Keeping America moving is the tradition behind Poclain Hydraulics (PH) – one of the world’s largest providers of hydrostatic transmissions and the systems integration services for those transmissions. For about the past five years, PH has taken its expertise to the next level of advancement; the company is now focused on supplying complete transmission systems. “Our systems traditionally have been and will continue to be based upon our high-torque, cam-lobe radial piston motor technology, but we are branching beyond those traditional roots to provide complete transmissions,” says Joseph Maher, marketing manager. “PH is about supplying everything between the engine and the wheel.”
PH’s customers include leading global original-equipment manufacturers, primarily in the agricultural equipment, construction and materials-handling industries. “Our customers are requiring more complete transmissions,” continues Maher. “They are also asking us to participate in the design of their machines as they look to us to become the hydraulic transmission specialist for their machines. So this new trend is allowing us to provide our customers with more value to their products.”
Maher adds that OEMs recognize that their own value-added expertise lies in the function of what their machines are designed to do. “We offer them our expertise in transmissions and ground drives, and that allows them to free up their resources for their own value-added functions,” he says.
Its commitment to developing newer and more advanced technologies is evident in PH’s continuous gains in achieving higher levels of product compactness. The company is currently producing its fourth generation of hydraulic motors, which are successful bottom-line contenders to competitors’ products with mechanical transmissions. Making enormous strides not only in developing new technologies but also in expanding its markets by discovering new applications, PH attributes its success in hydraulic motor technology to its tradition of investing about 6 percent of its annual revenues into research and development. “This is quite a significant investment in this industry,” notes Maher. “Research and development is one of PH’s core competencies.”
PH’s focus is on providing transmission systems for off-highway vehicles and equipment. For construction equipment, its systems are used extensively in machinery such as compactors, skid-steer loaders, hydraulic excavators, graders and drilling machines. In the agricultural market, the company’s second largest business sector, PH’s products are used in specialized machinery such as crop sprayers, single- and two-grip forestry processing heads, timber handlers, combines and harvesting machines for a wide range of fruits and vegetables.
PH’s third largest market is the materials-handling sector, in which its products are used in cranes, fork lifts, conveyors and self-propelled access platforms and elevators. Other specialty markets include horizontal directional drills for the installation of cable or pipelines needing to be placed under existing structures or roads.
“Beyond adapting our products to specific key markets, we have also earned our reputation as a provider of service and systems integration for those products, and this has gained us greater market share and customer share,” says Maher. “So our success rests on this and on our technological leadership in new product development.”
PH’s philosophy is to develop products not only for systems, but also for specific customer needs. “Our new ML motor, for example, was designed from the ground up exclusively for skid steer loaders,” says Maher. “So we adapted our technology to meet the particular performance requirements of that application – which are higher speed, smaller package size and lower cost.” Maher notes that this market represents significant potential for PH’s future growth.
Dyna+ was developed for larger vehicles such as crop sprayers that require heavier load-bearing capabilities and mechanical dynamic braking ability. “This product was designed to be part of a system,” explains Maher. “We designed it to be combined with our VB series of brake valves, so we are providing our customers with the complete braking system in addition to the ground drive motors.”
The company also continues to make advancements in electronics technology. “Our SmartDrive system can provide anything from electronic traction control to complete vehicle control, including engine management and auxiliary function coordination with the ground drive,” says Maher. The result is greater vehicle productivity and ergonomics. For fork lifts, SmartDrive provides ground speed independent of lift function; for sprayers, it coordinates ground speed with spray application rate, among other capabilities. The versatility of the system’s software allows the easy inclusion of electronic traction control, added safety features, system diagnostics and complete performance customization.
“Our ability to provide 6,500 pounds-per-square-inch pressure capability has historically been beyond the requirements of a lot of medium- and light-duty applications. Now, however, some of those industry applications are requiring the performance that we have been providing for decades,” says Maher. PH products are capable of heavy-duty performance and offer high horsepower-to-weight ratios. “This means that we are able to pack a lot of performance within a small package. As our volumes have increased, we’ve become very price-competitive. So we are enjoying a tremendous convergence of our price competitiveness and increased performance requirements among our customer and market applications.”
An independent, privately held company since 1985, PH was originally the components manufacturing division of Poclain Excavator Company, founded by George Batialle during the 1930s. PH now employs more than 1,250 people worldwide – with about 135 in North America housed in a 131,000 square-foot facility in Sturtevant, Wis. Its Czech Republic facility is more than 30,000 square feet, and its French world headquarters is in a facility with more than 6 acres under roof. PH also operates subsidiaries throughout Europe, China and Japan. “So we are serving multiple locations for our global customers,” says Maher.
Growing in the Face of Decline
Despite the recent economic downturn, PH expects to finish 2001 at a 10 percent increase in sales over 2000 – which itself brought a 20 percent growth over 1999. “This is quite a significant performance compared to others in the hydraulic components industry,” says Maher. He attributes these achievements to PH’s dedication to new product development and the ability to supply more components within systems.
“It’s a very competitive industry, which is one of the reasons we spend so much on R&D,” continues Maher. “We will continue to respond not only to market requirements, but to customer-specific requirements so that we can provide tailored transmission system packages for our customers’ machinery.”
PH operates one of Europe’s largest hydraulic component testing facilities in its research and development center in France. “We are exclusive as a components manufacturer to be able to test a complete machine on a custom-built proving ground,” says Maher.
He acknowledges that the company still needs to fill some product gaps before it can achieve the goal it is focused on with such dedication. PH will accomplish this through its own product development as well as through strategic partnerships and acquisitions. At the close of 1999, the company acquired a brake valve manufacturer. “Today, we are already supplying complete braking systems, including braking packages for our motors,” concludes Maher. “We are very focused in targeting our plans to offer complete transmission systems to meet the demands of our customers and our markets.”