27 February 2008
Bobcat officially openedits new skid steer loader and mini excavator factory in Dobris, near the Czech capital of Prague, on 18 September. It has owned the site since acquiring compact backhoe loader manufacturer Earthforce in 2001, but this facility and its telescopic handler plant in Pontchateau, France (which was also gained by acquisition) are its only two European production sites.
In some senses it is surprising that the company has been a strong force leader in the European skid steer loader and mini excavator sectors for decades without manufacturing any of these machines this side of the Atlantic. All the machines from these lines it has sold in Europe over the years have been designed and built in the US – naturally with the needs of the US foremost.
But this is all changing now with the opening of the new Dobris production line. It is a 21600 m2 factory equipped with the latest in manufacturing technology. This includes six computer numerical control (CNC) laser cutters, two CNC bending machines and nine welding robots. In addition to this, almost all of the machines' structural parts will be 'painted' by a sophisticated powder coating process, which makes for a much more durable finish than traditional paint.
According to Bobcat's president for the Europe, Africa and Middle East (EAME) region, Scott Nelson, the initial target for next year is to build about 900 units per month in Dobris, with the mix being about three skid steer loaders to every one mini excavator. Mr Nelson said this was well below the factory's capacity, adding that there was provision to extend it to more than 30000 m2 if needed.
The first models to be produced in Dobris are the 319, 321 and 323 mini excavators – Bobcat's sub-2 tonne models – and its small skid steer loaders, the S100, S130, S175 and S185 which cover rated capacities up to 840 kg. Eventually 30 different products will be made at the plant.
But Bobcat has been successful for all these years without manufacturing in Europe, so why the change?
“Customers here in EAME have different product requirements to those in North America,” said Mr Nelson. In addition to this, Mr Nelson said that exporting from the US had an impact on lead times and costs, largely because of the shipping issues
“There is a three to four week delivery lag from North American plants to Europe,” he said, adding that all this shipping and handling added between € 300 and € 1000 to the cost of a machine, depending on its size.
As well as opening a new factory, Bobcat is of course undergoing a change of ownership, with its current parent, Ingersoll-Rand selling the company to Korea's Doosan Infracore, predominantly a crawler excavator and wheeled loader manufacturer.
Speaking about the acquisition, which is expected to reach financial close on November 1, Bobcat president and CEO Richard Pedke was up-beat. “Doosan has a stated aim to be in the world top five in this industry. Before this acquisition they were 19, after it they will be seven. It sounds to me like they're very serious about that aim.”
Doosan has gone on record as saying that it will maintain both the Bobcat and the Doosan brands after the deal, rather than consolidating them. “They know the value of the Bobcat brand and that's a big part of what they're paying for,” said Mr Pedke.
Although it is still early days for this new pairing, it seems likely that Bobcat will remain the global brand for smaller machines and Doosan will be identified around the world with heavier earthmoving equipment. “I think we're going to stay pretty true to the two brands for the two different sizes of equipment,” said Mr Pedke.