Hansen Transmissions International

Get in gear with Hansen

Supplying drive solutions for a wide range of applications, such as bucket elevators, car crushers, cement kilns, conveyor systems, industrial mixers, paper mills and pulpers, Hansen Transmissions International has been a leading gear manufacturer since 1923.

Hansen also delivers gear units for water treatment systems like aerator drives, screw pump drives and brush aerator drives for waste water treatment plants. Furthermore, as an experienced and renowned partner in renewable energies, Hansen is a respected supplier to the wind power generation industry.

Ivan Brems, CEO, tells Manufacturing Today Europe more about the company’s history: “Perhaps the most important milestone in Hansen’s development came in 1950 when the then technical director, David Hansen – who later lent his name to the company – launched his first range of standardised industrial gearboxes. At the time this was an absolute novelty because until that point every gearbox was basically tailormade for the application. David developed the notion of standardising gears and the company has never looked back.”

Today, Hansen leads the way in innovation and durable drives for a wide range of industrial applications throughout the world, especially in sectors where low noise levels, minimum weight and high reliability are essential. The company is continually investing in the latest technology and machinery and a record turnover of more than 285 million euros was achieved in 2005/2006.

Ivan adds: “Hansen’s key strength is that we are a technology-driven company – we lead the way in terms of innovation. We are committed to everything we do and are dedicated to following growth markets and investing heavily in product design and development, as well as building up production capacity in order to supply industry. Indeed, we continually invest in the latest technology and machinery, particularly in industries where low noise levels, high reliability and minimum weight are essential.”

Always looking to grow and mature as a business, the board of Hansen Transmissions recently approved an investment plan of over 140 million euros to expand production capacity and R&D infrastructure. This investment aims at expanding Hansen’s production facilities in Belgium.

The investment supports the company’s goal of meeting the growing demand for gearboxes and will create more than 300 new jobs. One of the important objectives of the investment plan is to maximise output of gearboxes for multi-megawatt wind turbines at the existing plant at Lommel, Belgium.

What’s more, testing facilities for both production and R&D will be expanded up to a full-load capacity of 13 megawatts. This means Hansen’s combined internal testing capacity will reach a total of more than 30 megawatts.

To support this expansion, Hansen recently bought an extra 63,500m2 of space adjacent to the existing plant. This brings the total surface of the Lommel plant up to 180,000m2. With this investment, Hansen will also create more than 300 new jobs. Ivan comments: “This strategic investment in Belgium allows us to rapidly increase our production capacity while we further expand our existing infrastructure and available capabilities. Hansen is a successful and promising company that can be proud of its high technology standard and this investment is about supporting that.

“The 13 megawatt test facility is one that we will use for R&D purposes. It is a dynamic, low frequency test rig, which will allow us to simulate the loads that actually occur within a wind turbine. Its size – 13 megawatts – also allows us to do ultraload testing on the gearboxes. We currently manufacture gearboxes up to three megawatts and in the foreseeable future that will probably grow to five or six megawatts.”

Hansen manufactures gear units that match the wind turbine generator, and invests continuously in product development. The Hansen planetary gear units offer numerous advantages to wind turbine manufacturers: minimum weight, durability, long working life, and many others.

He continues: “It is very important to realise that it is only because we have reached a certain scale in our business for wind energy that we can actually afford to spend ten million euros on such a system. The system will not be used for production purposes, and will, most certainly, not have an immediate return on investment. The investment will allow us to use our current test stands for serial production, while we are adding another production test stand of 6.6 megawatts as part of the investment programme outlined by the board.”

So, is wind technology the growth market for Hansen? Ivan was careful not to make a sweeping generalisation or radical claim, but, as he explains, there is great potential: “Our business is very solid. The demand for drive solutions is growing more or less in line with the world’s economy. We have achieved growth rates of up to ten per cent per year, which is very pleasing indeed. For the wind business, over the last five years we have witnessed a growth rate, which averages 30- 35 per cent, and going forward that growth rate is expected to continue in the range of 20-30 per cent per year, which is phenomenal. The growth in the wind business almost completely overshadows other industry segments and we look to the future with increased optimism.”

Talking about the importance of R&D to the company, Ivan continues: “R&D is absolutely vital. Worldwide, we employ 1300 personnel; of that number, approximately 175 work as engineers, but so far as dedicated R&D personnel go it is around 100 people. We also have a strong contact network with universities and research institutes, both in Belgium and Germany. In both countries there is a vast knowledge of gearbox technology and we work closely with those links in order to tap into this resource. We support our own development by investing not only in the people we employ but also in the tools that these workers use. For these reasons, we have been successful over the years.”

He adds: “We have a philosophy to gear design which is very different to the competition. We develop our own gears; giving our products the best performance characteristics as far as transmitting power and torque are concerned. We also use the macro and micro geometry of the gearing to obtain the lowest possible noise and vibration levels in the gearbox – all of which is a unique selling point that is very different to our competition.”

In today’s modern industry, manufacturing efficiency is becoming increasingly important as companies seek to drive down costs. As a result, Hansen has introduced a number of efficiency measures: “Manufacturing efficiency is of course extremely important for us: we are now in full operation at the new factory in Lommel and, because it is a greenfield site, we have been able to bring in optimal flows to help the production. It is a fully integrated plant – we are based on the one site; the raw material comes in and then the components are produced, and assembled into the gearboxes, tested, and shipped to customers. We have also optimised logistics flows to avoid waste in the production process,” says Ivan.

Talking about the future, he comments: “We are expanding the facility in Lommel, and that is based on a firm belief that the wind industry will continue to grow at the sorts of rates I mentioned before. This will be supported by the growing need for energy worldwide, particularly in Asian countries like China and India; an increased concern for the long-term reliability of energy supply; and, last but not least, by the growing concern for the environment. Wind energy is a clean way to produce electricity and, as the industry matures, is becoming less dependent on subsidies, as well as a more competitive form of energy production.”

Continuing, Ivan tells us more about the challenges the company will face: “We want to build a strong, solid base, consolidating our market leading position in both the wind energy sector and traditional market segments. In the wind energy sector we have a market share of approximately 35 per cent, which is very strong. However, as it is a growing market, we want to consolidate that or maybe even improve that position. Our traditional business segments are more fragmented, and in that area we want to grow our market share over the next three to five years to over ten per cent.”

Concluding, he explains: “I really want to place a strong emphasis on our investment plan of over 140 million euros to expand production capacity and R&D infrastructure – particularly the expansion of the Lommel plant. The Lommel plant in itself is a very large factory. When we built it, we designed the plant to be 50 per cent bigger than the original plant we had in Edegern, near Antwerp. What we are now doing is doubling the capacity of that plant, which is a huge undertaking that will be extremely challenging to us, not least for the supply chain. We are also putting a lot of effort into recruiting highly skilled people to operate the plant, but the ultimate goal is to be able to achieve our overall strategic objective and remain a leading player in the gear industry.”

He adds: “The expansion has now started; I can see the project starting to take shape from my office window. We are very excited about it and the expansion is scheduled to finish in early 2008, with full production starting later in the year.”

Hansen Transmissions
Products: Gearboxes
Sites: Antwerp, Belgium
Employees: 1100