After 25 years at the top of Walterscheid, on 1 May 2003 Manfred Arntz hands over the reins to his long-term deputy Peter Röttgen. A year later, Arntz passes away at the age of 58 after suffering from a short but serious illness. The new Managing Director Röttgen has already been part of Walterscheid for over a quarter of a century. In the last 13 years he paved the way for the company to become a global player side-by-side with Arntz. He is familiar with the company’s strengths in quality, service and innovation and wants to take advantage of this.„Walterscheid does not wait until the market demands a better product, rather it is always looking to set new technical standards“, emphasizes Röttgen.
At Agritechnica 2003, Walterscheid demonstrates this ability and presents the ICVD, the integrated continuously variable drive. The ICVD consists of a gear stage, a hydraulic motor and control elements. The idea of combining gearboxes with hydrostatic drives was born in 1999 in collaboration with a development partner, and has now reached market maturity. Self-propelled agricultural and construction machines are stronger, faster and more comfortable with ICVD devices. Claas, for example, uses ICVD in its telehandler.
Tried-and-tested products and innovations are a stable foundation, but major challenges await the new Managing Director Röttgen. As ever, agricultural engineering is largely dependent on the development of agriculture. Walterscheid is primarily a supplier for machines in the hay and the dairy industry. Mowers, swathers and presses for producing hay require powerful drive shafts. If the price of milk falls, this also has a direct effect on sales. The price of milk starts to fluctuate more significantly in the 2000s, which has a direct impact on Walterscheid’s businesses. Livestock farming enters a state of crisis when the first case of BSE is reported in Germany at the end of 2000. The following year, foot-and-mouth disease rages in many stables, which leads to drastic losses for the affected farmers. On top of this, the agricultural industry as well as the agricultural machinery manufacturers have to battle against weather events, such as the heat wave in the summer of 2003. What’s more, steel prices are also high at this time, so the costs for cast and forged parts as well as raw materials increase, and manufacturing Walterscheid products becomes more expensive.
During this time, it starts to become clear how changeable business will be in the coming years due to factors that cannot be influenced, such as price fluctuations in the agricultural industry and weather development. As a consequence of climate change, extreme events such as droughts and heavy rainfall have become more frequent. Farmers are faced with the challenge of adjusting to these changes in their soil cultivation, and agricultural engineering will also be part of this change.
At the start of the millennium Walterscheid is primarily focussed on securing the stability of the company. Walterscheid continues to rely on autonomous divisions: the Sohland site becomes the autonomous GKN Walterscheid Getriebe GmbH and the Service and Distribution (S&D) division becomes the third division in Lohmar, in addition to TAS and DLS.
Sales companies in Belgium, Denmark and Norway expand the international network, which also includes the production and logistics sites in North America, China and Brazil. “We are in close contact with our local sales partners, the original equipment manufacturers and users directly on location.” Peter Röttgen highlights the benefits of this setup under the slogan “think global, act local”. The company’s new structure includes its separation from Walterscheid Tube Fittings after over 45 years. In the summer of 2004, GKN sells the company to the US industrial group Eaton.
But for many Walterscheid employees, this is overshadowed by another defining event in 2004: On 22 April the paint shop goes up in flames due to a flashover. A huge column of smoke rises up over the plant, the town of Lohmar blocks the Hauptstraße and the Cologne Bonn Airport even diverts air traffic. Peter Röttgen learns of the fire on a business trip but has to switch his mobile phone off on the plane. Above the clouds he anxiously asks himself how bad the damage will be. After landing comes the all-clear: the fire has been extinguished and no one is injured, but the paint shop is completely destroyed. Over the next few months Walterscheid drive shafts and clutches are coated in Hennef and Cologne. The new paint shop in Lohmar only starts operation in 2006.