‘Reducing maintenance and extend service life’
Apex Dynamics manufactures gearboxes as well as racks and pinions in two advanced factories. In addition, the company from Taiwan applies strict principles that are associated with large numbers, high quality and a long service life. This makes them successful, even in worse times – such as now with the corona crisis. Magazine Aandrijftechniek in the Netherlands discussed with Thom van Oss about high-tech production, extending the service life of gears, reducing maintenance requirements and the use of special software.
In the Netherlands it is hardly possible, but in Taiwan they just do it: building factories with a manufacturing capacity of 50,000 gearboxes per month. As far as Apex Dynamics is concerned, it is the only way to survive in a highly competitive world. Thom van Oss: “If you make a lot of the same, you can make relatively large investments in the quality of your product and then produce it at a reasonable price. This has always been the approach of Apex Dynamics and it works: this year a third factory will be opened, which can increase the production capacity from 50,000 to 80,000 gearboxes per month. We are always impressed by the approach of our Taiwanese factory. Sometimes I visit our factories with customers and without exception everyone gazes at the high-tech machines that are producing with an almost German or Japanese accuracy. In the beginning you can hardly believe that this is done in the Far East. ”
What does the market want?
Those who manufacture large numbers usually cannot offer a too great diversity of different products. That is not the aim of Apex Dynamics. When the company started, it did not seem wise for the founder (Mr. Robin Chang) to use all kinds of different dimensions as a newcomer to the market. He decided to simply make products with the same dimensions as already were present. Not so much copying, but joining the common sense to maximize the interchangeability of its gearboxes with third-party manufacturers. He also focused on improving the gearboxes by using his experience in the field of robotics. By subsequently producing the gearboxes in large numbers, the company was able to distinguish itself by price/quality ratio, but also by a short delivery times. All types were simply manufactured to stock, so that they could always be delivered within two weeks worldwide. And it still is. In good times, when the demand is high, this delivery time turned out to provide an even more important advantage than previously thought. “The gearboxes, racks and pinions that are produced meet market demand,” says Thom van Oss. “At Apex Dynamics, we hardly play with meeting latent needs, but we listen to the input from the various global branches. This happens at an annual meeting where the whole “Apex Dynamics” family comes together to catch up and exchange ideas and experiences. Of course we also do fun things and that is good. It strengthens solidarity and ensures that people are willing to do everything for the company and make it a successful together. ”
Higher torque, less maintenance
An example of “what the market wants” can be found in the ever-increasing variants that are being developed with correspondingly higher torques and gear ratios. For example gearboxes with torques up to 20,000 Nm. These are used in laser cutting machines and (pre-) bending machines, which are also growing in size.
In addition, there is increasing attention for a maintenance-friendly behavior in the context of TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), increasing product quality and improving the up-time of machines. Thom van Oss: “It is very simple. Gearboxes wear out, but you can slow down the process significantly. For example, by applying excellent (lifetime) lubrication, opting for high-quality materials and working very precisely, so that components fit optimally and have minimize friction. ”
Using of advanced software
Software has an increasingly important role in this. The production of precise gears is not easy. After all mechanical operations such as stitching, grinding and honing, the gears are also hardened by heat treatment. This is to relieve the stresses that build up during these operations and to make the material as homogeneous as possible. However, the dimensions change in such a way that it no longer meets the drawing and post-processing is required to achieve the tolerances. However, this post-processing is undesirable because hardened material is difficult to process and local heat development takes place again. By using advanced software, it is possible to determine the geometry prior to the hardening process so that it is exactly correct after the heat treatment. ”
Monitor critical components
Additional in the context of lowering maintenance costs, developments are also taking place in the hardware/mechanical field. A good example is the “curvic plate” system. This makes it unnecessary to replace the entire gearbox when a pinion is worn out, and it is easier to change, adjust and maintain pinions. Predictive and condition-based maintenance also fit in the picture, although that applies slightly less for gearboxes in the Apex Dynamics range. Thom van Oss: “It is better to monitor the more critical components in your drive line, such as bearings and shafts, but of course the gearboxes can also be monitored, for example through, vibration and temperature measurements to complete the whole picture.”
Future of gearboxes
By building a third factory, the Taiwanese company is showing confidence in the future and that reflects in its sales points worldwide. In the Netherlands, for example, investments are currently being made in the sales force. Thom van Oss: “Firstly, we are very active on the internet. At this time that it is remarkable that we do not deal with “exotic” inquiries. At Apex Dynamics it is all about standard products and that of course has to do with the aforementioned large numbers. ”
At the beginning of this year, Apex Dynamics BV also started further training and informing its partners. For example, a lot of our products are sold to system integrators but also to servomotor manufacturers who would like to supply a total set of motor and gearbox to their customers. Thom van Oss: “These are important partners who help us to identify trends in the market and benefit from the latest new (product) information. We now have 62 product series in our program, so having or getting a good overview is indispensable for maximum efficiency. What is also remarkable due to this intensive contact with partners is the quantity and quality of our Dutch manufacturing industry. For many years we have heard that the Dutch manufacturing industry is going to disappear, but when I look at the innovative capacity of the current system integrators and machine builders, I can hardly believe that. ”
From a corporate social responsibility perspective, Apex Dynamics Netherlands also invests in youth and special projects. “Somewhere it sounds a bit contradictory: no exotic products but still join special projects. Yet it is not. This proves precisely that it is also possible to apply standard products in deviating applications within the context of innovations. Whether it is an asparagus harvester, a moving statue of Kafka in Prague, a hybrid quad or a vehicle that – powered by solar energy – has to function under Arctic conditions. We are happy to use our products when their specific properties are important inside the application. Looking at the lifespan, Apex Dynamics has not much to look for in the world of racing cars where a gearbox, in a manner of speaking, only has to last a few hundred hours while our gearboxes have been developed for a lifespan of several tens of thousands of hours. Nevertheless, we participate in the development of an electric racing car by students of the Eindhoven University of Technology; however, we only do support financially or in the field of marketing. ”
The situation is different for student teams such as the ‘Rembrandts team‘, in which students from Fontys Hogeschool, Heerbeeck College and Zwijsen College participate. This HBO/WO/MBO team from the Eindhoven region succeeded (as the first European team) to win the world title of the FIRST Robotics Competition in 2019. The assignment was to build a robot with minimal resources and then quality suddenly is an important factor. They won by defeating no less than 4,000 other teams! By supporting students with both products and knowledge, the company first of all contributes to the promotion of technology and technical studies. In addition, these young people are challenged to get the most out of the products. Thom van Oss: “This also keeps us sharp and also inspires us to come up with solutions for specific customer inquiries.”
Finally, at the moment Thom van Oss sees only a few real new technical developments in the field of gearboxes. “I think the development of gearboxes, racks and pinions is moving slowly. They do what they do – transfer a torque – and now with such high efficiency that there is little room for spectacular improvements. What I mentioned earlier: software plays an important role in production and also in the lead time from a new design to market introduction. In addition, subtleties are implemented in, among other things, the hardening processes, lubricants and of course material properties are getting improved at laboratory level. But this all happens internally in our factory in Taiwan. So let us mainly focus on pragmatic applying gearboxes, racks and pinions; with both feet on the ground and not be blinded by the possibilities. “Because, it is possible” is not always the right motivation for me. Good is good enough. ”
Source: AT Aandrijftechniek, may 2020 (original article in pdf)
Text: Ing. M. de Wit-Blok
Photo’s: Apex Dynamics, Fotopersburo Bert Jansen