$19-million expansion at Kgel in Germany adds E-coat primer

Feb. 1, 2002
KGEL in Ulm, Germany, has joined that exclusive club of trailer manufacturers who can dip a complete platform trailer frame into a series of tanks for

KÖGEL in Ulm, Germany, has joined that exclusive club of trailer manufacturers who can dip a complete platform trailer frame into a series of tanks for chemical cleaning and KTL (E-coating) paint application. Only a handful of companies worldwide have the capital resources and throughput volume necessary to handle such sophisticated paint application on these large vehicles.

In the case of Kögel Fahrzeugwerke AG headquartered in Ulm, the E-coating is a primer that helps the company provide a six-year warranty against rusting through for all trailers and parts with the cathodic coating system. Kögel has extended its general trailer warranty for all other parts to two years. It was formerly one year. Many trailer manufacturers in Germany have only a six-month warranty.

To make room for the new cleaning, priming, and painting system, the Kögel factory in Burtenbach (near Ulm) was enlarged by 22,000 square meters (237,000 sq ft). Five new factory halls were built to house the quality finishing process. Most halls in the factory are connected with production lanes that total more than 1.3 km (4/5th of a mile) in length.

14 Acres Under Roof

The Burtenbach factory now has 56,000 m2 (603,000 sq ft) under roof and sits on a 200,000 m2 (50-acre) site. This expansion of the factory represents an additional investment of some DM 42 million ($19 million).

The expansion, streamlining the production process, and elimination of the painting bottleneck, give Kögel a doubled production capacity. From about 33 to 40 units per day in the past, the company now has the capacity to build 80 units per day. Unfortunately, by the time the extensive planning and construction were completed, the new automated equipment came on stream about the same time as a drop in the trailer market.

Kögel is the second largest trailer manufacturer in Germany, claiming a 15% share of the market. In total number of cargo bodies and trailers produced, it is also the second largest in all of Europe. Kögel has a very large share of the truck-and-full-trailer market. When counting registrations, every full trailer and semitrailer is licensed. However, the number of truck bodies included in the truck-and-full-trailer combinations is often missed because the truck is licensed, not the truck body.

The Kögel plant in Burtenbach produces semitrailers, full trailers, swap body trailers, and swap bodies (truck-mounted containers). Some parts for the trailer frames are produced in Kögel plants in Werdau, near Zwickau in the former East Germany, and in Chocen in the Czech Republic. Another plant in Karlsdorf, Germany, produces Kögel refrigerated trailers, and another factory in Ulm concentrates on dump truck bodies and trailers.

The new cleaning system installed in the Burtenbach factory takes trailer frames after they are pulled from the welding fixture. The frames are first shot-blasted as they travel on a rail through an automatic booth. After exiting the shot-blast booth, each trailer frame is clamped in a turning fixture and rotated. A manually operated air gun blows off any shot that does not drop off.

The shot-cleaned frame is hung on hooks attached to a 50-ft beam. This same carrier beam transports the frame through the entire cleaning, priming, and painting process. From this point on, all movements of the frame are controlled by computer.

In the KTL hall, 11 dip tanks that are 17 meters (56 ft) long are lined up side-by-side. Three automatic bridge cranes lower frames into each tank, lift again at the end of the prescribed cycle, and tilt in each direction to drain any trapped fluid.

Degreaser Spray Tank

The first tank has no fluid fill. Rather, it has hundreds of spray nozzles. Some 18,000 liters (4,750 gallons) of degreaser is sprayed on the steel frame at 60° C (140°F) in eight minutes.

The second and third tanks are rinse tanks, each one containing 115,000 liters (30,000 gallons) of rinse water. The first rinse tank also has a potassium carbonate additive.

Tank four is a prepatory treatment for the zinc phosphatizing in the next tank. Tank five has 150,000 liters (40,000 gallons) of zinc phosphate at 50° C (122°F), where the trailer frame remains for five minutes. This produces a zinc coating of five microns (.005 mm or .0002").

A passivating rinse in tank six includes copper to help smooth the zinc coating. This is followed by two clear water rinses in tanks seven and eight.

Tank nine is the KTL tank. It contains 150,000 liters (40,000 gallons) of paint solution at 30° C (86°F). Just filling this tank costs a million deutsche marks ($440,000). The trailer frame is charged negative to attract the positive-charged paint particles. With a current of 1,300 amps at 290 volts, the paint builds to a thickness of 30 to 35 microns (.0012" to .0014").

The last two tanks are water rinse tanks where any loose paint particles wash off — particles that are recycled back to the KTL tank.

Oven-Baked Finish

The bake oven for the prime coat is special in that it is above the main floor. Trailer frames are shifted automatically from the last rinse tank to a position under the oven, and then are lifted up into the hot air chamber. Hot air loss from the oven is kept to a minimum with this bottom entrance.

Baking time for the KTL-applied primer is 72 minutes at 180°C (356°F). Air exhausted from the oven is burned at 70°C (158°F) to remove any gases before releasing into the atmosphere.

The final coat is a two-part acrylic paint. Chassis frames are painted by hand as the painters (one on each side of the frame) ride up and down on elevating platforms. Another interesting aspect of this finishing booth is the use of full-length windows on each side. This provides visitors and plant personnel a full view of the painting operation without entering the booth.

After oven drying, the trailer frame is finally released from its carrier beam and goes to the assembly hall. There the pre-assembled three-axle bogies are bolted to the trailer frames. Then the superstructure is added, such as curtainside body or tarp-frame TIR or TILT body.

Most parts and assemblies for these add-on parts are powder-coated to the customer-specified colors. This includes the front wall, rear doors or rear wall, drop-side gates, side underrun protection, and rear underrun bars. Powder coating these high-visibility parts before assembly keeps the powder coating operation to a manageable size.

A final new hall at the Burtenbach facility is used for hand-over of the complete vehicle to the customer.

Concurrent with increasing its plant capacity, Kögel is expanding its sales territory. About 70% of Kögel sales are in its home market. The 30% that is exported outside Germany has mainly gone East. For the past 10 years, the emerging eastern countries such as Poland, Russia, and central European nations have represented the best profit opportunities. However, those markets also have deep sales cycles. Now more attention is being paid to the West — France, Spain, the Benelux countries, and the UK.

After the company was reorganized last year, all export sales were combined under Dietmar Beumer, who had previously been responsible for setting up Kögel's new used trailer department and rental and leasing operations. The company retails about a thousand used trailers each year, and its young leasing fleet has another 500 units.

Kögel manufactures about 20,000 to 22,000 units a year, spread over a wide product range from steel coil transports and paper roll trailers to refrigerated trailers built in its Karlsdorf reefer plant. Even parcel delivery trucks are in the product mix. The company now is in the middle of the second order for Deutsche Post, after building 9,000 of the delivery trucks in the first order.

With its reorganized sales operations and increased production capacity, Kögel is prepared for the upturn in the market that is expected in 2002.

About the Author

Paul Schenck | Senior Editor