De Tijd / Lukas Vanacker / August 17, 2017
Transmission supplier Tremec wants to triple its sales by 2020. The West Flanders company attracts prestigious customers.
Transmission supplier Tremec opened its new facility in Zedelgem late last year and hit the ground running. The new research labs with self-built test machines resemble sterile hospital rooms. For the actual production hall, each part is scrubbed clean. And whoever enters the production space must first pull a net over his shoes. "Everything must be clean here," says plant manager Jurgen Schelfaut. "The smallest dirt can affect the performance of a car."
The company's products are already used by some of the most exclusive automotive brands. Every day, Tremec makes 20 high-tech transmission systems for a British supercar in its factory - not for the Formula 1 vehicles, but for the 'regular' sports cars. AMG, the sports brand of Mercedes' mother Daimler, has been home for years in Zedelgem. Its first customer, 10 years ago, was Ferrari.
These legendary car brands do not accidentally fall into West Flanders. Tremec specializes in dual clutch transmissions, which allows a car to use two parallel shafts to create different gear ratios. One link is connected to the odd gears, the other is responsible for the even gears and reverse. "This allows seamless transition from one gear to another without losing switching time," explains Schelfaut. "It's about milliseconds, but that's very important for these cars."
Tremec also builds software that automatically decides what the transmission should do based on driving conditions. If the driver suddenly presses the pedal completely, the software indicates that the car has to accelerate at a fast speed. "The total solution of hardware and software makes our products unique," says Schelfaut.
Tremec, founded in 2001 by ten Belgian engineers, has grown rapidly in recent years. Five years ago, the company was sold by the German holding group Hoerbiger to the Mexican conglomerate Kuo, which is a leading producer in consumer food products, chemicals and automotive products.
The company has great ambitions and has invested tens of millions of euros since 2014 in the development of a new generation of transmission. A new star product should triple the expected Belgian annual turnover of about €45 million by the year 2020. "Our biggest risk is a limited customer portfolio and becoming dependent on certain customers. As our transmissions are very well received, competitors are looking closely at us."
Are the high Belgian wages a problem? "We are not in a cheap country," acknowledges Schelfaut. "But the focus on high tech and low volumes makes our market less costly. We are just better in terms of efficiency and performance."
The fast-paced growth also causes difficulties. In 2012, 80 people worked for Tremec Belgium; today there are over 200 employees. "We are growing extremely fast," says Schelfaut. "Our biggest challenges are to keep the growth pipes under control and grow our business with the company."
Tremec is feverish looking for dozens of new engineers. "Finding permanent people is difficult," says the 38-year-old director. "We have to look outside Belgium and even outside Europe. We more often than we want call for interims and outsourcing, although we try to limit that." Those who work in Zedelgem are happy to keep the company happy. "There are few staffing issues because we make a sexy product," Schelfaut realizes. "For engineers, it's very nice to work with such state of the art technology."
Activity: Gearboxes for sports cars
Production: 10,000 transmission systems per year
Founded in 2001 by 10 Belgian engineers
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De Tijd (Dutch: The Times) is a Belgian newspaper that mainly focuses on business and economics. It is printed on salmon pink paper since May 2009, following the example of its colleagues Financial Times, Het Financieele Dagblad, FT Deutschland and many more.
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