Oldenburg Group Incorporated has created an almost-exclusive niche for itself in several primary markets, including military and defense, mining, and logging. Some of its impressive applications include at-sea refueling, border surveillance using data-collecting stealth blimps, and modular ferry, bridge and causeway systems used by the military. Enjoying over 90 percent market share in several of its markets, Oldenburg acknowledges its success is a result of its laser-like focus.
“We are not trying to be the biggest around the world, but we aim to be the best in the world in small niche markets where we know we are the innovators. We can do the job better than other companies and we can do it in a way that will benefit our customers,” says Tim Nerenz, vice president of marketing and sales for the Milwaukee-headquartered company.
Square Root of Technology
A company known worldwide for about 150 years for its military and mining equipment, Oldenburg over the last few years has been merging its distinctive technologies to even higher levels of achievement. “We are bridging our military and commercial technologies and combining our engineering groups together,” explains Nerenz. “So, for example, we can take the rugged designs necessary for military applications – such as equipment that can absorb the shock of being hit with missiles – and we are bringing that technology into our commercial mining equipment to offer our customers safer and more durable mining equipment. And the flip side of that is we’ve been able to greatly reduce prices on some of our military equipment by using the best commercial designs. For example, we’ve taken the framing designs of some of our commercial cranes and put those designs into our military cranes, thereby reducing the cost by over 30 percent.”
When the company was dissatisfied with the ruggedness of the available electric motors for particular military applications, Oldenburg designed and built its own motors to work to military shock-test specifications of 100G. “We developed a motor that’s shock-proof, explosion-proof, vibration-proof and dust- and water-proof and we are using this motor in our mining equipment where the working environment is very rugged,” Nerenz says. “So here is another example of how we are crossing over our technologies from military to commercial and vice-versa and something we developed for our defense group resulted in an improved product over the commercial design.”
Application-specific engineered military products include elevators, cranes, mooring equipment, boat-handling equipment, giant reels to handle cables for submarine sonar applications, and modular barges. “This market is geared toward engineering materiel and troop-handling equipment,” Nerenz says. “Our specialized technologies are used in our motors, electronics and electronic controls and algorithms – to control swinging weights in the air on cranes.”
Oldenburg’s mining equipment is used in underground coalmines as well as hard-rock mines (such as copper and iron). This equipment includes hauling trucks, crushing equipment, and conveyors – all specialized and engineered to order for the specific mine. “These products have offshoot applications, such as equipment used to size coal at power generation plants, transfer stations and railroad terminals,” Nerenz says.
One of Oldenburg’s most current and advanced R&D program is its U.S. Navy development contract for linear synchronous motors used on weapons elevators. “There is no other application in the world at all similar in terms of the delicacy at which you have to move weapons,” explains Nerenz. “We are the prime contractor and General Dynamics – one of the largest defense contractors in the world – is our sub-contractor.” This is a good example of the way in which Oldenburg establishes strong partnerships with other companies in order to supply workable technologically engineered solutions for both commercial and military applications.
Although there is a lot that cannot be discussed in these applications, Nerenz says these elevators, operating on magnetic fields and levitating using no cables whatsoever, are powerful enough to lift loads of 14 tons. Another advantage to these over conventional elevators is they eliminate the need to have more than one elevator shaft, which is a significant plus on Navy ships. Conventional elevators require one elevator shaft per platform and only that one platform can rise and lower in that particular shaft. “Our proprietary technology allows one shaft to use as many platforms as you want because there are no cables or wires,” explains Nerenz.
He continues: “Another of our proprietary technologies allows each platform to leave the elevator shaft – so instead of having to have a forklift come to the elevator for loading material, the robotic platform will travel to the storage area to be loaded.”
As a particular platform reaches its destined floor and moves out of the shaft, another platform can either rise to another floor to be loaded, or another loaded platform can descend to its destination. So the shaft can be used continually for rising and descending platforms, thereby increasing productivity while decreasing the need for more space and more elevator shafts.
This technology is not limited to elevator applications, however. Platforms, when tipped sideways, easily configure to about two-feet high – transform into high-speed conveyor systems up to several thousand feet long. “These conveyors can move at very high speeds – with no moving parts, no friction and using about 30 percent less energy than what’s required in conventional conveyor systems,” Nerenz explains. “This becomes important in bulk handling because coal, rocks, sand and gravel are moved using chain conveyors and we see these linear synchronous conveyor systems replacing chain conveyor systems in the future.”
An additional benefit to the technology in linear motor elevators is that it is not limited by vertical applications. “It can twist and turn and follow the curve and contour of the hull of a ship,” notes Nerenz, adding this technology can also be used in parking garage applications.
Technologies: By Land, Sea, and Air
Refueling at sea requires precise and expert skill as well as highly engineered products to get the job done quickly and without any mishap. “Picture a 1,000-foot-long oil tanker, with an aircraft carrier on one side and a destroyer on the other side,” explains Nerenz. Each vessel has to travel at 17 knots, the preferred speed for refueling operations. The oil tanker has nine fuel lines from each of its sides, to deliver jet fuel to the aircraft carrier on one side and hydraulic fuel and oil to the destroyer on the other side. “It’s a very delicate operation and they can come within 100 feet of the other – and then you also have to account for gale force winds,” continues Nerenz. Constant tension has to be monitored on the fuel lines and Oldenburg’s winches, accumulators and sophisticated electronics are used to sense if the lines are sagging or pulling too much.
“With dry cargo situations, you have to contend with swinging pallets and munitions,” Nerenz says. “Imagine doing that in a 40-mile-an-hour wind. This is the kind of application for heavy equipment that we know how to do very well.”
Both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy depend on Oldenburg’s modular barges for building temporary bridges, work platforms, ferries and piers for loading and unloading cargo. “It is like a Lego set where the pieces are 40-feet long by four-feet high by eight-feet wide,” Nerenz explains. “These pieces float and can be connected in any configuration needed. And we also have powered sections that are used to make 400-foot-long ferries. Our modular causeways enable the Army to get its equipment from ship to shore without having to find a secured port.”
Over 30 sealift ships pre-positioned all over the world are equipped with essential Oldenburg materiel. “Our equipment is staged throughout the world so when it’s time to go someplace quickly, the military is ready,” Nerenz says.
With nearly 90 percent of the world’s market share in its selected mining equipment products, Oldenburg is certainly a Goliath force to contend with. “Each product is custom-designed for a particular mining operation,” Nerenz says. The company manufactures feeder-breakers for coal mining, which operate underground in mine heights as low as 32 inches. Oldenburg battery-powered hauling trucks, weighing about 70,000 pounds, are available in two sizes – one can haul up to 10 tons and another model hauls up to 20 tons. “These are powered entirely by batteries because you cannot have emissions or sparks in a coal mine,” says Nerenz. “We are highly experienced in moving coal, grain and other material where dust from the material presents the possibility of explosion. We know how to move tons and tons of this kind of material at very high speeds and in terribly harsh environments where the machinery is exposed to acid in the atmosphere.”
Oldenburg mobile continuous haulage conveyor systems provide coal-mining operations with continuous removal of the mined coal, thereby eliminating the need for several shuttle trucks to do the retrieval.
For hard-rock mining of minerals such as granite, stone, iron and copper, Oldenburg manufactures drilling equipment, explosive placing equipment, roof scalers, and truck loaders. “These are also custom-engineered and for this kind of mining, you have to drill holes into the rock and then place explosives so you can blast out rock sections to be hauled away,” says Nerenz. The company also makes truck loaders to haul the ANFO (ammonium nitrate and fuel oil), which is the explosive used in mines. “We also make a wide range of utility trucks from maintenance vehicles to lubrication trucks.”
Nerenz says the transformation of the U.S. Department of Defense over the next decade “is going to be dramatic and everything they have planned will increase the need for force mobility. Everything we make is all about mobility, so the future looks very bright for us in defense and we are taking a very close look now at how our products and expertise can be applied in homeland security.”
Some of these areas include the handling of containers in ports. “We know how to handle bulk material as well as containers very efficiently and productively – and we also know how to deal with nuclear, biological and chemical agents because we are certified to do this kind of work and we understand the hazards involved in these environments,” Nerenz says.
In the area of border surveillance – using tethered blimps – Oldenburg makes the winches that control handling these surveillance systems.
Not the Biggest – Just the Best
“What is unique about us is we are a qualified small business with both military and commercial product lines and we offer full services such as engineering, manufacturing, service and installation, and support right up through aftermarket support,” Nerenz says. “So we have the same full range of products and services as big companies like Lockheed or Northrop have – yet we are a small business with the breadth of engineered military and commercial products no other business our size can boast having.”
Oldenburg’s primary U.S. manufacturing facilities are located in Rhinelander and Milwaukee, Wis.; Millersburg, Ken.; Iron River, Mich.; and Claremont, N.H. The company has invested heavily to upgrade its factories, expand product lines, and enter new geographic markets. “These capital investments are aimed at productivity improvements,” Nerenz says. “I see us always as the innovator in the markets we serve and as the company that always has the answers nobody else has. This is what will keep us going on forever.”