has been a Clark customer for many years and currently uses three GTS Clark LPG forklift trucks with capacities from 2 to 3.3 tons and a cabin, several Clark WSX pallet stackers with a capacity of 1.4 tons and a Clark reach truck. The forklift trucks are primarily responsible for transporting the unmachined parts. These are usually hot-rolled rings for plain bearing production.

The forklifts often travel long distances. In the production halls, a crane normally takes over the load handling. In some areas, the counterbalance trucks must also bring the parts to the production site. GTW has purchased all its trucks from the Clark dealer Technik Center Alpen (TCA), which is also responsible for servicing the trucks. The Clark dealer is just a stone’s throw from GTW’s premises. “Physical proximity has enormous advantages for us. We can rely on smooth cooperation, “says Christoph Weißbacher.

Test passed

The Clark dealer then also proposed GTW as a test company for the new S-Series, as its operations match the truck’s application profile. An advantage of the S-Series for GTW, for example, is the speed restrictor, which allows the truck’s performance to be tailored specifically to the application. In particular, the drivers praise the decoupling of engine, transmission and drive axle. As a result, the vibration and noise of the S-Series are kept to a minimum, reducing the human vibrations that affect the driver. A high level of safety is provided by the load-weight measurement, which permanently measures the weight of the load on the forks, thereby giving the driver immediate feedback on the load being picked up. The small turning radius of the compact LPG truck pays off at GTW both in the warehouse and in the sometimes tight production areas.

The mast damping system, which reduces shock and vibration during the transition between the individual mast stages, ensures safe and load-saving storage and retrieval. The integrated tilt-lock valve prevents too fast or unintentional forward tilting of the mast. “We have had consistently good experiences with the new SSeries from Clark, which we tested in all application areas in our company,” explains Christoph Weißbacher. “Our employees are enthusiastic about the significantly improved ergonomics and how easy it is to operate the trucks.”

Comfort that inspires drivers

“The new Clark forklifts are much more comfortable overall than other forklift trucks we have used in the past,” says Waldemar Wagner, forklift driver at GTW. “Even getting on and off the truck is much easier, because the distance between the step and the driver’s seat is shorter.” He also found the seat to be significantly more comfortable. The direction switch integrated in the hydraulic lever is also new and well thought out. “I no longer have to reach to change travel direction”, says the experienced forklift driver. Another positive feature is the truck’s new heated cabin. Since the forklifts are mainly used outdoors, cabin and heating are a must at GTW. “The driver’s cabin has everything we need,” says Waldemar Wagner. “A two-part side door with sliding windows guarantees good ventilation in summer, and in winter the powerful heater provides a nice warm interior.”