ZF Gives Off-Highway Components New Life

By Walt Moore, Senior Editor | September 28, 2010

Is it possible that a ZF powershift transmission, torque converter or drive axle that's been running for thousands of hours in a wheel loader, or a mixer drive that's agitated yard after yard of concrete, could be made better than when new? Not only possible, says ZF Industries, but is, in fact, being accomplished every day at its primary remanufacturing center in Vernon Hills, Ill., and, except for torque converters, in facilities of seven authorized ZF distributors.

Better than when new? Yes, says ZF, because the remanufactured component must pass the same rigid test protocol as a comparable new component, plus, it will be updated to the latest technical specification with current design enhancements. So insistent is ZF that remanufactured components perform like their new counterparts, that North American facilities have real-time links between bill-of-material and test-control computers in ZF's German headquarters. Any changes in factory specifications or test procedures are instantly reflected in remanufactured components here.

When Construction Equipment visited ZF's Vernon Hills facility, which also serves as the company's North American parts distribution center, we were taken by the scope of the operation. On the automotive side, the company is remanufacturing transmissions for the likes of BMW, Jaguar, Land Rover, Porsche, Audi and VW, as well as for Ford light trucks and the transit-bus market. Remanufacturing steering gears, for passenger cars through Class-8 trucks, also is part of the business.

Off-highway remanufacturing

On the off-highway side, ZF's central facility and those of its seven authorized North American distributors are remanufacturing powershift transmissions, drive axles and mixer drives for ready-mixed trucks. The company's Tim Gauer, product support manager (off-highway), emphasizes the considerable distinction ZF draws between a rebuilt component and an authorized remanufactured component.

"Rebuilding," he says, "means simply opening up the component, fixing what's obviously broken, then reassembling. Remanufacturing, however, is a process that thoroughly restores the component to new specifications, provides a new-component warranty, yet costs, on average, 60 to 70 percent of new."

When an off-highway component is remanufactured at ZF, it is first thoroughly cleaned externally, then disassembled. Any obviously damaged or worn parts are immediately discarded, as are all non-reusable "soft parts." The remaining parts, carefully kept together as a unit, are then cleaned in an environmentally friendly manner. (ZF has received an ISO 14000 certification for environmental compliance.)

The cleaned parts then undergo a meticulous inspection, checking their tolerances against new specifications. Any that fail are discarded. New parts are then ordered, a process that automatically ensures incorporating all the latest engineering updates. After reassembly, by the same technician who has worked on the piece since the core arrived, the component is tested and must perform to new-component specifications before it's certified as a genuine ZF-remanufactured component.

Service to the customer

ZF entered the higher-volume off-highway-component remanufacturing business about six years ago. An increasing population of ZF components in North America, and a concern that ZF users were turning to after-market repair shops for service, prompted the company to do so. When a repair shop attempts to rebuild a ZF component with non-original parts, lacks the technical expertise to make precise adjustments and has no means for thoroughly testing the assembly, says Gauer, both ZF and the machine manufacturer get a black eye if the component fails.

According to Gauer, planned maintenance overhaul (PMO), that is, remanufacturing a component before it fails, may make the most economic sense. This strategy, he says, avoids an expensive primary failure and secondary parts damage, thus minimizing costs, and can be performed when a machine has scheduled downtime.

To make remanufactured components more accessible to the end user, ZF has established exchange programs with a number of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and, in the past three years, has carefully developed remanufacturing through its authorized distributor network. The distributor network assists the OEM and its dealers, says Gauer, by performing field diagnosis and warranty support. Most of the distributors, he says, have been ZF associates for an average of 15 years, having worked with ZF in the automotive, bus and heavy-truck markets. For more information, visit the company's website, www.zf-group.com.