Sunday, 18 December 2011

Episode Five - The Thompson Coupling, B2B Social Media

Episode 5 Australian Power Transmission Podcast

In this episode

                The Thompson Coupling

                B2B social media – my quick thoughts

Thanks for tuning in to the fifth episode of the Australian Power Transmission Podcast, Monday December 19, 2011.  I’m Damian Harris, I’m in Melbourne.

Contact the Australian Power Transmission Podcast via the following methods: twitter @ozpotpodcast, email and comments on the web 

*The Italian Bonfiglioli Group is looking to end 2011 with strength, recording net revenues of 680 million Euros across all strategic business units.  There has been a major shift in sales distribution, with sales from European markets dropping from 458 to 400 million Euros, while emerging markets helped Bonfiglioli post a 13% sales jump from 2010. Bonfiglioli has identified consistent Research and Development – even during the European financial downturn – as being a major factor in the turnaround.

Strong demand in the wind energy sector has been beneficial to overall sales, as well as heavy machinery and agricultural equipment – two traditional stalwarts of Bonfiglioli revenue.

*Dwarfing Bonfiglioli’s sales is the result by ZF Friedrichschafen AG, the German gearing engineering and manufacturing firm that specialises in the automotive sector.  ZF Group recently acquired Hansen Transmissions of Belgium on its way to an overall result of 15.5 billion Euros for 2011.

ZF joins its major competition in identifying wind turbines, electric hybrid technology and an increase in production capacity in developing nations as strategic growth initiatives.  ZF should also be commended for reaping the rewards of consistent investment in R&D. 

*The Australian government has had a cabinet reshuffle, with a few portfolios playing switcheroo.  Former Minister for Innovation Senator Kim Carr has been removed from this central role, to be put in charge of the new Ministry for Manufacturing.  Innovation now becomes part of a super ministry, officially titled the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education – somehow implying all of these are linked.  The large ministry will be handled jointly by Greg Combet MP and Senator Chris Evans, while Mark Dreyfus MP will be appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation, supporting Minister Combet.

Various Australian state governments have ministers for manufacturing, which are normally lumped in with innovation and trade.  As a separate ministry, I’m not sure how Senator Carr is going to make manufacturing his own.  I’m certain that the Minister will have a significant role in the Prime Minister’s newly-created taskforce on keeping the manufacturing sector employed, as well as a bit of ribbon cutting, but a Minister of Manufacturing and a Minister of Industry will surely have too much crossover to work effectively.

Already, Senator Carr has organised meetings in the US to see the bosses at GM and Ford to tee up funding for the local subsidiaries.  Both manufacturers are in a difficult position in Australia and will probably require Senator Carr to turn up with an open wallet when he visits next month, and not vice versa.

*Only a short time has elapsed since the announcement that Altra Industrial Motion had purchased Bauer Gear Motor, but that hasn’t stopped the powers that be in Braintree from searching out possible synergies with existing brands and technologies.  Altra announced the 2000 series of helical bevel gearboxes and integral gear motors, utilising experience and knowledge from both Bauer and Boston Gear.

The 2000 series looks to be pitched at the food manufacturing industry, with many of its features assisting washdown and corrosion resistance.  Utilising both IEC and NEMA motor frames is a smart move and should allow universal acceptance on both sides of the Atlantic.  It isn’t clear if Australia will be a recipient.

I am a little disconcerted that one of the key promotional points that Altra has chosen to run with is the fact that the 2000 series is a direct ‘drop-in’ replacement for the SEW-Eurodrive KA series of gearboxes.  Some of Altra’s promotional material states that in designing the 2000 series, product specialists asked customers what they wanted in a geared motor design.  The answer was obviously they wanted the KA series by SEW!

*South Australian Harley-Davidson subsidiary New Castalloy has been given an 18 month death sentence by its Milwaukee parent, as the motorcycle giant closes the plant in favour of having its wheels made in the US and Japan.

212 staff will go from the North Plympton manufacturing facility and although profitable, the usual issue of exchange rates has been put forward as a contributing factor for the close, as well as the ending of a financial agreement between Harley-Davidson and the South Australian government.

Harley-Davidson had pretty much rescued Castalloy in 2006 when it was on the verge of going broke and has had the bulk of its wheels produced there since.

*The Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group – Heather Ridout – is soon to be the former Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group as she resigns her post in favour of a position on the board of the Reserve Bank of Australia.  The Australian Industry Group represents all areas of Australian business, with a focus on manufacturing and industry. 

The role that Ms. Ridout has played in Canberra cannot be underestimated as the chief lobbyist for the manufacturing sector and it will be interesting to see if her successor will come from within the ranks of the 300 staff currently employed at AI Group or if someone from outside will be headhunted.

*As announced in the inaugural Australian Power Transmission Podcast, BlueScope Steel had decided to reduce production in line with flagging demand at both Port Kembla and Hastings, laying off 1000 workers in the process.  The same episode also had details of Australia’s new carbon tax, and how it was going to affect business.  Well, combine the two and you get the next news item.

BlueScope has applied to the federal government for $100M of industry assistance, under the Steel Transformation Plan, which is aimed at helping to offset the carbon bills as they roll in but is in effect a way to keep the doors open at a major employment source in disparate areas of the country.

 The Thompson Coupling is the brainchild of Glenn Thompson, an Australian from rural New South Wales who has rethought the constant velocity joint and invented a shorter and more efficient way of joining high-misalignment shafts together.

To be more correct with Thompson’s invention, there are two products that his company markets from its Orange, New South Wales premises; namely the Thompson Constant Velocity Joint and the Alignment Eliminator pump coupling range.  The Thompson Constant Velocity Joint would appear to be the backbone of the design’s future, being used in high-torque applications for rail infrastructure and miscellaneous industrial functions, whilst the Alignment Eliminator is an off-the-shelf offering for high-misalignment pump applications up to 73kW.  The Alignment Eliminator is more in keeping with the purview of the Australian PT Podcast so I will focus my attention on it.

The Alignment Eliminator will handle up to six degrees of misalignment in axial, offset and angular configuration and there are four sizes in the range, handling from up to 10kW through to up to 75kW.  Like many gear couplings, the Alignment Eliminator must not be perfectly aligned and requires some misalignment to function correctly.  The fact that it can cope with higher misalignment means that it can be fitted and set up in a much shorter time than couplings requiring proper aligning with lasers.

The smart design of the Alignment Eliminator has patents on the go all across the world, and Thompson is currently looking at licence agreements for manufacture and distribution, to supplement what is produced locally.  I know that this segment sounds like an advertisement for the Thompson Coupling but I’m really impressed with what it can do.  I’m not the only one, as Boeing has signed a long-term development contract as they look for ongoing applications.

In Australia, the distributor of the Alignment Eliminator is Southern Engineering Services out of Wollongong, New South Wales.

As I say at the top and bottom of every show, you can contact the Australian Power Transmission Podcast on twitter as well as through comments on the website or via email.  It got me to thinking how popular twitter is with marketers, so I thought I’d do a bit of research into its reach for the Business to Business audience.

Twitter (and social media in general) is something of an unknown quantity in the B2B world, whilst being almost invisible in the field of mechanical power transmission.  There are a few bearing retailers and electric motor rewinders who have a twitter profile and are fairly active, but none of the world’s gearing manufacturers have bothered with the medium.

Taking the next step in the social media landscape, Facebook has business pages that offer a way for consumers to deal directly with businesses and vice versa.  In mechanical power transmission, it’s almost a ghost town.  SEW, WEG, Baldor, Sumitomo and Altra have pages, but the content is simply a direct rip from their corresponding Wikipedia page.  There are no site administrators for any of these pages, by the looks of it, and there isn’t really a way to contact them.

From my investigation, no one else has put anything on their Facebook page, making searching for them nigh on impossible and leaving a gaping hole of a marketing opportunity.  I know I’m sort of preaching to the converted because you are listening to this podcast and are probably aware of everything to do with twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube and a myriad of other social media platforms and even how they can be used for B2B dealings.  It’s just funny that some of the big multinationals will spend megabucks on advertising campaigns, tradeshows, classy websites and more, yet social media – and its’ relatively little cost, sails through to the keeper.

Of all manufacturers using social media, Bishop-Wisecarver does one of the better jobs of engaging with its community.  The Pittsburg, California manufacturer of linear motion guide wheels is all over twitter with close to 6000 tweets, has an active YouTube channel and of course actually has a Facebook page.  I wouldn’t call linear motion guide wheels the sexiest technology to be in, yet these guys do a fantastic job that I’m sure creates more in sales than it costs per annum.

Business to Business customers aren’t looking at retail type social media marketing efforts, but I think that the scope exists for manufacturers to at least get involved.
That’s it for the fifth episode of the Australian Power Transmission Podcast.  Email me, tweet me @ozptpodcast, comments on the web, iTunes, not Facebook yet, not Google+ yet.

The Australian Power Transmission Podcast is going to have a break until after the Christmas holidays.  The PT world shuts down over this period and there isn’t too much news to tell so I’m going to have a breather too.  Having said that, if something major breaks I will be right on top of it and put something straight to the airwaves.

Thanks for all of your support and I will look forward to you company in four weeks, maybe six... I’ll let you know.