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Applied innovation

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With the eLeg rapidly gaining a global fan base, Melbourne’s Fuwa K-Hitch could hold the key for unlocking the second wave of the Federal Government’s innovation and science agenda.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull once again helped the term ‘innovation’ receive buzzword status last month after a cabinet reshuffle saw former Innovation, Industry and Science Minister, Greg Hunt, move to the health portfolio, and Senator Arthur Sinodinos step into the innovation role.

Innovation had been the centrepiece of Turnbull’s 2015 campaign, which focused on Australia’s transition to a more balanced and diversified economy, but didn’t quite find traction over the course of 2016 – even though industry had gone into overdrive to make the promised ‘ideas boom’ a reality.

With a new Minister now driving the portfolio, the transport equipment industry is once again hoping for the focus to return to high-tech manufacturing and innovative problem solving – an area in which it has traditionally held a leadership role.

One company predestined to lead the way in bringing innovation back on the big stage is Melbourne’s Fuwa K-Hitch (FKH). As part of a world-spanning knowledge network created by Chinese manufacturing giant, Fuwa, it has garnered a reputation for being especially agile and connected – an important quality to maximise the innovation potential of Australian-based businesses, as Henri Burges, a Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Innovation at the Queensland University of Technology, explains.

“Research shows companies who are more internationalised are more innovative and perform better. Winning at innovation requires joining the global marketplace to find new users for your products, services and technologies and to gain knowledge helping you to further innovate.”

Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager at FKH, agrees: “Our long-standing involvement with Fuwa has helped us build an international support network that is unique in the transport equipment scene. Our latest innovation, the eLeg, would not have been possible without it.”

Designed in collaboration with automation specialist Razor International, the eLeg is an integrated electronic landing leg that can be lifted and lowered at the push of a button – effectively creating a whole new sub-segment in the landing leg market. Chris says the eLeg will positively affect driver recruiting, safety and maintenance, as well as aerodynamics and idling time – making it a quintessential equipment innovation for the 2017 season.

“The eLeg is a great example of how an idea conceived in Australia can make a global impact if the framework is right,” Chris explains. “It’s just as much of a safety device as a cost reduction tool, which makes it attractive for almost any market worldwide. Only by combining Australian know-how and the global manufacturing prowess of Fuwa and Razor behind us, we were able to scale the project and meet that demand.”

According to Chris, FKH’s slow and mindful internationalisation over the past decade has not only helped it open up to new markets and services, but also exposed it to new insights that stimulated more innovation. “The amount of data we have gained access to by rolling out the product worldwide continuously helps us improve,” he explains. “To us, that kind of feedback cycle is incredibly important to ensure we keep growing and evolving as a business.”

One key take-away from FKH’s success story, he adds, is that even small- and medium-sized businesses like FKH and Razor have the opportunity to reap the benefits of international expansion – even with limited resources – by creating smart networks and finding the right partners to collaborate with. As such, he sees FKH as a prime example for the second wave of the Federal Government’s innovation and science agenda Minister Sinodinos is now tasked with managing.

“With innovation back on the agenda in Australia, I think it’s important to acknowledge that taking a proactive, globally minded approach will make Australian businesses more competitive, successful and robust in the longer term,” he explains. “At FKH, we have certainly proven that is the case. The eLeg is a highly disruptive product that has changed the very concept of landing leg design, both in Australia and overseas.”


Fast Fact: The eLeg is operated with a push button and a simple high/low range gear lever and is easy to install. Find a detailed installation and operation video online on www.bit.ly/2kh4cdq or google Fuwa TV.

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World best practice

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Melbourne company Fuwa K-Hitch is right at the centre of a global network of expert axle and suspension businesses that has set out to revolutionise the transport equipment market.

Fuwa K-Hitch’s (FKH) long-standing involvement with Chinese manufacturing giant Fuwa has not only catapulted the company into the highest echelon of the Australian axle and suspension market over the past decade, but also helped it build an international support network that is unique in the transport equipment scene.

Via Fuwa, FKH is connected to US axle and suspension expert AXN as well as European counterpart Valx, allowing it to grow and nurture what could be the most complex axle and suspension knowledge base in the world. Also part of the Fuwa support network is innovative Dutch brand, VDL Weweler, which has developed a unique Modular Bolt-On Suspension (MBS) that continues to set the FKH, AXN and Valx triad apart in the trucking scene.

The key to VDL Weweler’s MBS system – available in Australia exclusively via FKH – is a parabolic trailing arm that acts as an integrated roll stabiliser and guiding arm for the axle and is manufactured in a new, world-unique facility in The Netherlands.

“By being part of the Fuwa family we have access to the latest in modern axle and suspension technology,” says Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager at FKH. “The resulting suspension and axle package is able to provide excellent weight savings without compromising on strength, stability and life of components, which is critical in the Australian transport market.”

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According to Chris, the MBS system does not only simplify product engineering by forging the axle clamp into the actual trailing arm, but will also positively affect operational performance by keeping weight down. “By continuously minimising the amount of components used in the design we also minimise the risk of failure,” he says. “The MBS suspension module only features one trailing arm, one shock absorber, one hanger bracket and two tail ends, and it is friendly on the axle because there is no welding involved. On top of that, the design is able to absorb stresses in a way no conventional solution has ever been able to.”

Chris explains that the wide, weld-free clamping area, combined with the small diameter pivot bushing of the suspension and Fuwa’s unique 146mm axle beam, will lead to “superb” roll stiffness and stability – particularly for loads with a high center of gravity. The result is less stress on the axle, and with it an increase in service life.

Another unique selling point is that the suspension is ‘locked’ in position by a groove in the axle beam, providing a “high degree of modularity” in spring track, ride height and offset, as Chris puts it. “By removing the axle seat, there is no need for welding in the axle. In combination with the in-built clamping area, Fuwa’s unique axle design and leading wheel end technology, this realignment-free, non-welded solution will provide exceptional roll stiffness while putting less stress on the axle. It’s the ideal package for on highway vehicles, particularly PBS equipment.

“Of course things can and always do happen, but the major benefit of the system is that whether due to accident or simply end of service life of components, all parts of the suspension and axle are easily replaced or repaired – unlike complete integrated designs – therefore maximising and controlling costs over the life of the trailer.”

According to Chris, Fuwa’s combined knowledge has led to the creation of a product that will be hard to beat in the Australian marketplace: “I think having the new VDL Weweler plant join our global support network will enable us to be more competitive across the board, especially here in Australia,” he says. “The message we really want to get across is that MBS has evolved into a globally proven technology that is backed by years of development and testing, and coming out of one of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world. The benefit for Australian road transport will be enormous.”

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Second coming

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Dutch company Valx is not new to the European trailer axle market anymore, yet hasn’t quite managed to break into the industry’s top echelon just yet. With the help of Fuwa K-Hitch, that could now change.

It’s fair to say that the official launch of the Valx brand at the 2010 IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany was a game-changing moment for the European trailer axle industry. Then part of Holland’s MCB Group, the novice seemingly ignored the traditional market hierarchy and staged itself as a fresh alternative to the German establishment – boasting a distinct international edge and a firm commitment to innovation.

Helped by a stunning visual campaign rolled out both traditionally and online, the young brand’s British Racing Green-inspired colour scheme quickly gained traction in the market and would have probably caused the competition some serious embarrassment had the trailer market not slowed down so dramatically in 2011 and beyond – not just because of smart publicity, but also because of the convincing value proposition behind it.

Even with the Eurozone crisis silhouetted against the horizon, though, Valx’ integrated axle module – combining innovative componentry supplied by Fuwa, Wabco, TMD, Timken, SKF and VDL Weweler in a price competitive package – left a notable impact on the market and earned the company a fan base stretching from Portugal’s Atlantic coast all the way to the Russian capital of Moscow.

In 2014, with Europe slowly recovering and Valx studiously stealing market share from the powerful German competition, Australian Fuwa-subsidiary, Fuwa K-Hitch, stepped onto the scene to acquire what had hitherto been but a – somewhat nonconventional – client business. Sensing the disruptive potential behind the brand, Fuwa K-Hitch hoped it would be able to bring the necessary firing power to the table to help Valx shake up the market once more and finally break into the top three of the European sales ranking.

To do so, Fuwa K-Hitch installed a completely new management team led by Joop Arends as Managing Director and Martin van Willingen as Sales Director, and moved the Valx head office to a new location in Veghel, The Netherlands. From here – with guidance from the new Australian parent and an ever-present, highly ambitious and equally resourceful Chinese mother ship – the company is now ready to take on the establishment once again.

“Via Fuwa K-Hitch, we are now officially part of the global Fuwa family, so it’s been quite a substantial evolutionary leap for our small company,” explains Joop. “Fuwa is the biggest axle manufacturer in the world and has already opened a lot of doors for us in the market to ensure our product will be even more competitive in the future. Product development, for example, has been accelerated extremely by being so close to our main supplier, and the input we’ve received from our new sister companies in Australia, China and the US has been invaluable too. For our customers, however, the main message is that our new parent is a company with the same core business as us – axles.”

From a brand perspective, however, Joop says not a lot has changed. “Even now under new ownership, we will continue to operate independently and deliver a high-end European product. What has changed is the scope of our operation, though: Helped by Fuwa-K-Hitch, we’ve quickly learned that the Valx product is suitable for export markets outside of Europe, too.

“Quite a few of those markets use specifications that are comparable to, or derived from, European standards, and many of them value our robust design – so we see a lot more opportunities globally today than we’ve seen in the past. Of course it also helps that the product had had time to prove itself in the field over the past five or six years, because now we know just how versatile it is, both on and off the highway.”

With the dynamic of the trailer axle market in Europe very similar to trailer building itself, where two big market leaders are followed a range of contenders for the number three spot, Joop says the revitalised Valx business has “all the potential” to become a top three player over the next five years or so. “There is no doubt that when Valx first came into the market, people looked at it with a certain amount of caution – some deliberately taking the time to see how the product performed over the long run before committing to it,” he explains.

“But now that we are 100 per cent owned by a global powerhouse like Fuwa, there is obviously a lot more brand integrity and staying power behind it, which has helped us gain the same kind of trust from the market our competition has.”

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Fast Fact: Made by Fuwa, the Valx axle is based on a seamless, cold-drawn and non-welded beam structure to eliminate the risk of weakening or material degradation. As a result, the Fuwa axle beam is said to have a high strength-to-weight ratio.

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Taking action

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With an adaptable axle and suspension offering that has proven itself in the Australian market, Fuwa K-Hitch has become a key piece in Australia’s high performance vehicle puzzle.

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With a firm commitment to the often-quoted actions speak louder than words adage, Australia’s transport equipment industry has developed a distinctly hands-on approach towards commercial vehicle design that has seen it rise to a global leadership position in the field.

Nowhere else in the world is high productivity freight vehicle (HPFV) design more advanced than down under, and nowhere else are transport businesses able to unite OEMs, government authorities and local councils in creating the kind of equipment that hasn’t even been thought of before.

The result is a transport equipment scene that is more vibrant and creative than anywhere else in the world, with a healthy sense of pragmatism and unique openness to the design challenges of tomorrow.

The International Truck, Trailer & Equipment Show (ITTES) held in Melbourne last month again showcased that ingenuity and provided a forum for the transport community to explore what may be next on the agenda.

While not exhibiting at the Show, the leadership team behind Fuwa K-Hitch used the opportunity to join the debate and find out just how its expertise in the axle and suspension field could benefit the industry.

Especially in the HPFV field, the company’s unique axle and suspension package – based on Fuwa’s famous one-piece forged axle beam – has seen increasing uptake of late, says National Sales Manager, Chris Barrett. “We have created a reliable, affordable, and almost fool proof system that adds incredible value to the kind of Performance-Based Standards-rated equipment Australia has become famous for.

“Looking at the equipment that was on show, it’s obvious that Australia is forging ahead in this new and exciting field, and I’m proud we can be part of it with our growing running gear and coupling line-up.”

According to Chris, ITTES has shown that variables like ‘weight’ and ‘speed’ are now as important as price and reliability, forcing suppliers to constantly adapt and improve. “Every fleet is different, with different vehicles and requirements, and that’s why we are constantly evolving as a business. We want to be able to provide the right solution for everyone, so just talking the talk will never cut it here in Australia.”

He adds, “Whilst tare weight is always a buzzword – particularly around these new and innovative HPFV and PBS vehicles – it is also important not to become solely focused on this and a ‘one size fits all’ regime.

“These designs are certainly outside the box and include very high centre of gravity, increased loadings and dimensions, so it is vital that the running gear is specified around these requirements. As such, the equipment supplier should be included in discussions to maximise the life and integrity of the components, which in some cases might mean sacrificing some tare weight for a more robust platform,” he says, revealing that engaging with fleets face-to-face and understanding their needs is the key to long-term success in a fast-paced market like Australia.

“If you want to build a successful and long-lasting fleet – especially here in Australia with its extreme focus on customisation – you have to consider things like the durability of a certain part, axle wear, the availability of aftermarket parts and the ease of service and maintenance. At Fuwa K-Hitch, we’re committed to providing the full package, all while catering to the unique applications we have here in Australia. That’s our true strength.”


Fast Fact: Fuwa K-Hitch recently released two new axle and suspension packages based on VDL Weweler’s European MBS design and its own forged one-piece KI axle beam. “The new KI series is fully integrated, incorporating the trailing arm welded to the beam in a move to eliminate U-bolts,” says Fuwa K-Hitch’s Chris Barrett. “The suspension is attached to the axle beam via a unique groove forged into the beam and clamping bolts only which eliminate the need for welding and u bolts. Coupled with our lightest weight alloy hub and lightweight drum options, we can offer tare weights of 425kg for KI and 415kg for MBS.”


Fast Fact: At the Melbourne Truck Show, Fuwa K-Hitch equipment was featured on a PBS-approved 26-pallet quad-axle Lucar van. The 15.7m reefer was equipped with three standard drum-braked FKH axles, a steer axle, and VDL Weweler’s 11-tonne air suspension system – also on the lift axle.

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The right framework

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Away from the limelight, transport equipment specialist, Fuwa K-Hitch, has been working tirelessly to set itself up for a successful 2016. The result is a nimble organisation with an innovative edge – and a powerful global support network.

It was only recently that Melbourne company Fuwa K-Hitch stirred up the commercial road transport industry by partnering with Swinburne University and Ballarat consultancy Bisitecniks to design a dedicated fifth wheel testing laboratory in Melbourne.

Before Fuwa K-Hitch decided to invest in the project, testing the mechanical properties of a fifth wheel could only be carried out in Brisbane or Sydney. But due to the company’s unswerving commitment to bringing a new dimension of professionalism to the Victorian transport community, Swinburne’s $15 million Smart Structures Laboratory eventually opened up collaborating with the local transport equipment expert.

The project not only helped build a strong foundation for Fuwa K-Hitch’s future success in the fifth wheel space, but also signified just how busy the company was behind the scenes to create the right framework for success in 2016.

Last month, the same mind-set led the company to enter into a new distribution agreement with Auckland company, Truck and Trailer Parts (TATP), as its new representative and service agent for New Zealand. “With the market still somewhat murky, it’s all about creating a strong framework for success at the moment to prepare for the next upswing,” says Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager of Fuwa K-Hitch Australia, who is confident the two projects helped strengthen the company’s standing in the Australian and New Zealand marketplace.

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“Joining forces with a company like TATP finally gives Fuwa K-Hitch Australia the ability to truly service the very important NZ market on a national basis, at both OEM and after sales level, which has been our goal for a long time. It’s another building block we added to the foundation our business will continue grow on.”

The feedback Fuwa K-Hitch has since received is indicative of how well recognised the product is – and the growth opportunities that come with recent developments in Australia and New Zealand.

“Fuwa K-Hitch products hold significant market share positions in Asia and Australia, and Fuwa is the largest global producer of axles – by volume – in the world,” says TATP General Manager, Scott Holt. “That’s a strong value proposition to begin with. Unsurprisingly, local NZ stock exchange commentators have recognised this is a tremendous deal for the group.”

According to Scott, TATP is already in discussions with potential customers, “many of whom have seen this outstanding range of products at trade shows in Melbourne and Brisbane, where the Fuwa brand is already recognised as a market leader.”

As such, it’s safe to say Fuwa K-Hitch’s efforts to reinforce its market position in the Asia Pacific region by building strong relationships and investing in product quality are already paying off. “Sometimes it’s the work you do in the background that is most important to the future success of the company,” says Chris.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and money in building a basis that is future-proof to ensure our customers are well-looked after both from a product and service perspective, so we’re incredibly confident about the future.”


Fast Fact: Over the course of 2015, Fuwa K-Hitch has come up with a range of dedicated bulletins that are meant to raise awareness for safety-critical processes – from initial installation all the way through to the obligatory pre-drive check. “We do everything we can to rule out issues from the outset,” says Chris Barrett, National Sales Manager at Fuwa K-Hitch and passionate safety advocate. “Our bulletins are a good way to pass on our knowledge to those using our products in the field.”

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