This year we can expect to see some design changes for Dana. These changes will see the product made in Australia and more closely aligned to the needs of the Aussie truck market.
Dana supply axles, driveshaft, steering shafts as an option for all of the models Kenworth builds in the Bayswater, Victoria factory, 30km along the Eastlink motorway from the Dana plant in Keysborough. The axles can be rated from 40,000lb, all the way up to 52,000lb. Each of those drive heads is offered in 10 or so different ratios. In terms of the kind of notice Dana gets from truck manufacturers, Kenworth gives between two and four weeks’ notice with its needs.
There are variations in ratio, and different suspension brackets may be needed if a diff lock is fitted. Truck manufacturers work out their production schedules and component suppliers have to ensure they have the needed product in the country or have the capability to assemble it in time for its arrival, just in time, on the production line.
“We’ve been working with a number of fleets,” says Peter Langworthy, Former Dana Managing Director. “We have been testing and evaluating some design changes we are going to bring in. Some of those fleets are in excess of 450,000km per year, operating B-doubles. We have been utilising them and they are helping us come up with some design changes specifically for Australia.
“We are using a design change to the input shaft to enhance lubrication in the power divider unit also incorporating a full-time pump.”
There is a fine line with vital components like this in trucks at high mileage and high masses. Small tweaks can prevent premature failure in these kinds of situations.
Dana has also been looking at different oils in the components. All of these changes are designed to take the Dana product into an area where it has a longer design life. Drive heads are currently under warranty to 800,000km and the plan is to push this out well beyond that.
Dana is also extending its reach in the bus and off highway markets. The move away from Ford has seen renewed attention in other fields with strong sales growth in some sectors.
“We’ve had to significantly change the business, particularly over the last three years,” says Peter. “The focus of the business itself has changed. We were a significant supplier to Ford, we still are. They are our biggest customer globally.
“Unfortunately, they, along with Holden and Toyota, have completely finished in Australia. It has affected a lot of businesses; a lot are actually leaving completely. Dana elected not to do that. Instead, we are investing in Australian manufacturing, keeping an Australian capability in these markets.
“We are actually growing in areas we previously weren’t involved with. Globally, we have made an acquisition of a business called Brevini, a global manufacturer of hydraulic equipment in areas like off-highway, mining. They have four outlets in Australia, which are now part of Dana. We are working closely with them to work out what synergies we can add in to grow those markets.”
Dana currently employs around 80 people in Australia. This is considerably down from the 300 employed just four years ago. The restructuring of the business has facilitated a leaner organisation to head into the future. The plant runs at one shift a day, leaving its operation scaleable if a second shift is required.
“We’re making the best of the markets we do support,” says Peter. “Sure, six years ago we had three significant facilities in Australia, today we have one. It is a significantly smaller business to the one we had back in those times.
“We’ve actually grown significantly more than we had allowed for in the last twelve months. We still have some capacity to grow at the Keysborough site, but we have already used up some of it. We will wait and see how the next couple of years pan out, so we can assess what to do going forward.”
Dana has developed a strong niche for its axles in the road train and heavy haulage sectors. Trucks with a gross combination mass (GCM) in excess of 200 tonnes are running on Dana gear. At the other end of the scale, the 40,000lb axle has some tare advantages over its rivals and sells well in lighter prime movers and rigids.
However, the volume in the rear axle game is in the 46,000lb segment. These are the semi and B-double prime movers that predominate. This is an area Dana is keen to develop over the next few years. These axles are coming into play in a lot of Performance-Based Standards (PBS) applications both as prime movers and with the multi-axle tipper and dog market growth.
Dana will also be able to supply an increasing demand for disc braking systems, which is becoming more and more evident on US trucks. The Knorr Bremse system can be fitted to Dana product and is becoming a larger percentage of the build at the Keysborough plant.
Globally, Dana is investing in battery and electric power development, a route many of the automotive manufacturers seem to be taking. Items like electric wheel-ends are being developed globally. In fact, Dana here in Australia has been working with the bus manufacturers on forms of regenerative braking, with electric generators in a hybrid driveline.