HL Smith Transmissions is one of the UK’s leading remanufacturers of commercial vehicle drivetrain products. Using a variety of original parts, repaired or new pieces, they remanufacture a range of manual and automatic gearboxes, differentials, steering boxes and propshafts to the original manufacturer’s specifications.
Based in Albrighton in the West Midlands, HL Smith employs 100 engineers at its 85,000 sq ft workshop and storage space. They have been remanufacturing automatic transmissions for over 25 years.
“We’ve been on the site now for close to 40 years,” said Russell Smith, Managing Director at HL Smith. The company was started in 1955 by Russell’s father, Harold Smith. He started in the aftermarket trade by servicing the war surplus Dodge WC series trucks that had been left behind in the UK by the US military. By working with a US-based partner, he received a supply of parts that he used for the remanufacturing process. “We were the first to ever really start remanufacturing,” claims Smith.
This military link is still prevalent today. HL Smith counts the Ministry of Defence among its clients. The company holds two contracts to support the legacy part of the MoD’s logistical fleet, looking after vehicles like Land Rovers and the DAF DROPS, though Smith noted that this is a diminishing fleet.
The company has a dedicated team to diagnose fault codes and match the units up with the customer’s vehicle configurations, mostly over the phone. Their field engineers are trained to diagnose faults and even fit new gearboxes on site for the company’s customers. At their facility, gearboxes are stripped, disassembled and cleaned before the individual parts are assessed and, where necessary, replaced with brand new OE parts. Then, the gearbox is rebuilt and tested to OE standards. The company can rebuild and test automatic and manual transmissions and steering boxes, as well as other pieces. The workshop has six bays and can accommodate eight-wheeled rigid vehicles. The company has around 500 units on stock at any one time to ensure that the right piece is available for any enquiry.
While half of HL Smith’s business is made up of manual transmissions, Smith said that demand for automatic transmissions has seen significant growth in the heavy commercial vehicle sector, especially in municipal and PSV applications. The changing market has not been good for everyone, with Smith noting many smaller companies have been outpaced by the market. “Only the larger companies have kept up with a technical update and followed the trends in the market.” He pointed to forming alliances with larger companies like Bosch, WABCO Reman Solutions and Eaton.
“It’s become more of the norm in the re-manufacturing market and they’ve always seen that and align themselves with people like us that can support the product.”
The jewel in HL Smith’s crown is its partnership with Allison Transmissions. While HL Smith has worked with Allison’s gearboxes for around 30 years, in April 2018 HL Smith was appointed as an ‘authorised direct rebuilder’ for Allison Transmissions. This gave them a supply of genuine Allison components and the authority to remanufacture transmissions to Allison’s standards.
“We build to their criteria, we have genuine parts and we have the full support of Allison,” Smith said.
HL Smith offers a complete range of Allison transmissions, including 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 series units. These come with a two-year warranty and can be supplied on service exchange. Their workshop also has its own collection and delivery service and offers an onsite diagnostics and fitting service to cover all units.
The company has also recently become an exclusive distributor of gearbox ECU’s and Power Packs for WABCO Reman Solutions. “A lot of the product now is electronically controlled,” Smith noted. “A lot of this is controlled by WABCO equipment. So, we work closely with WABCO. We distribute their remanufactured electronic products gearbox control systems.”
As the automotive industry evolves in the face of pressure to lower emissions, HL Smith finds itself in an interesting position. As a remanufacturer, it is easy to see its practice of giving new life to old equipment as embodying the eco-friendly maxim of reduce, reuse and recycle.
However, as electric vehicle technology becomes more popular, HL Smith may find themselves dealing with fresh challenges. Most electric vehicles lack complicated multi-gear transmissions. However, electric vehicles are unlikely to completely replace conventional cars in the foreseeable future. Hybrids, many of which come with multi-gear transmissions will bridge the gap.
Smith noted. “We have to wait and see what comes into the market, and then evolve with it.”