Liebherr: Family Owned Company With Worldwide Impact

March 15, 2018
AMT visits aerospace giant Liebherr Aerospace

Many people, especially those of us living in Germany see the name Liebherr probably every day, because they are likely using kitchen appliances labeled Liebherr. Not many people beside the aviation specialists know that the Germany originating company has over time steadily evolved, and has grown to an important supplier in aviation world expanding its activities to all continents. Liebherr is a bit different group with a seldom to find owner structure and really wide product portfolio.

Liebherr Aerospace Germany & France Tour

In late 2017 AMT was invited to tour the Liebherr aerospace production facilities in Germany and France. What initially sounded to me as "just another company PR tour" was really a very interesting event which gave me the chance to better understand the numerous activities of the Liebherr Group, and much more important, to witness and feel the almost unique spirit of the company. Please don't misunderstand this last sentence; most companies are "The best in their field" and "second to none" and their PR staff usually try to impress us journalists with glass and aluminum cathedrals, colorful presentations which trigger avalanches of audio-visual impressions - and are quite often trying to keep us at a distance from the employees. Well none of these PR weapons and tricks hit me during the visit, contrary, the very first impression was: modest, simple, and straight.

On our two-day tour we visited four Liebherr aerospace manufacturing sites located in Germany and France. Our first stop in Germany was the Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH. From here systems and components are delivered to aircraft manufacturers throughout the world: to Airbus, AgustaWestland, Boeing, Bombardier, COMAC, and Sukhoi. The portfolio includes landing gear as well as flight control and actuation systems for all kinds of aircraft.

Next stop was the Liebherr-Aerospace’s plant in Friedrichshafen. This site at Lake Constance has been part of Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH since 1999; purchased from the ZF. Here Liebherr manufactures bevel gears and precision gear wheels and develop helicopter gearboxes. This plant is also a direct supplier to Airbus Helicopters, ZF Luftfahrttechnik, and Rolls-Royce Germany.

First stop in France was Liebherr-Aerospace Toulouse SAS, which is one of 11 divisional control companies within the Liebherr Group and which coordinates all activities in the aerospace and transportation systems sectors. This site was in 2014 expanded with a new logistics center.

The next stop was Liebherr-Aerospace in Campsas. This expanded factory near Toulouse was inaugurated just days after our visit. The site specializes in manufacturing mechanical precision parts for air management systems and uses ALD technology.

Liebherr Has a Unique Feeling

Walking from the conference room to the adjacent new productions buildings in Lindenberg, COO Josef  Gropper said to me - pointing to the old administrative building we just left - something that deeply impressed me: "This is an old building and outdated, but we invest our money not in offices but in production halls, new machines, newest technologies, and (most important) in good employees." At first I was reluctant to completely believe in this but after the tour and after the visit of four production sites in Germany and France I can subscribe to it.

During our factory tours in both countries all questions which Gropper asked of the employees, questions that were not easy to answer, were replied fast, straight, and in a self-confident manner. This behavior you don't always find in a company of this size because people tend not to say something they may later "regret" because the questioner was a company COO. In the Lindenberg plant in Germany I spoke several times with two and even three generations of workers from the same family! This is rare nowadays.

A Family-Owned Company

Liebherr Group is 100 percent family owned. This is also unique for a group of Liebherr's size and which is active on all continents and has always determined their corporate culture and is a firm foundation for their success. After Hans Liebherr passed away in 1993, three of his five children, took over the management of the company. To this day, the shareholders of the group are all family members, by now into the third generation.

Core Values

Liebherr is proud of their core values; they remind themselves and everybody else of this verbally and in their communication with the rest of the world. Liebherr says: "Highest quality in everything we do, we accept responsibility, our employees are a key factor in our success, and we are innovative, independent, and a trustworthy partner."

Liebherr History

Hans Liebherr established the company that bears his name in 1949. Since then it has grown into a group of more than 130 companies on all continents, employing 42,308 people at the last count.

The history of the Liebherr Group is inextricably linked to its founder – a master builder, a tireless tinkerer, a pragmatic businessman, a successful pioneering entrepreneur, and inventor. As an entrepreneur, Hans Liebherr banked on step-by-step expansion; he financed all of his enterprises primarily with his own capital. The invention of the tower crane is synonymous with the birth of the Liebherr Company.

Within the first decade, the small construction firm develops into a well-established manufacturer of construction machinery and many other technologically sophisticated products. In post-war Germany, Hans Liebherr manages his parents' building firm in South Germany. In 1949 he develops the TK 10 - first mobile tower crane. It is the first product of the Hans Liebherr Maschinenfabrik (engineering works), founded in 1949 in Kirchdorf. As successor models follow in 1950 and a crane production at Liebherr picks up pace, the construction company turns into a manufacturer of construction machines. In years 1952-54 Libeherr expands its machines product range.

Liebherr early recognizes the enormous potential of appliances in post war Germany and Hans Liebherr decides to build his own refrigerators production facility in Ochsenhausen, Germany. In 1954, the first refrigerator is built and series production begins in 1954. The construction machinery range is extended in 1956, including machines for the production and transportation of concrete, built in Bad Schussenried factory.

Liebherr commissions the first factory outside Germany in the 1950s. To acquire the British and North American market, the company builds a production site in Killarney, Ireland, first building tower cranes, followed by container, shipyard and special cranes. In the 1960s, the first company outside Europe is founded in South Africa - Hans Liebherr sets the tracks for the international direction of the group.

In March 1960, Hans Liebherr sets up the Liebherr-Aero-Technik GmbH company in Lindenberg, Germany, starting Liebherr's aeronautical activities. From the outset, the aim is to develop and manufacture prototypes in-house. The intention is for the company to advance from being a license holder to a producer of its own components and systems; from an equipment manufacturer to a system provider. In 1996, the company changes its name to Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH.

Liebherr Group Product Divisions

The Liebherr Group consists of 11 divisions with an extraordinary wide product range. This wide base allows the exchange of know-how and information between the product divisions which in turn promotes innovative ideas and cross-industry developments. The umbrella organization of the Liebherr Group is the Liebherr-International AG.

- Earthmoving Equipment division develops and manufactures an extremely wide range of products at eight sites in Europe, Asia, and South America.

- Mining Division supplies the mining industry with large machines for the extraction of raw materials in open-cast mining environments.

- Mobile Cranes The range of products of the Mobile Cranes Division includes more than 30 different types of telescopic and lattice boom cranes on wheeled and crawler chassis.

- Tower Cranes division develops and produces tower cranes and mobile construction cranes.

- Concrete Technology product division operates production plants in Europe, Asia, and South America.

- Maritime Cranes for all types of goods handling in ports and at sea.

- Machine Tools & Automation Systems manufactures gear cutting machines, gear cutting tools and automation systems.

- Components - this division specializes in the development, design, production, and reconditioning of high-performance components for mechanical, hydraulic and electrical drive, and control technology.

- Domestic Appliances division manufactures refrigerators and freezers in four countries for private and commercial use.

- Hotels, the Liebherr Group operates six top-class hotels, located in Ireland, Austria, and Germany.

- The Aerospace and Transportation Systems: This division, and especially the aerospace part of it, is the focus of our interest; it supplies extensive systems and components for manufacturers and operators of aircraft and rail cars. In 2016, the turnover was €1,280 million – up by €60 million or 4.9 percent from 2015 numbers.

System Supplier to the Aerospace Industry

Liebherr has established itself as one of the world's leading system suppliers to the aerospace industry. Liebherr-Aerospace develops, manufactures, and services aircraft flight control and actuation systems, landing gear, air management systems, on-board electronics as well as gears and gearboxes for the aerospace industry. Liebherr provides a complete OEM customer service based on a global network with maintenance, repair, and overhaul services, engineering support, documentation and spare parts as well as AOG service.

These systems are found on board many aircraft: Wide-bodied aircraft, commuter aircraft, regional jets, business jets, combat aircraft, military transporters, military training aircraft, civil helicopters, and combat helicopters. The customers include nearly every well-known aircraft manufacturer.

Air Management Systems

Liebherr has complete capability to develop, supply, and service all aircraft and engine air systems: from the engine bleed air ports and engine pneumatics to the air distribution in the cabin and from the wing ice protection system to the cabin pressurization. Liebherr also offers supplemental cooling, hydraulic cooling, and fuel tank inert air supply or air humidification. The company operates large air system testing facilities in Toulouse, France.

Liebherr masters the complete development including certification testing, as well as the production and worldwide customer services all along product life.

Flight Control & Actuation Systems

Liebherr offers primary and secondary flight control systems and other actuation systems and hydraulic systems. The core parts of these systems - i.e. mechanical, hydraulic parts, and electronics hardware with embedded software - are developed and manufactured in-house.

As a system supplier, Liebherr is capable of design and manufacture of complete flight control and actuation systems, from side stick in the cockpit to the movable surface actuators on the wings. The latest fly-by-wire systems are part of the product program in this area.

Landing Gear Systems

Liebherr-Aerospace has the capabilities and the experience to design, manufacture, maintain, and service landing gear systems. This includes the landing gear structure, the extension/retraction and steering actuation, the position and warning system, the integration of wheels and brakes, and the associated sensors and controls, including cockpit controls.

Gears and Gearboxes

Power transmission gearboxes take mechanical power from a helicopter engine or auxiliary power unit and provide it to other users which need this power throughout the aircraft. Liebherr gears are integrated in actuators and gearboxes that are part of the transmission systems which power the aircraft flap and slat actuators.


Liebherr has acquired considerable experience in designing on-board electronics for the control and monitoring of highly integrated flight-safety critical, complex systems. Electronic units are supplied with embedded software, as standalone units, or as part of the company's air management, flight control, and landing gear systems.

Liebherr-Aerospace offers extensive customer services based on a worldwide network with repair and maintenance services, technical support, documentation, and spare parts logistics.

Liebherr’s aerospace and transportation systems division employs around 4,900 people. It has four aviation equipment production plants at Lindenberg, Germany; Toulouse, France; Guaratinguetá, Brazil; and Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. These production sites offer a worldwide service with additional customer service centers in Saline, MI; Seattle, WA; Montreal, Canada; Hamburg, Germany; Moscow, Russia; Dubai, UAE; and Singapore and Shanghai, People’s Republic of China. The division controlling company is Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation SAS in Toulouse, France, which coordinates all activities in the area of aerospace and transportation systems.

About the Author

Marino Boric

Marino Boric graduated with a university degree as an aeronautic engineer, and acquired degrees in business development/trade and commerce and in journalism. He is a civil and military pilot and has built experimental aircraft. As a journalist, he specializes in aviation and propulsion and travels worldwide, flight-testing UL, LSA, Experimental, and certified aircraft. He is writing for U.S., European, and Chinese media companies.