Planning for North American growth
By Jim Timlick
A Netherlands-based manufacturing company with an established history in the snow grooming industry is looking to expand its footprint here in North America.
Zuidberg, a family-owned business established by founder Henk Zuidberg, has been selling its front linkage and power take-off (PTO) systems in more than 42 countries for over 30 years. Although Zuidberg products had been distributed in North America for some time as part of a deal with a Canada-based importer, company officials decided to take control of their fortunes in this part of the world by establishing their own North American branch in Cedar Falls, Iowa in 2014.
While Zuidberg’s three-point hitch and front PTO solutions for tractors allow users to attach a blade to push snow in winter or brooms to clear trails in the summer, it’s the company’s track conversion system that has caught the attention of the snow grooming community in this part of the world. The system allows users to attach a rubber track to virtually any type of tractor and make it more manoeuvrable in almost any winter conditions.
The latest iteration of the company’s track technology is being unveiled at a number of trade shows this winter and is expected to be available on the market during the 2016-17 season.
One cool customer
Zuidberg North America president Rudolf deJong says the new track system will feature several improvements aimed at helping make snow grooming equipment operate better in sub-zero temperatures.
Perhaps the most noteworthy change, according to deJong, is a new and improved suspension system designed to significantly reduce vibrations and provide optimal operator comfort in the cab. Operators will notice the difference as soon as they take their seat, he says.
“If you operate tracks, it can be a potential risk that the vibration from the tracks goes into the cab,” he said. “With this new suspension system, we eliminate the risk as much as you can [and] prevent those vibrations from coming into the cab.”
deJong says another benefit of the improvements to the suspension system is that the reduced vibrations will help to extend the life of the rubber belts used in the track system, meaning they won’t have to be replaced as frequently.
Another development that will be welcomed by snow groomers is that the new track system uses oil rather than grease, which tends to work poorly in cold weather.
“That’s especially [useful] in snow grooming applications because it’s always cold,” deJong said. “Grease gets very thick and the viscosity gets very high [in extremely low temperatures]. We believe that oil is a way better system than grease track systems, especially in winter applications.”
Oil-filled tech a real boon
An additional boon of the oil-filled technology is that it features fused glass hubs that operators can easily check to ensure there is sufficient lubricant for the track system. In most older, grease-filled systems, operators have to essentially guess how much lubrication is in the system, deJong says.
“All the snow grooming people I’ve talked to so far say they like the oil-filled hubs. The reason for that is oil has a lot lower viscosity than grease so that gives a way better greasing of the final components of the track system,” he said. “It’s also a lot more reliable than the grease. If you have thick, thick grease in it you can never really see how much grease is in it. People who grease their track system do that based on guessing. This is way easier and much more reliable.”
Zuidberg offers four different types of track systems that are adaptable for use with any brand of tractor or agricultural vehicles, regardless of whether it’s self-propelled or towed. Those systems include:
- C-frame: Features two, three or four bogie wheels and is available with rubber tracks 61, 76 or 92 cm wide. This generic track set can be mounted to combines and self-propelled forage harvesters and is interchangeable with wheels.
- OC-frame: Features three bogie wheels and 61, 76 or 92 cm wide rubber tracks. This generic track set can be mounted to articulated tractors and is interchangeable with wheels.
- E-frame: Features three bogie wheels and 61, 76 or 92 cm wide rubber tracks. This machine- specific track set is self-propelled and can also be towed behind equipment.
- F-frame: Features two, three or four bogie wheels and 30, 40, 61, 76 or 92 cm wide rubber tracks. This machine-specific track set has a sub-frame that can be mounted to front wheel assist tractors and is interchangeable with wheels. A sub-frame remains on the tractor.
Wider rollers a plus
One of the major differences between Zuidberg tracks and other similar systems currently available, according to deJong, is that his company’s offerings feature large, lightweight rollers which cover the entire width of the track system rather than just part of it. That’s especially useful in snow grooming applications where operators might have to deal with ridges of snow and ice because the extra width of the rollers offers support across the entire track belt.
deJong says one of the most important benefits of using a track system is the versatility it offers. Whether you are using it on a tractor, harvester or some other kind of agricultural vehicle, it can turn virtually any piece of equipment into an all-season unit that can operate in mud or snow while leaving the ground beneath its tread unaffected. That can mean significant savings for ski areas and trail operators because they need far fewer vehicles to attend to their grooming needs, he says.
Zuidberg’s parent company was founded in the Netherlands in 1982 by Henk Zuidberg, who had been looking at ways of making the tractor more efficient for his brother and other farmers. His research led to the development of an “adapter” that allowed implements to be used on both the front and rear of a tractor which in turn led to the creation of an entire line of frontline linkage system of products with combined sales of nearly 30,000 units annually.
Zuidberg’s son, Jeroen, took over the company in 2004 and about five years ago determined it was in the company’s best interests to diversify and continue growing its interests outside the agricultural sector. One of his first orders of business was to acquire West Track, another Netherlands-based company that specialized in rubber track conversion systems, which allowed the company to continue to expand its growing line of snow grooming products.
Stepping up its presence
While the company already had a solid presence in both Canada and the U.S., including sales to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) like John Deere, New Holland, Case, Massey Ferguson and Buehler Versatile, the younger Zuidberg wanted it to have a more visible North American presence. As a result, Zuidberg North America was established to allow the company to be closer to its customers here and take more control of its efforts in this market.
“We had already done business for a long period here [in North America] but we didn’t have our own presence,” deJong said. “We think it’s good to be closer to those customers to better serve them.”
deJong says the company has been pleased with the results of its stepped-up efforts here in North America to date, adding there is still considerable room for it to grow in this market.