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The Dirty Little Secrets of the Center Pivot Power Transmission Business

Wheel Drive Gear Boxes

   In the early days of center pivot irrigation development, all of the drive line components were produced in the USA.  Walt Durst with assistance from Richard Reinke developed the first enclosed wheel gear box.  Durst was the primary supplier to the manufacturers.  Later Lockwood, Lindsay, and Valmont started making their own units.  In the 1980’s, Durst started manufacturing the Lindsay wheel drives and Lockwood decided to go with UMC.  In the late 1990’s there were a lot of pricing pressures on the US manufacturers.  The Chinese imports (UMC / OMNI) were able to severely undercut the ability for Durst to compete.  First, Lindsay changed over to UMC and later Reinke also did the same.  In the early 2000’s Durst ceased making their gear boxes in the USA and developed a relationship with several companies in China.  This means the only wheel gear box actually made in America is from Valmont[1].  UMC has multiple channels into the US market.  They have the Reinke Channel, the Lindsay Channel and their own UMC Channel.  The UMC Channel has been sold primarily by the WISH Group, ICII and Pierce… talk about being able to work both sides of the street! 

Center Drive Gearmotors

   The first electrically powered center pivots used off the shelf components to drive the systems.  Later, companies like Dresser, Foote-Jones and Ohio Gear came up with a NEMA 56-C gear box and US Motors developed the integral gearmotor.  Dresser, Foote-Jones and Ohio Gear partnered with motor manufacturers like GE and Franklin to come up with a reliable and durable center drive gearmotor.  These units were used by all of the US manufacturers.  In the late 1970’s, Lindsay was the first to develop an efficient spur drive gearmotor.  Later, UMC came up with their version of an efficient gear motor.  UMC started to make inroads in the mid 1980’s when Lockwood, Pierce and Olsen became buyers.  In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s Valmont changed from the standard US Motors worm gearmotor to a US Motors helical gearmotor.  Reinke also changed from the Ohio Gear/Franklin Motor to a US Motors helical gearmotor.  During this same time period, ICII and Durst formed a cooperation to produce a helical gearmotor for one of our large customers, Al Khorayef Industries.  This product was produced at one of the Regal Beloit (Marathon Motors Division) contract manufacturers in China.  It was based on the US Motors design with some internal improvements.  Valmont and Reinke started to have some warranty issues with the US Motors product.  US Motors was slow to acknowledge and correct the issues so Valmont developed another gear motor with OMNI providing the gear module portion and Baldor Motors in the USA providing the motor module.  Today, they offer both the US Motors version and a Baldor version.  Reinke ceased working with US Motors and went to UMC. 


So, what is the Dirty Little Secret?

   The perception is that most of the power transmission product used by the major center pivot manufacturers are made in the USA.  This is not true.  Besides the Valley wheel drive being made in the USA, all others are made in China by 5 factories.  These contact factories supply all the wheel drives for:

  • Lindsay via UMC’s contract manufacturing factories

  • Reinke via UMC’s contract manufacturing factories

  • Reinke via another Chinese contract manufacturer 

  • T&L via OMNI’s contract manufacturing factory

  • Pierce via UMC’s contract manufacturing factories

  • Valmont’s alternative gear box via ONMNI’s contract manufacturing factory

  • UMC branded product from their own contract manufacturing factories

  • Durst branded product from their contract manufacturing factory

   For the center drive gearmotors, the same is true.  Other than Lindsay making their own gearmotor in the USA, all others are made in the same 5 factories, with the exception of the Valmont/US Motors unit being made in Mexico.  Since Valmont’s OMNI gear module and Baldor motor module are a combination of Chinese and American products, you could say this product is “Assembled in USA”.  These contract manufacturing factories supply for:

  •  Reinke via UMC’s contract manufacturing factories

  • Pierce via UMC’s contract manufacturing factories

  • Valmont/US Motors from the Emerson factory in Mexico

  • UMC branded products from their contract manufacturing factories

  • Durst branded products from their contract manufacturing factory

   To summarize this, the US based manufacturers do not make all of their power transmission products as illustrated above and UMC does not make anything.  They appear to control the market through various channels and in reality, use contract manufacturers to make all of their products. 

   With ICII’s 35-year experience in the power transmission business and with our hiring a retired world class engineer who was instrumental with development of today’s products, we are in a position to enter this market with our own channel.  Our position is no different than UMC, we will use a recognized ISO certified factory to produce our products per our specification.  We currently have a good offering with our ICII branded wheel drives and helical gearmotors. Initial sales and dealer acceptance has been excellent.  As important, we have experienced ZERO problems.  Testing has begun on our new generation of wheel drives using enhanced materials.  Evaluation is underway with a US Motor manufacturer to make a motor module for ICII to mate with our own gear module. 

   These are exciting times…………..GAME ON.     


[1] Valmont does import an OMNI wheel drive which they offer as an alternative to the lower cost UMC product.  

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