Photo: John Hitch | Fleet Maintenance
Executives from Bendix and parent company Knorr-Bremse officially cut the ribbon on the one-year-old headquarters, which represents more than a $55 million investment.

Future of truck safety gets innovation boost at new Bendix HQ

Oct. 21, 2022
At a dedication ceremony, the maker of heavy-duty brake and safety systems, such as Wingman Fusion, showed off their $55 million headquarters, which they believe will be crucial to innovating the next generation of trucking technology.

AVON, Ohio—Nearly a year after Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems’ employees started work at the new Avon headquarters, the company held a large-scale dedication ceremony to officially christen the 216,000-sq.-ft. building.

“Our new headquarters gives us new energy, a new platform as we address the many new trends in our evolving industry, electrification, automated driving, connectivity, and more,” asserted Mike Hawthorne, president and CEO of Bendix, to a tent full of employees on Oct. 17. “It helps Bendix and our brands and our industry partners to see the best solutions and shape tomorrow's transportation together.”

The headquarters opened last November, but the COVID-19 pandemic kept many workers from returning until this past spring. The amenities and overall atmosphere likely made that return to work easier.

The 58-acre campus, which also includes another 14,000 sq. ft. multi-bay engineering garage, thoughtfully integrates the area’s woods with innovative architecture and bleeding edge lab and testing equipment. Four retention ponds surround the structure, and a walking path allows employees to escape the office and enjoy the natural surroundings. Across the street, several new retail stores and restaurants have popped up, attracted to the area by the giant new neighbor and its 650 employees.

The research and development lab consumes 65,000 sq.-ft. of that space, with 27 test cells to improve upon Bendix's myriad products in the CV sector, including brake and advanced driver assistance system components, ranging from air dryers and valves to sensors and cameras. CNC machines, 3D printers, an electron microscope, and more fill these spaces, high-tech tools that will ensure their customers’ heavy-duty trucks will avoid collisions and improve uptime. According to Bendix, the lab equipment also saves Bendix time and money by doing lab work in house and not having to wait for results.

Along with the engineers' new toys, the floor plan accommodates space for those 650 employees, which along with work areas includes a training room, 100-seat bistro, health clinic, fitness center, and plenty of meeting areas. A literal bright spot is the centrally located collaborative meeting area, which like most of the building employs natural light. According to Bendix, no working area is farther than 25 feet from natural light.

Read more: Training techs: the pathway to retention and uptime

The building earned a LEED Silver v4 certification due to the sustainable construction and energy efficiency. Bendix even repurposed trees cut down for the site as tables and fixtures throughout the building.

This was the dream of Heinz Hermann Thiele, the late chairman of Bendix parent company Knorr-Bremse, who passed away in February 2021.

“[Thiele] believed architecture influenced the performance of people and the people were always the force that drove the business,” Hawthorne said.

The late chairman approved of the company, which Knorr-Bremse acquired from Honeywell in 2002, after Bendix became a billion-dollar company in 2014. Hawthorne explained. The previous building in nearby Elyria was home for 80 years, though that aging structure was purpose built for manufacturing, which had long ago moved to Kentucky.

“Besides being a visionary entrepreneur, my father was very passionate about architecture, he really wanted this new facility for various reasons," remarked Thiele’s daughter, Julia Thiele-Schürhoff, member of the supervisory board at Knorr-Bremse and chairperson of the executive board of Knorr-Bremse Global Care e.V, the Munich-based company’s charitable arm.

One of those main reasons?

“He simply didn't like the old one,” Thiele-Schürhoff said dryly. “It didn't meet his expectations of a good working environment. He was convinced that modern life and human architecture positively influences the well-being the creativity, motivation and collaboration of people. He firmly believed that the clever and innovative industrial architecture significantly enhances process efficiency and cooperation, and therefore, supports performance.”

He was very hands-on throughout the project, which began in earnest in 2019 and was completed last November. The overall cost was over $55 million, according to Bendix.

The new site won’t directly generate revenue, but if you’re a Bendix customer, it won’t cost you anything, affirmed  Bernd Spies, the Knorr-Bremse executive board member responsible for commercial vehicle systems.

“But you'll profit a lot from us having this headquarters,” he said.

“It is a statement to the marketplace that we are here, we will always be here, even in difficult times, as we just experienced, our customers can count on us, our business partners and employees can rely on us—and our competitors better be afraid of us,” Spies said.

Attracting talent and educating partners

“Amongst many technical advantages we are having here, we can be sure that we will attract and retain the best and motivated people,” Spies said.

When the goal is to improve highway safety through technology such as Wingman Fusion, and with looming future challenges such as preparing for electric and autonomous vehicles, Bendix, a market leader, must be able to lure that highly sought-after talent.

“We wanted to have a place where we knew we were going to be the leader in talent acquisition to develop those technologies,” said Rusty Hood, Bendix VP, general counsel, and secretary, who co-led the construction project with Nestor Piuma, VP of operations.

That would have been difficult in the previous location.

“As the years continued to go along in Elyria, it was tougher to attract the talent from the various regions [known for automotive expertise such as Detroit],” Hood said. “We really repurposed that building four or five times over 80 years, bringing in more of the headquarters’ central functions and product engineering teams. “But it had gotten to the point where we were at complete capacity.”

He also noted engineers in the “archaic” previous HQ were relegated to disparate pockets of the building which took several minutes to walk to, and were rarely seen, while here R&D labs and office workers’ cubicles are far closer.

Hood often passes right by the engineers in and out of the building to take his daily run on the nearby paths. And in general, Hood said employees working more collaboratively and in closer proximity will help Bendix on the product development front.

“You can many times accomplish more in a two-minute stand-up meeting…as opposed to sitting on a computer and trying to figure out whose schedule is available at what time,” Hood said.

The labs also allow OEMs and other partners the ability to meet with design and engineering teams feel brake friction materials, or get a very up-close view of how the road impacts a component on a far via that electron microscope. Bendix said that in just the past few weeks, several OEMs have come to the Avon campus, which is just off Interstate 90, and spent several hours in the immersive lab environment.

“This makes it easier for us to work with you and interact with you and be able to see what's going on in a much more illustrative fashion in a much more clean fashion,” Hood concluded.

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).