A packed construction trade media press conference at Liebherr's facility in Ulm in the south German state of Baden-Württemberg heard how the off-highway machinery and linked technologies giant is continuing to achieve impressive growth in a highly challenging global marketplace by placing a strong emphasis on its products, digitalisation and sustainability. Guy Woodford reports.
You can feel the pride in Steffen Günther's voice when he says Liebherr achieved record sales in each of the last two years despite trading headwinds such as global raw material shortages hitting supply chains, causing production bottlenecks.
"In Construction and Mining Equipment, Liebherr achieved sales of over €8.5bn in 2022, an increase of 6.9% year-on-year. This trend continued in the first half of 2023. This strong performance shows the quality of our products and excellent customer relationships," Günther emphasises in his presentation to assembled global trade media at the press conference on the first morning of Liebherr's 50th annual international construction trade press information tour.
Looking at key regional markets, Liebherr International's co-managing director stresses that Europe and North America remain Liebherr's leading sales markets. He thinks strained supply chains, high inflation, a lack of skilled workers, and other business disruptors, such as the ongoing Russian-Ukraine war, will continue to present global operating challenges for Liebherr in 2024. "Higher prices for energy, labour and [raw] materials will be properly compensated by the Group's growth in sales volumes and price adjustments. We will absorb other additional costs."
Speaking on 6 November 2023, Günther says Liebherr's global and decentralised business model and the diversity of its 13 product segments, from construction equipment and cranes to refrigerators and freezers, allows it to react quickly and flexibly to market cycles and adjust its business strategy accordingly. "We take a long-term approach to profit and investment. Profits remain in the company and are made available to develop the business."
Focusing on Liebherr's longstanding passion for innovation, Günther notes that the Group last year invested more than €500 million in research and development. "A large proportion of that went into new product development, contributing to technological progress in all industries we operate in. Last year, the Group invested over €800 million in its production sites and global distribution and services network, showing its commitment to investing in its customers. We are on track to exceed our 2022 investment figures this year, setting a new record. We expect turnover to increase again in 2023 and sales growth above 10%."
Günther says these are "exciting" times for the global construction industry. "There are major infrastructure projects on the agenda in countries worldwide. This is creating significant market opportunities for us. In the future, customers will pay even greater attention to their machines' technological innovations and the quality of service and advice they receive. These are Liebherr's core strengths."
The construction trade media press conference heard how Liebherr, which is still fully family-owned while operating in 50 countries worldwide, is aware of its responsibility to the climate and the environment. The Group is working intensively to reduce the CO2 emissions of its products, with innovative drive technologies playing a vital role in delivering greener site fleet operation.
For example, Liebherr's new, battery-operated A 916 E wheeled excavator boasts local emission-free operation, as does the manufacturer's innovative ETM truck mixer series with electric drum drive. The A 916 is also said to show "clear advantages" in its energy efficiency, pulling power and agility.
Liebherr's first battery-electric wheeled loader, the L 507 E, combines the same lift arms of the conventionally powered Liebherr L 507 Stereo wheeled loader with a battery-electric drive design. The performance is said to equal that of a conventionally powered Liebherr wheeled loader, but it emits no CO2 onsite and noise emissions are kept to a minimum, making it particularly well suited to inner-city and indoor operations. The machine has been available from Liebherr sales partners in several European countries since October 2023.
The A 916 E wheeled excavator and L 507 E battery-electric wheeled loader were showcased on the second day of Liebherr's 2023 international construction trade press information tour during a visit to Liebherr's site in Bad Schussenried in Baden-Württemberg, which included a tour of its modern factory facility.
Another important, almost carbon-neutral energy source is green hydrogen. Liebherr has recognised the possibility of burning hydrogen almost emission-free directly in a hydrogen combustion engine and has already developed prototypes: the H964 and the H966. The latter has already been showcased in a crawler excavator, and a hydrogen-based fuel cell in conjunction with an electric motor was showcased in a wheeled loader at bauma 2022. The six-cylinder H966 engine and Liebherr's Hydrogen Direct Injection system were highlighted by Dennis Herrmann, business development manager for Liebherr-Components Deggendorf, during the Bad Schussenried site visit.
International construction trade press information tour attendees also learned how the new Liebherr Betomix and Mobilmix concrete mixing plant series requires up to 30% less energy than previous versions. Frequency converters for the drives on the mixer and skip avoid power peaks, reduce the wear on mechanical parts and allow operators to change the speed of the twin-shaft mixer to best suit the required product recipe.
During his press conference presentation, Stephen Albrecht, co-managing director of Liebherr International, expands on the Group's approach to decarbonisation: "When countries and companies all around the world joined the UN call to get to net zero emissions by 2050, the heavy equipment industry was seen as playing a critical role in achieving this aim.
"Major projects are underway globally to transform our economies and energy systems to a post-fossil-fuel age. Construction, mining machinery and cranes facilitate this transformation. For example, Liebherr machines mine the raw materials required for the electrification of the transportation sector - copper, lithium, nickel, and manganese, to name just a few. Liebherr drives and bearings are key components in wind turbines, and Liebherr cranes are used extensively to erect on- and off-shore wind turbines to generate renewable electricity. Liebherr construction machinery such as cranes, earthmoving equipment, concrete technology, and deep foundation machines are used to build new, energy-efficient infrastructure and buildings and refurbish older, less efficient ones. Liebherr is a clear choice for our customers in all these activities due to our diverse portfolio and technologically advanced and reliable machines and components."
Albrecht says Liebherr is very aware of its responsibility as a major heavy equipment manufacturer to reduce the environmental impact of its operations and machines. "We also understand that using our equipment is often a key contributor to our customers' carbon footprint. Reducing the carbon footprint of our machines is a significant challenge for Liebherr, given the diversity of our products and their applications. However, at Liebherr, we have a long tradition of overcoming challenges. That's no different regarding the technological process in this area.
"From the beginning, our approach has been based on three pillars. Firstly, we must consider the complete lifecycle of our equipment, including the associated energy production and infrastructure development. Secondly, we must be systematic and analytical. We have systematically looked at each product category across the Liebherr Group, and our research is based on data, analysis, and a consistent methodology. Thirdly, we are technology-neutral. We must consider all available options and cannot afford to limit ourselves to one technology based on ideology or preference."
Albrecht says that in partnership with Frontier Economics, Liebherr has conducted extensive internal studies into its corporate and equipment carbon footprints. "Through this systematic research, it became clear that the overwhelming majority of the Liebherr corporate carbon footprint occurs during the product's operational use, once with the customer. Therefore, our clear focus is determining and developing the right drive technologies that are alternatives to the conventional diesel combustion engine. What was also confirmed by our research was that no single alternative drive technology can be the right solution for all Liebherr equipment. With machines ranging in energy demand from 30 kilowatts to 3 megawatts, no one-size-fits-all exists."
Albrecht says alternative fuels to power combustion engines are used in Liebherr machinery. "The advantage of these alternative fuels, such as HVO [hydrotreated vegetable oil], is that they can be used by existing fleets and meet the very high energy requirements of certain applications. We see them as an important bridge technology until carbon-neutral drop-in replacement fuels, such as e-fuels, become widely available. Our plants in Ettlingen and Kirchdorf have completely switched to HVO for the first [equipment fuel] fill for machine delivery and all internal factory consumption.
"Additionally, we see great potential for hydrogen as an energy carrier for our equipment. At bauma 2022, we demonstrated a hydrogen combustion engine in a 40-tonne crawler excavator and a hydrogen fuel cell in a wheeled loader. The excavator was equipped with the prototype of the hydrogen engine and has so far been a technology test bed. Further prototypes will follow this, then full-series production in just a few years.
"By developing and manufacturing these products, equipped with the right drive technology, we are enabling our customers to meet their own goals to reduce their [carbon] emissions while also preparing our equipment to meet possible future emissions restrictions and environmental regulations."
Albrecht says Liebherr's remanufacturing programme is a great example of how the Group invested in a circular machinery economy. "Through this programme, we commit to taking back customers' end-of-life components, such as engines, hydraulic components and gearboxes and remanufacturing them to their original high standard of performance and reliability. Doing so gives our customers a more environmentally conscious and cost-effective alternative to buying new components. The programme can save up to 75% in raw materials and energy and up to 60% in carbon dioxide compared to manufacturing new components."
Liebherr's digital solutions make innovative information technology easy and convenient for customers, including quarry and road construction and maintenance fleet operators. Planning, operation, performance, maintenance and safety are all comprehensively covered.
The Group's central platform for digitalisation is MyLiebherr. All the digital services and offers are bundled together and made available in an easy-to-understand manner for the respective user. MyLiebherr works across all applications and plays a crucial role in every division of the Liebherr Group.
Other notable Liebherr digital services for quarry and road construction and maintenance customers are MyLiebherr Maintenace, MyLiebherr Performance, and Attachment Assist and MiC 4.0 BUS.
MyLiebherr Maintenance enables customers to operate fleets of quarrying, road construction, and maintenance, earthmoving and material handling technology with maximum reliability. Integrated into the MyLiebherr portal, MyLiebherr Maintenance supports plant managers in reducing unscheduled machine downtimes and the time required to identify, assess and resolve issues. For fast troubleshooting, plant managers can view, for example, the machine operator's MyAssistant damage reports in the service history. Moreover, MyLiebherr Maintenance can be used to keep an eye on and plan for upcoming maintenance tasks, similar to the machine display. This allows service activities to be bundled and adapted to operational requirements. Spare parts can easily be ordered in just a few clicks via the MyLiebherr spare parts shop.
Also integrated into the MyLiebherr portal, MyLiebherr Performance enables customers to monitor service data from their machines and attachment tools. This helps identify inefficient machine operations, reduce downtimes, save fuel, and analyse weighing data. The utilisation overview gives operators a quick overview of how heavily the machines are used. Another feature displays the fuel economy of individual machines and compares them to a global average. With the group comparison function, individual machine groups can be created according to the type of use or the machine category and compared in terms of working hours, downtime and consumption.
Liebherr's Attachment Assist enables smart attachment tool recognition. The solution detects the attachment and transmits its data to the machine. The machine then adjusts automatically to the attachment tool. The data transfer between the machine and the attachment tool is carried out via Bluetooth so that attachment tools can be detected regardless of the quick coupler or manufacturer.
All the relevant operational data, such as operating hours and coupling times, are recorded and made available online in MyLiebherr Maintenance and MyLiebherr Performance. Attachment Assist ensures needs-based maintenance, reporting service intervals and upcoming maintenance. It uses the new, manufacturer-independent communication standard MiC 4.0 BUS. This makes for far easier integration of different attachment tools both with Liebherr machines and with those of other manufacturers.
Liebherr's comprehensive embrace of digitalisation was discussed during the 2023 international construction trade press information tour press conference. Speaking to the global trade media gathered in Ulm, Heinz Klemm, head of the company's Ulm-based Digital Development Centre, says: "Three years ago, the Liebherr Digital Development Centre was founded, becoming the central organisation within our [Liebherr Group's] technology and digitalisation department function. The Centre creates spaces for digital solutions managed and brought into the market by the Group's divisions. It is a place where digital solutions for the future are created.
"In a very short time, we have seen a substantial increase in the number of people working at the Centre. Liebherr recognises that the digital landscape is here to stay and emphasises the importance of digitalisation across the Group. On a product level, we focus on developing digital solutions that can be seamlessly and optimally integrated into our machines while meeting our customers' requirements."