In the post-WWII landscape of Germany, the foundation of Liebherr was laid in 1949 on an invention borne out of necessity.

Liebherr began its storied history in a tumultuous time and place: Germany, 1949. At the time, Germany was in desperate need of equipment to speed up work on construction sites after WWII.

The company was founded by a building contractor, Hans Liebherr, who had invented a tower crane to aid in the rebuilding of destroyed structures. Soon after he invented this tower crane, he found it difficult to purchase slewing rings on the market (needed to turn these cranes). He decided to create a second company, bearing his name, specifically to make gear cutting machines for internal use. Gear production machines are therefore truly at the heart of the Liebherr group. They were built, first of all, for their own needs; global production needs led them to expand.

Liebherr Gear Technology president Peter Wiedemann tells how the company continued to evolve. “We started building hobbing machines in 1952,” he says. “In the 1970s we started producing gear shaping machines, and we expanded that further in the 1990s when we purchased the company Lorenz. We started building gear grinding machines in 1989.”

This rich history is just one example of the Liebherr group of companies and how different divisions were founded. Liebherr serves the market with machine tools for three different technologies: gear shaping, gear grinding, and gear hobbing. The machines are built in a wide range: from very small (automotive applications, diameter 60 mm) up to 16 meters in diameter. Within the three technologies on a platform-based structure, Liebherr delivers a broad range of different sizes. Liebherr manufactures cutting tools and also uses tooling from other leading manufacturers, working with them to develop highly productive tooling strategies. In addition Liebherr designs and builds factory automation and material flow technology, and auto-loaders for its gear machines.

There are two main Liebherr facilities, both located in Germany, for a total of around 1,000 employees. A satellite location in India employs around 40 people, and Liebherr Gear Technology, Inc., as well as Liebherr Automation Systems, Co., created for the U.S. and Canadian market, employs about 60 people.

One example of high quality gear grinding machines is the LCS model. “They’re built on platform structures, starting with workpiece diameters from 60mm up to 1200 mm, which is the largest generating grinding machine on the market,” Wiedemann says. “The LCS machines are capable of two types of grinding technology: generating grinding and profile grinding with electroplated CBN or with dressable tools. The machine does both simply by exchanging tooling.”

In March, Liebherr began a new marketing agreement with Wenzel GearTec to market its gear measuring machines in North America. Now with this exclusive representation for Wenzel in the U.S. and Canada, Liebherr anticipates that other partnerships will follow. “We have already seen a lot of quoting activity,” Wiedemann says. “From what we’ve seen from the market, our customer base sees this as a very good fit.”

Scott Yoders, vice president of sales for Liebherr Gear Technology, points out similarities between Liebherr and Wenzel, both in the services they provide and the needs of their customers:

“The ability to offer inspection machines is critical to a lot of our customers, and both companies are family-owned, with a multitude of employees worldwide. Our company is headquartered in Southern Germany, same as Wenzel.”

To illustrate their partnership, Liebherr will be displaying a Wenzel machine at the AGMA gear expo in the fall: The WGT 280, a recently-developed gear checker for automotive applications. Also being displayed is the LC 500, a Liebherr universal gear hobber ideal for contract manufacturers that produce gears up to 500 mm in diameter and a module of maximum 12 mm. The machine comes equipped with internal automation system to load and unload the tables automatically. Two years ago they introduced the LFG profile grinding machine, which grinds 500 up to 1250 mm in diameter. And new developments on machines for automotive applications focus on reduction in idle time.

“We have an impressive testing department,” says Wiedemann, “both for internal product development as well as customer trials for products such as cutting tools, grinding wheels, and abrasives. We have a team of eight people now that deal only with application engineering and technical development. We’ve seen a lot of progress in recent years, but there’s still a lot on our plate to work on.”

“One of our strengths at Liebherr is our know-how,” Yoders said. “We don’t just produce machines, fixtures, automation—we provide a whole process solution. If a customer is new to gear grinding because they’ve done hobbing for years, we can provide them with the manufacturing engineering know-how. Because we offer processes and solutions, we are pretty open when it comes to, for instance, tool suppliers. We make our recommendations, but we don’t have a fixed partnership with suppliers, so we’re not locked in to specific technology from company A or B. We want the best fit for our customer.”

Liebherr employs gear experts throughout the company; from application engineers to sales people with solid manufacturing engineering backgrounds. “It’s beneficial to many of our clients who are either new to gear manufacturing, or to existing gear companies who increasingly rely on their machine tool partners for technological support,” says Yoders. “Further to this point, ease of operation with our equipment is something we’re aware of as a coming trend with our customers.”

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is the managing editor with Gear Solutions Magazine.