If the car industry is doing well, the parts industry is booming. If it is in crisis, suppliers such as Grünewald Feinmaschinenbau GmbH in Grävenwiesbach, where transmission parts for Daimler are produced, also fare badly. Here, this rollercoaster of emotions is well known, but at the moment they have their hands full trying to cope with the flood of orders – "Industry in the Taunus", part 2 of our series on the regional manufacturing industry.
Founded in 1946 by Josef Grünewald, the company, Grünewald Feinmaschinenbau GmbH, has seen and survived many a bad time. There was even short-time work when the auto industry was literally on the brink in 2008. In this fateful year, siblings Markus and Carola Grünewald took the helm of the family business and feverishly searched for a formula that would ensure job security.
Today, in Grävenwies-bacher Industriestraße, still the company's headquarters, it's all about a different formula: "6/14 – 14/22 – 22/6", meaning three-shift operation, all week long. Carola Grünewald is often out in the factory halls on Sundays with a thermo box containing meat loaf and homemade potato salad "to keep people happy". This is not necessary at all. The high motivation of the team is something like the DNA of Grünewald. "We have a lot of colleagues who have been with us for over 40 years," Grünewald is pleased to say.
But there is no other way to cope with the workload. The order books of the company, which is still called "Grünewald Feinmaschinenbau GmbH" but has long since moved into other business areas, are full to bursting. The plan for 2017 is a turnover of 85 million euros. Even if this mark is not reached, which Carola Grünewald does not rule out, 2017 will be the year with the highest sales in the company's 71-year history.
Grünewald has 99 percent of his place in the car industry. "We manufacture propeller shafts for transmissions and wheel suspensions," says Markus Grünewald, an engineer and visionary who takes after his grandfather, while Carola Grünewald, a business administrator, is the commercial boss. 250 employees in Grävenwiesbach. Employed at the Weilmünster branch plant.
Before Grünewald, a broad niche called NAG2 has opened up. NAG2 stands for "New Automatic Transmission Generation 2", used by Mercedes Benz from 2003 on all eight-, six- and four-cylinder models. The NAG2 made up the bulk of automatic transmissions until the introduction of the nine-speed variant in 2014 (NAG3). The change from NAG2 to NAG3 gave the company an enormous boost: The old gearbox will continue to be built in enormous numbers for several years to come. Mercedes needed space for the NAG3 and relocated the final production of more than one million cardan shafts per year to the Grävenwiesbach parts forge. The contract is due to expire in 2023.
At Grünewald, cardan shafts are also manufactured for the G-Class, as well as for niche models such as the AMG GT. According to Markus Grünewald, the parts are complex and consist of several components. Among other things, 2,000 drive shafts and 6,000 "sun gears," as they are used in planetary gears and transmit power, leave the factory halls every day.
The blanks are delivered from Daimler in Grävenwiesbach by two to three semitrailers per day and processed on computer-controlled milling machines with the highest, strictly controlled precision. But they won't be finished yet, because the steel would be too soft to withstand the rigors of driving. "They then go to a hardening shop in Ulm, only then can they be delivered," says Carola Grünewald. Milling produces mountains of shimmering silvery-blue chips, "valuable recycled material that is picked up weekly and remelted," she says as she tours the halls.
Indoor riding arena sacrificed
For Grünewald, the Daimler contract didn't just mean "stepping it up a few notches" in production. Markus Grünewald: "We had to expand our capacity to do this. Have built a new hall with 5400 square meters."The investment: 15 million euros." The investment: 15 million euros. But even that was not enough.
What went to the heart of the passionate rider Carola Grünewald: "We had to sacrifice the indoor riding arena, there are machines in there now too."The swimming pool built by Josef Grünewald for the workforce in 1966 also had to go. The production area in Grävenwiesbach was expanded by 7000 to 10 640 square meters in just one and a half years, and another 6145 square meters are available in Weilmünster.
Nothing to worry about
For Markus and Carola Grünewald, the possibility that at some point in the future, with the advent of electromobility, there will be no more need for transmissions, and thus no more input and output shafts, is currently a rather theoretical possibility. Although this is being considered, there is still no reason to worry about the loss of orders. "None of this will happen as quickly as some people imagine," says Markus Grünewald calmly.
There is still a lack of charging infrastructure in the foreseeable future, but also a lack of practical battery capacities. Special vehicles, but also the Mercedes G, the AMG models and the Ferraris will probably not be available "with a plug" any time soon. "Where the ball goes, nobody knows today," says Carola Grünewald too. Nevertheless, there were discussions between her and her brother about "gear-independent projects".