“Over the last five years, aluminium has taken over more and more from steel, and is now the leading material for tankers, at least in Germany. The saving in weight means they can carry considerably larger loads of oil products, and that means money saved,” says Kurt Willig of Kurt Willig GmbH & Co. KG.
It was in this town of Straubing in Lower Bavaria that his father established a firm in 1970 that was to become one of the leading producers of utility vehicles in the German market. Each year nearly 140 shiny new vehicles roll out of the workshop. Most bear company names in bright colors, but some are plain white with just the Willig logo on the tank.
“We have a number of different customers and some of them drive for several oil companies,” explains Willig. He has followed in his father’s footsteps and is now leading the family enterprise safely along a path of careful expansion.
In recent years, the company has set up separate departments in Mühlau near Chemnitz and in Strelice near Brno in the Czech Republic. Both mainly handle repair and completion work.
With the firm based in Straubing, just 50 kilometers from the Czech border, Willig finds it natural to look to the east, with a view to supplying the needs that will arise in the neighboring countries that are joining the European Union.
Just as important as extending the network is keeping his existing customers happy: “We do what we can to keep our customers, both large and small,” says Willig. With this in mind, the firm publishes a newsletter that keep customers updated on new regulations and trends in the industry.
Willig is ready to admit that the market for tankers is vulnerable to economic fluctuations, and he tries to keep his staff busy with service, maintenance and upgrade of vehicles. However, he does not recommend retrofitting new tanks onto old vehicles. The lifetime for an aluminium tank is as long as for the vehicle itself, if not longer. A tanker at an airport can last for 25 to 30 years, but vehicles used in normal traffic usually have a shorter lifetime.
An additional advantage of using aluminium plates is that they can be recycled. Standard alloys are used, and they can be welded by different methods.
Money to saveThe company also aims to offer its customers new features through maintaining a leading position in technological developments.
“For example, we can offer tankers featuring new measurement technology based on ultrasound. This makes it possible to measure the contents of the tanks more accurately, and also saves weight and space,” says Willig.
Hydro’s relationship with Willig as supplier of aluminium is fairly recent, but the volume is gradually increasing. As much as 3,000 kilograms of aluminium is needed for the largest trailers. Much of the discussion with Hydro is about plate thickness. A balance has to be found between the desire to keep weight to a minimum and the authorities’ requirements regarding safe construction.
And safety is an area in which Willig is not willing to compromise. After all, we are talking about up to 40,000 liters of fuel in the form of petrol, diesel or heating oil in a single vehicle. The German technical inspection body TÜV makes regular audits to ensure that the tankers comply with the regulations.
Willig believes aluminium should be used even more in utility vehicles. This would increase the load capacity and save money for the transporters, and the cost of aluminium would be paid back in a short time.