In Sight KTR Podcast Episode 10: Made for Motion – Why also produce brakes?

Julia Ures: „Welcome and thank you for joining us again on “In Sight KTR” for a new episode, which today is themed “Made for Motion – Why does KTR actually also produce brakes? And I have Fabian Liekam, Head of Engineering at KTR Brake Systems GmbH, as a guest here with me in the studio today. He doesn’t look it, but he has been with the company for 16 years. Have you ever done anything else before?“

Fabian Liekam: „Correct, exactly! I have been here at KTR for 16 years. I didn’t do anything else before, except school, but I joined KTR straight after school. I did my apprenticeship here and afterwards I did corresponding further training in the evening, so that I could stay with the company and continue to do my work here.

And after my technical schooling, I stayed here in the company. Now at KTR Brake Systems, which is due to the topic of brakes, I would say, but yes, still within the group of companies.“

Julia Ures: „That means, stayed out of passion?“

Fabian Liekam: „Yes. Absolutely!“

Julia Ures: “Mr Liekam, KTR is known by the slogan “Made for Motion”, I have just said it before. Brakes actually cause exactly the opposite of movement. Brakes ensure that something comes to a standstill. How does that actually fit together?

Fabian Liekam: „Let me put it this way: drive trains that are driven must also be braked again at any time or kept at a standstill. There is also that possibility. The name of the company KTR Systems already indicates that KTR wants to serve the customer as a system supplier. And when you look at a coupling, of which many of our couplings are now also equipped with brake discs, and then look at what else I can offer the customer, where the closest connections are, you very quickly come to the subject of brakes. We see it again and again in the projects that these two products require a certain degree of coordination. For example, you can play with the braking force as well as with the diameter of the coupling. And it is easier for the customer if he can simply get a complete package from KTR.“

Julia Ures: “I know brakes mainly from cars, of course, but also from bicycles. Can I imagine your brakes to be similar?”

Fabian Liekam: “Yes and No. The brake on the car is an active brake, which means that I really press down on the pedal and generate a braking force. And it is built in the form of a disc brake. This also corresponds to our brakes, so we mainly have disc brakes in our range. And among other things, we also have active hydraulic brakes, i.e. they are operated with a hydraulic medium. But our brakes are of a completely different size. We don’t have any brakes in the vehicle business, i.e. not for cars or commercial vehicles. That’s where others are at home. We are really talking about industrial brakes in the field of mining, crane systems, wind power, drive technology in general, i.e. gear manufacturers. Those are our customers.”

Julia Ures: “KBS offers two types of braking systems, one hydraulic and one electromechanical.”

Fabian Liekam: “Exactly!”

Julia Ures: “Why do you actually have two systems? Wouldn’t it perhaps be easier to specialise in one?”

Fabian Liekam: “Easier is not the question. I think it’s about what the market demands. And the two products we have, which are also interchangeable in terms of the connections, simply offer the customer options. There are many, many manufacturers of hydraulic brakes, far more than of electromechanical brakes. And both products have advantages and disadvantages, of course. Hydraulics, that’s where maintenance, oil changes and the environment come into play, depending on the situation. Electromechanical is simply much cleaner. But there are also conditions where the hydraulic system has advantages, such as installation space or controlling several brakes with one unit. So there are advantages and disadvantages with both braking systems. And it always depends a bit on who you talk to on the customer side. If I’m talking more to a mechanic, a hydraulic engineer, he always favours the hydraulic system. If it’s a company that doesn’t know any hydraulics at all, they naturally prefer the electromechanical system.”

Julia Ures: “Now we have been introduced to the brakes a little bit. In which areas are they used? Are there any particular areas or sectors that are perhaps very much in focus for you?”

Fabian Liekam: “Yes, the focus at KTR Brake Systems, as well as at KTR Systems, is very much on the wind power sector. This is simply because there is always a large number of units for the brake market, i.e. no individual projects, but a real small series business. For car manufacturers, for example, it would still be a single piece, because they simply think about completely different quantities. But for us as a coupling manufacturer or also as a brake manufacturer, this is indeed the strongest market. In addition, our brake system is used in the field of mining, i.e. mill drives, conveyor belts, etc., such topics. Crane applications, in other words, as a safety brake, as the last anchor, so to speak. These are the main ones. And where we are now also very active is in the area of drive trains in ships. That is, with our SBT systems, Stop-Block-Turn, which are available in various combinations, again electrically, hydraulically, with full scope or only with partial function. So that’s the next and currently also a strongly growing area.”

Julia Ures: “Now you have already presented many areas and I can imagine that I don’t call you and say, Mr Liekam, I need a brake for requirement XYZ. You go to the warehouse and have the right one right there. So there is probably more to it than that. How can I get a suitable brake for my needs?”

Fabian Liekam: “There is also a range from to. In the wind sector, I would say quite clearly that the customer writes his specification and I have to adapt my brake to it. Of course, he tries to orientate himself to market standards. But basically, the customer gives specifications and the brake manufacturer has to implement them. But then there are also the customers with the smaller quantities who simply say: I have an application, I need this and this force, this and this braking torque, please provide me with a suggestion. And then, of course, we try to propose our standard so that we don’t have to redesign anything. We also have a certain standard in stock, so that we work with a kind of modular system, i.e. we don’t have any ready-made brakes in stock because the variance is simply too great, but we talk about modular systems that we then assemble accordingly.”

Julia Ures: “In Sight KTR” lives from the questions you send us to socialmedia@ktr.com. And we received this question, for example: How long does it take to develop a new brake as a project? Can you give a rough idea? Is there a standard value perhaps? Or is it so diverse?”

Fabian Liekam: “It depends on whether we are talking about a real new design, where a customer approaches us and says: I have an idea for a braking system, then we might as well talk about two or three years until it is really ready for series production. If we are talking about a modified design, it can take a few months, depending on the customer’s requirements. A very simple modification of the standard, sure, we’re talking about days. So that’ s just a matter of putting together the standard components accordingly.”

Julia Ures: “Is there anything where you have to pass and say we can’t slow this down?”

Fabian Liekam: “There are many different types of brakes on the market. There are disc brakes, drum brakes, multi-disc brakes, then there is pneumatic, hydraulic, electric. So there are areas where we simply don’t have the right product, not from a technical point of view, but sometimes also simply from a price point of view. So there is that, but it’s not a bad thing because those who serve this market may not serve the other markets. So you can’t say that there is one brake manufacturer that can cover all types of brakes and all sectors, the variance is simply too great for that.”

Julia Ures: “We have just been discussing the development process, when everything is now in place and it is clear that the brake will have to look like this and function like that, then where will the brakes be manufactured?”

Fabian Liekam: “They are developed by us, then of course there is the prototype phase, the test phase, and so on. We don’t have our own production at KTR Brake Systems, i.e. we don’t produce all the parts ourselves, we use the production of KTR Systems. But we also have external purchasing sources. And what we do at KTR Brake Systems, and that is the second focus besides engineering, is assembly. When we talk about the production of brakes, we are actually talking about assembly, installation and series testing in order to ensure consistent quality standards”

Julia Ures: “At the beginning of our episode we talked about the fact that you have been with the company for 16 years. You have probably already experienced and been involved in many, many projects. From your point of view, what was the most impressive brake that KWS has implemented?”

Fabian Liekam: “That’s a good question. They are all impressive in their own right, because if you know the details of the projects behind them, there is a point in every project where a special feature occurs or a certain requirement that you have to master suitably. Among the many wind projects we have had, there were some interesting ones. Another very interesting one is certainly an SBT system that we recently supplied for a cruise ship, where the entire braking system had a mass of over two tonnes. So the mass was actually important, it was a full-function system in terms of SBT. So we really had the functions stop, block and turn. The charm of it is always this complete system of brake, connection, disc, hydraulic unit, controls, because this system idea and these system requirements are always very demanding, but also very interesting”.

Julia Ures: „”If we now look at the entire system and expand the view a little further, there are probably also applications in which both couplings from KTR and brakes from KTR are used. Are there any synergy effects between the products or do you also sell them as a set?”

Fabian Liekam: “Yes, we sell it as a set, but also separately. That again depends a bit on the sector. If we look at the wind energy sector, for example, which is extremely price-driven, then we sell separately, often for the same units, but KTR Systems then sells the coupling and we sell the brake system with it. But we also have customers, transmission manufacturers or other customers, where we offer the customer the possibility to purchase it together and then either via KTR Brake Systems, which then gets the couplings from KTR Systems, or the other way round. And ordering is one thing, of course, the customer only needs to place one order and everything that goes with it. But the big advantage for the customer is actually in the development phase, i.e. we design it together, the colleagues design the coupling with brake disc. We coordinate, we design the brake. And it also happens that the customer designs the parts together with KBS, but still orders them from KTR Rheine or KTR Systems as well as from us. So the customer has every possibility.”

Julia Ures: “I can imagine that you also follow the trends in brakes and braking systems. What do you see and where do you see the future in terms of braking systems?”

Fabian Liekam: „Yes.“

Julia Ures: “We are not just here for simple questions in In Sight KTR.”

Fabian Liekam: “The trends, I would say, also depend on the industry. Of course, things are moving more and more in the direction of lighter, simpler, easier maintenance. So you have to adapt to the times a bit. Saying, okay, we’re going to make a completely new braking system is less the case because of the mass of braking systems that already exist. But customer requirements, in the wind sector for example green energy, that means a long service life of the brakes, few maintenance intervals, little downtime, that’s the trend.”

Julia Ures: “That brings us to the end of today’s episode of “In Sight KTR”. Personally, I have one more question: What is it like for you when you go on a short trip to another city, for example, and you take the underground and the brakes squeal like crazy? How bad is that for you when brakes squeak?”

Fabian Liekam: “I’ll put it this way, it’s also a bit of a question, in the wind power sector it’s also a big issue, but not so much for safety reasons, but because there it’s simply disturbing because of the acoustics. It is simply the case that a certain braking process, especially high-speed braking, which we also have with our products, generates a certain amount of energy and a certain amount of work takes place. And noises are produced and sparks may also be generated. So that’s nothing critical for this sector.”

Julia Ures: “Fabian Liekam, thank you very much for being here to discuss and answer … ”

Fabian Liekam: „Thank you!“

Julia Ures: „…why KTR actually also produces brakes. And I would like to thank you for your interest and call on you, as I said before, to diligently send us your questions for our format “In Sight KTR”, which you can access as a podcast and as a video. And please continue to do so to socialmedia@ktr.com. Any questions you have that you have always wanted to ask the company and its representatives are welcome and we will see you next time. And hear from you, of course. Take care!“