Aiming high: The European telehandler sector looks to the future
By Becca Wilkins07 May 2009
Undeterred by the downturn in the market, European telehandler manufacturers are focused on the future and are committed to developing safer, more productive and in some cases bigger machines.
The European telehandler market has experienced a dramatic and rapid downturn as is the case in most construction equipment sectors. Despite a decline in demand, manufacturers continue to develop flexible and more comfortable models, with safety remaining the key area of focus.
Speaking for Italian-based manufacturer, Merlo, Peter Grant told CE safety is a continuous theme for the company. "It's always at the top of the priority list in anything that Merlo does. There are a couple of examples on the machines where we have actually compromised ultimate performance and possibly our own sales for the sake of the safety devices, which are something that we won't compromise on."
He said Merlo has always been at the forefront of developing innovative safety devices and in the mid 1980s it was the first manufacturer to introduce a telehandler that not only indicated to the driver that there was an overload condition but then actually locked off any further motion.
"Only now is everyone being forced to put that kind of device in their machines under a standard called the EN15000," Mr Grant added.
The European standard, which addresses longitudinal load moment indicators and longitudinal load moment controls, is currently in a two-year transition period by the end of which new telehandlers must feature such a device.
Speaking to CE, manager for Manitou's Maniscopic Construction range, Laurent Pons agrees safety is a key product driver followed closely by productivity, operator comfort and reliability. Adaptable machines which are ready to be implemented with new regulations such as the EN 15000, are also important he said and the reason why the company incorporated CanBus technology into its MT Privilege telehandlers, introduced last year.
Increasing machine productivity is often linked with improving operator comfort, something which Manitou focused on with its 12 model MT Privilege range which feature more spacious and comfortable cabins, as well as more intuitive and easier to use controls.
The joystick switch and move (JSM) system incorporates all main functions on one ergonomic joystick, in order to improve comfort and reduce stress for the operator, the company said.
Mr Pons said, "We are not at the maximum today in terms of operator comfort - we can improve that much more and this is one of the main keys at Manitou - once we have developed a product that's not the end of the development - we are still trying to improve the comfort and the ergonomics and because of the components we use we have the possibility to permanently improve the product."
The focus for Manitou, according to Mr Pons, is to think more about the customer rather than the product and this is the main idea behind the company's MT Priviledge telehandlers.
David Bell, JCB's sales director, said the new HiViz range of telehandlers provide customers with a new standard of visibility and operator comfort to meet the demand for greater productivity.
Manufacturers agree a telehandler's versatility is the main advantage it has over a small crane. Whether machines are compact - for use in city construction sites, or bigger - for jobs that require higher lift heights, a telehandler, with its many attachments, is a flexible tool.
Giuliano Parodi, telescopic handler product director for Bobcat in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) said Bobcat's year-old T2250 compact model is the first "telescopic loader", with a design based on the company's skid-steer loader, making it the only available versatile compact telehandler. The new model replaces the normal "pick and place" type machines, providing the same loading and pushing performance as a skid steer. It can be equipped with more than 40 attachments.
He added, "Today telehandlers haven't reached their maturity, therefore it is highly predictable that their flexibility in terms of attachment choice, ease of transportation, ease of use, compact dimensions and loader performance will allow them to compete with wheeled loaders, cranes, rough terrain forklifts and other equipment."
Mr Grant said the company introduced the Panoramic P55.9 CS telehandler in recognition that telehandlers are being used for higher duty cycle operations. Also popular due to their versatility are Merlo's Roto (rotary) telehandlers, which he added have proved more popular in continental Europe than in the UK.
"I suspect that's because of the preponderance of rental companies in the UK - rental companies are not market leaders by and large - they tend to buy what people ring up and ask for. However, if you go to Holland you will find virtually all the telehandlers that are sold certainly by us are Rotos, not straight telehandler machines, and are actually being used as light cranes."
He explained the up to 5 tonne Rotos, as opposed to 30 tonne city cranes can be set up in a matter of minutes and is not a huge piece of equipment that blocks up the whole construction site. "Therefore, it's a significant saving in cost and a significant saving in a site disruption," Mr Grant said.
According to Mr Pons telehandlers can also be used to distribute materials on the jobsite and unlike cranes they often don't require a special license.
The telehandler market is not only evolving from a productivity and safety point of view, but progress is also being made in machine design.
Mr Parodi said, "The main trends we are seeing are evolution of new designs at the extremes of the telehandler market - new compact models and high-capacity models have recently been introduced. The compact models meet a range of different applications, whilst the high-capacity machines are aimed at niche markets."
There are opportunities for bigger and more compact machines according to JCB, as well as developments within the established machine classes. The company has developed a large range of machines to meet the increasing diversity of uses for these machines Mr Bell added.
Mr Grant said, "There is an almost inevitable drive towards people wanting more machine capacity."
This, he added, is partly driven by marketing departments because manufacturers are unlikely to bring out the next new machine with less capacity. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the customer is actually asking for higher capacity or higher lifting machines, he said.
Currently, Merlo's highest lifting height is 26 m and according to Mr Grant there is a definite demand for higher capacity machines. "I'm not quite so sure there's a demand for more actual lift height. Once you start going bigger in terms of lift height the size of the machine has to change and you're then starting to lose any advantage that you have over cranes."
The maximum lift height for the Manitou's rotating machines is 30 m, which Mr Pons said will probably be the limit.
"Ten or 15 years ago we thought 20 m was the limit but today it's 30 m. "Today, it is more a technological limit. It would be difficult to design machines higher than 30 m with limited dimensions."
Mr Pons added a limit will be set because a good compromise between the telehandler's size, weight and price is essential.
Although the downturn has had a damaging affect on the telehandler market this year, manufacturers are taking positive steps to prepare for the future. Some are renewing their focus on customers and new products, while others are concentrating on quality and service support.
Mr Pons told CE, "The strategy for Manitou is that we really want to keep developing new products and concepts and be focused on customers. The aim is to be ahead of the industry and ahead of the customer demand."
Elsewhere, Merlo's concept of manufacturing as many parts as possible in-house, including cabs, axles and gear boxes - is beginning to bear "more than a little fruit" during the downturn, Mr Grant said. He added this strategy allows the company to have tighter control over its finances and ensures it is not at the hands of suppliers who may go out of business.
According to Mr Bell the present economic climate affecting all manufacturers will be challenging for some time yet. "The successful companies will be those who have the right blend of focus on product and market," he said.