Schmidt strengthens its stable with Swiss clout

Schmidt's merger with Aebi will bring benefits aplenty to the UK municipal market. Dean Stiles visited Schmidt's manufacturing base in Germany to find out more

A year on since the merger between Schmidt and Aebi groups and the new consortium's strategy is emerging. "Our mission is to be a leading system provider of innovative technical solutions for cleaning and clearing traffic areas," says Walter Schmitz, managing director of Schmidt Holding.

The two companies have similar histories, but operate in different markets. German firm Schmidt supplies the municipal sector while Swiss company Aebi primarily serves the agricultural sector. The merged companies - known as the Aebi-Schmidt Group - employ 1,700 staff with a turnover of about £250M and produce agricultural, municipal, winter maintenance, airport business and snow-clearing vehicles which are sold worldwide.

Swiss businessman Peter Spuhler is the majority shareholder of the new group of companies. The BWK equity investment company, previously a majority shareholder in Schmidt, retains a minority holding in the new unit. For UK buyers, the merger enables Schmidt UK "to supply a complete range of products that at the end of day mean safer roads" according to Henk Landeweerd, managing director of Schmidt UK.

But UK buyers and operators will not be presented with exotic, untried technical solutions, he adds. "The focus at Aebi-Schmidt puts a lot of emphasis on what the market demands tomorrow. It's about anticipating change, and we try to be a step ahead."

Winter wonderland
Landeweerd cites Schmidt's pioneering work in developing winter maintenance solutions including the pre-wet process that reduces salt used during treatment. "Schmidt UK was one of the two companies selected by the Highways Agency this year for the four-year winter service vehicles framework contract. Their decision recognises the importance, and proven effectiveness, of efficient pre-wet salt spreading," he argues.

This de-icing technology binds salt with an agent like calcium chloride to provide better coverage and reduced salt usage. And because it is applied wet, the salt remains on the road and is less susceptible to removal by wind or traffic movement.

"Over many years, Schmidt has developed accurate spreading of pre-wet salt using closed loop systems to monitor and adjust dosages and spread patterns to ensure that the job is efficiently done. These techniques can give savings of at least a third on use of dry salt, and also mean much reduced wastage and the pollution that could damage roadside vegetation," explains Landeweerd.

He adds: "This can be used with the Schmidt ThermoLogic system that constantly observes the road surface. The system records the temperature of the road surface and adjusts the spreader to the conditions it finds. It's a fully automatic system, which can also be combined with GPS and a navigation system.

"We have more or less automated the whole salt-spreading process. That's not where the market is yet, the first start is with de-icing technology. The UK is a conservative market and we need to build a track record of success first before trying to sell new concepts."

Schmidt, already well known in the UK for its winter maintenance equipment, Citygo pedestrian sweepers and Swingo compact sweepers, has now launched the SK truck-mounted range competing with Johnston and Scarab in this important sector of the UK sweeper market.

Although initially available as a traditional auxiliary engine powered machine, Schmidt expects to persuade buyers to consider the hydraulic drive option - it is also available with hydrostatic drive - which offers significant fuel savings and reduced whole life cost of operation.

"This is something we will introduce once operators have had time to access the SK range and are comfortable that we can deliver on our promises," says Landeweerd. He frequently uses the term "safer roads" to describe the company's philosophy. "We supply a complete range of products that, at the end of day, mean safer roads. I'm talking about sweepers for precincts, footpaths, and roads winter maintenance equipment especially de-icers for highways and normal roads and for keeping runways ice-free."

The merged company will maintain its existing links with Mulag, which makes mowing equipment. Schmidt and Mulag, both with manufacturing plants in Germany's Black Forest region on the Swiss border, have long co-operated on sales, mainly for attachments for Mercedes-Benz Unimog products. Aebi also provides similar equipment for JCB and John Deere machines.

"With this range of mowing equipment, we can control the road side vegetation. At the end of day, it is everything around roads," maintains Landeweerd. "We even have Aebi machines designed for mountainous areas that will mow steep slopes found on motorway embankments."

Environmental issues surrounding equipment operations feature strongly with Aebi Schmidt. Standard specifications include large hopper capacities, Euro 4 engines, and compliance with PM10 dust emissions limits as well as noise limits. Many of these standards, like those on noise and dust, are common in Germany, but have yet to be demanded in the UK. "But we have the products to tackle these requirements when the market demands," says Landeweerd.

Dean Stiles is a freelance journalist

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