Comparing apples with gearboxes: staying a class above

Bonfiglioli’s local assembly and repair facility in Sydney.

In an industry with so many moving parts, plenty of manufacturers play important roles in keeping the wheels spinning. Bonfiglioli is one such stalwart that has built a reputation on bigger and better gearboxes.

Since 1998, this family-owned business has laid claim to its share of the Australian marketplace, providing a sturdier alternative to the usual suspects in mining gearboxes.

Fred Whalley has been a sales manager at Bonfiglioli for 21 years, first working out of a tiny office or from his home in Western Australia.

“The company saw a market for their gearboxes in Australia, but when I first joined nobody really knew Bonfiglioli and we were predominantly known for smaller ‘worm boxes’,” Whalley tells Australian Mining.

“Early days, the biggest challenge was recognition. Our biggest competitor was in Australia 10 years before we ever arrived here.”

Italian founder Clementino Bonfiglioli created the first worm gearbox and subsequently patented the two-stage planetary gearbox, which Whalley says largely contributes to Bonfiglioli’s success.

“We’re standardised with our core products such as in-line, helical and right-angle boxes, but we also have our planetary range. The planetary has been our biggest driving force over the years with our unique combination of standard products and planetary products,” Whalley explains.

“Also, with planetary gearboxes you can choose between electric or hydraulic, which provides customers with quite a unique offering compared to what is available in the market.”

Bonfiglioli supplies some of the largest mining operations in Australia, predominantly in iron ore, and Whalley finds great joy in recounting the company’s growth in 2020.

“Believe it or not, we had our best year ever last year, which is ridiculous considering COVID-19,” Whalley says. “We picked up Bonfiglioli’s biggest project in recent history, a multi-million dollar deal.”

If there’s one key advantage to be jostled over in the market, its delivery time. Whalley says as operations expand, mining companies are asking for delivery times that are largely unable to be fulfilled.

Bonfiglioli caters to delivery demand by optimising its build times and maintaining component stockpiles in Australia to cut out international shipping of large parts.

“We tend to stock our gearboxes as components, which means we can stock more in head office and then build from there. We will bring the odd gearbox from Europe into Perth, but nine out of 10 times we have stock modules to give us better delivery times,” Whalley explains.

Bonfiglioli only knows how to create bigger and better gearboxes for its customers.

Equally as important, although not according to some buyers, is the durability of a gearbox. Whalley says the best way to have a long-life gearbox is the correct selection. 

When trying to make a sale and a customer claims a product is a lot more expensive, the sales veteran makes sure to ask, “are we quoting apples for apples?”

“In a case like this we often find competitors quote for smaller boxes at cheaper prices, which won’t last for as long,” Whalley says.

Considering the size of operations supplied by Bonfiglioli, the company makes sure to provide the most reliable product available.

Whalley says customers are far better off investing a bit more for a product that will last, especially in such a heavy industry like mining.

“I recently received an enquiry about an operation with 10 of our feeder drives, which had been running for 10 years and they’re only now looking at reconditioning them one at a time,” Whalley says.

Bonfiglioli’s combination box provides another advantage, as its size relinquishes none of the company’s usual power, while allowing it to drop more easily into an application.

“(The combination box) is a planetary and HDO box together, for example, forming a right-angle boxed. This makes it more compact, allowing it to transmit a lot more torque, while fitting into smaller applications,” Whalley says.

On the future of the product’s industry, Whalley expects trends to continue much as they have for the last 20 years – that is, in size.

“I’ve been dealing with virtually the same gearboxes, but the sizes have grown. These big mine sites are looking to increase production, so where they used to have one gearbox, they now need two. Looking into the long-term complexities and costs of having two gearboxes, they may then decide they want one bigger box,” Whalley says.

Bonfiglioli’s 300 series gearboxes offer 20 options with a torque range from 1000 nanometre (nm) to 1.1 million nm. It’s a staggering amount of power considering the average torque for a passenger sedan ranges in the low hundreds.

Simply put, industry should expect nothing less than these rough and ready gearboxes to ensure operations can power through the mightiest of mines, time and time again.  

This story also appears in the June 2021 issue of Australian Mining.

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