Who is the best fifth wheel manufacturer

Foundry and assembly line of fifth wheels

Fifth wheel couplings and kingpins are among the specialties of SAF-Holland. The American fuel cell truck 'Nicola' has recently become an exclusive customer. The best sellers in the portfolio, however, are fifth wheel couplings made of light nodular cast iron for the general public. The saddle plates for this are produced at Fondium in Singen on Lake Constance, where the final assembly takes place. KRAFTHAND-Truck had the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes - in the foundry and on the assembly line.

It's loud, hot and stuffy in the halls of the Fondium foundry, one of the largest iron foundries in Europe. There is dark dust everywhere. A wheel loader empties a smoking container, in which there is red-hot, liquid iron, into the seething throat of a huge cast furnace. There is a brief, hissing molten iron rain, during which glowing iron droplets come precariously close to the safety shoes. Then the wheel loader sets off again to refill the vat, known as a 'converter' in technical jargon, at the heart of the foundry, the cupola furnace, with molten iron.

On the back of the casting furnace, however, liquid, bright red-hot iron at around 1,450 degrees emerges and runs fully automatically into the sand casting molds located on a conveyor belt. A little further, when the content has solidified and cooled, robots separate the molds and also fully automatically remove unnecessary, but necessary for casting, casting flags from the saddle plate blanks created in the nodular cast iron. What the robots leave behind, powerful arms manually knock off with an equally powerful blow of the hammer.

In a similar way, Fondium also produces differential housings, brake calipers and axle components made of light nodular cast iron, also known in specialist circles as 'GGG' (globular gray cast iron) or cast iron with spheroidal graphite, for well-known players in the vehicle industry. The special thing about it is the bionic design with natural structures, which makes the components even lighter than conventional ones - a specialty of Fondium. Customers from the commercial vehicle industry include suppliers such as SAF-Holland, Knorr-Bremse, Haldex and ZF, while the Singen-based company serves the 'Big Seven' among vehicle manufacturers.

Expertise in cast iron

SAF-Holland has the fifth wheels for the 'Fifth Wheel' manufactured by Fondium, which are assembled into complete fifth wheel couplings in separate rooms on their own production line just a few meters away - more or less 'over the courtyard'. Both have a long tradition at the Singen location: In 1895, the large Swiss industrialist Georg Fischer built the casting plant, which currently employs around 1,000 people and processes around 192,000 tons of cast iron annually. In addition to a wide variety of fittings for a wide variety of applications, fifth wheel couplings with the trademark '+ GF +' were also manufactured there under the brand name '+ GF +'. In 2008, SAF-Holland finally took over the fifth wheel production of 'Georg Fischer Verkehrstechnik GmbH', up to then the second largest manufacturer of fifth wheels in Europe - and the '+ GF +' fifth wheel became 'SAF-Holland' fifth wheel.

And the traditional foundry in Singen itself saw a major upheaval at the end of 2018, which ultimately led to a name change: the former 'GF Casting Solutions Singen' became 'Fondium Singen', which is now part of the newly founded Fondium Group.

The management team consists of the three partners Achim Schneider, Arnd Potthoff and Matthias Blumentrath. All three previously had managerial positions in the 'old' company. The Fondium Group also has another foundry in Mettmann, where around 1,000 employees also manufacture cast parts for the automotive industry, although annually processing 'only' 180,000 tons of iron.

Lightweight yet safe

Fifth wheel and king pin belong to the species of safety-relevant components of trucks and trailers. On the one hand, they have to be particularly robust, and on the other hand they should also be light in order to enable as much payload as possible. “Our 'best-in-class solutions' consisting of a fifth wheel and king pin are suitable for every connection task, regardless of whether it is for light 7.5-ton trucks or for special transports up to 75 tons. To this end, we are systematically developing our products and adapting them individually to the tractor units and their areas of application, ”explained Dr. Rainer-Rudolf Gärtner, Head of Truck Business Europe at SAF-Holland in Singen, recently spoke to specialist journalists.

“In order to keep the weight as low as possible, we have optimized the topology of the bearing blocks and the fifth wheel. Because the coupling is built directly into the vehicle frame and individually adapted to the tractor unit, this significantly reduces its dead weight and thus increases the payload potential, ”reports Gärtner. Customers of such frame-integrated Fifth Wheels include Mercedes-Benz, which equips its 'Actros' and 'Antos' models with them. This 'FW 3214-W' model of the 14-ton class is low-maintenance and has a load- and wear-optimized coupling plate made of spheroidal graphite cast iron. “The standard one-hand operation is practical: A safety flap enables the saddle to be attached and detached with one hand,” assures Gärtner.