THREE THOUSAND active patents lie at the core of Plasser & Theurer's track maintenance machinery business, giving it a good foundation to develop new technologies. More than 13 000 machines have been supplied to 103 countries in the 53 years since the firm was founded.

A privately-owned company, Plasser & Theurer is committed to remaining focused on track machines, despite requests from would-be partners seeking to use its vehicle construction experience in the rolling stock market. The firm believes it is better to concentrate its efforts on the track maintenance sector where it is market leader.

Around 95% of the company's business is outside Austria; its products account for almost 0·7% of Austria's total exports, and about 6% of the national machinery, steel and metal construction sector. Plasser & Theurer has 18 related companies around the world which provide local servicing and overhaul of machines.

Production plants in 10 countries carry out local assembly, using technology and working modules supplied from the main plant in Linz. Plasser & Theurer tries to use proven concepts and components, but the lack of standardisation between countries means it is often necessary to design bespoke machines.

Infrastructure maintenance contractor Franz Plasser Vermietung von Bahnbaumaschinen is part of the Plasser group, providing a good opportunity to test machines under live conditions.

The group has 3000 staff, of which just under half are in Austria. Most are engineers, and the company maintains a policy of retaining staff to ensure continuity and develop experience.

Technology

Plasser & Theurer does offer maintenance packages for its new machines, but given the widely differing conditions between different national markets it is difficult for the company to control the way in a machine will be used. Thus the focus remains on development and sales.

The company sees the VDEI exhibition (p339) as an ideal oportunity to look at new ideas, harnessing feedback and suggestions from customers to inspire its design department. For example, contractors working for different local railways were looking to avoid the cost of transporting their equipment over the main line railways, and expressed interest in using road transport instead. This demanded more compact machines, so the Unimat 08-275 ZW tamper was developed to be moved by lorry, which also proved useful for accessing metro networks.

Recent developments have focused on increasing working speeds and cost efficiency, rather than fundamental changes to the way work is done. As a good example, changing to tungsten carbide tips has extended tine life from 60 km of tamping to up to 500 km.

But the firm believes that there are still opportunities, highlighting spot maintenance as an area where new technologies could be used to automate potentially-dangerous manual tasks. Developments in electronics and computing also offer opportunities, and Plasser & Theurer's designers are currently looking at computer-based guidance of machines.

The high capital cost of the latest equipment such as the four-sleeper 09-4X Dynamic Tamping Express can easily be justified where tracks are intensively-used and the penalties for suspending revenue services are high. But where speed is less critical, or on railways which carry out most track work by hand, the company still sees a market for more economical machines.