Expanding in aerials: Palfinger Platforms

By Maria Hadlow24 July 2012

Palfinger Platforms’ new P 300 KS 30m platform for 7.5t chassis.

Palfinger Platforms’ new P 300 KS 30m platform for 7.5t chassis.

Palfinger Platforms has entered a growth phase with new products and new markets, Maria Hadlow spoke to managing director Stephan Kulawik at Intermat about the company's plans. The 2012 Intermat might be said to have marked the end of a period of consolidation for Austrian manufacturer Palfinger Platforms.

Three years ago, in the depth of the recession, Palfinger was still in the process of incorporating the Bison and Wumag businesses under its banner. It took the opportunity of the 2009 Intermat to demonstrate the synergy by launching a new range of truck mounts for the 3.5t GVW class, which used the technology from both brands.

Just prior to this year's exhibition Stephan Kulawik, one of Palfinger Platforms' joint managing directors, said, "We have finally left the mergers and reorganisation phase behind us. We are now ready to continue on our consistent expansion course jointly with our worldwide agents and partners. Priority will go to in-depth dialog with our customers."

This sentiment was borne out more solidly at this year's Intermat with the launch of two new machines, the P 210 BK and the P 300 KS for 3.5t and 7.5t chassis classes respectively. These machines were previewed at the APEX exhibition in Maastricht last September and came to the Intermat show as production models.

Expanding range

Mr Kulawik, said that at the last Intermat Palfinger had showed its first 26m platform mounted on a 3.5t chassis and these new models were part of Palfinger Platforms' drive for expansion in the aerial platform market.

The P 260 B launched at Intermat 2009 was the first of a range of three models to be mounted on a 3.5t chassis with 18m, 22m and 26m working heights. The P 260 B was also the first machine to combine technology from Bison and Wumag: using Bison's aluminium boom technology with Wumag's chassis and outrigger design expertise.

The model demonstrated a high reach and 13.3m outreach over the rear of the platform (12.5 m over the sides and front) in a compact design. The three units came to market in September 2009 and now, says Mr Kulawik, there are more than 350 units in Europe and Australia.

"This year we are demonstrating our progress in this sector with the P 210 BK. We are going into a new gear with the 230kg load capacity and a new boom design."

Mr Kulawik did not want to give too much away about the new boom design saying that it was, "a combination of shape and what's inside," but we do know it offers a 21m working height and maximum outreach to the rear of the truck of 16.3m and 13.3m to the sides

The P 210 BK is described by Palfinger as more flexible and having a wider range of applications than any other machine in its class. Its mobile boom system enables a special platform mode during which the jib can be moved without stabilisers. The boom and jib design allows work to be carried out below ground level as well as at height and its up-and-over ability allows it to negotiate obstacles. Palfinger says there will be more innovations in this class later in the year.

The boom development has been assisted by the high level of expertise that Palfinger has accrued with aluminium - aluminium booms are only mounted on the 3.5t chassis. Palfinger has established an "Aluminium Competence Centre" at its plant where the company has developed high level skills in aluminium processing and welding.

"Customers are fully confident in the strength of the aluminium booms," says Mr Kulawik, "which have the additional benefit of not corroding."

High tensile steels are still used on the larger booms such as the new P 300 KS, which has been designed for use in areas where conditions are cramped. It is configured to bring maximum manoeuvrability and comfort to the 7.5t class because of the counter slewing system. It has a 30m working height and 20.5m outreach, maximum load capacity is 350kg.

Older standard driving licenses in Germany and other parts of Europe such as the UK still allow the holder to drive a vehicle up to 7.5t so the self drive rental market for this size of vehicle is still active. At Bauma next year - 2013 - Palfinger Platforms plans to show more developments in the 7.5t class and a very big machine on a 5-axle chassis - although not, Access International was told, anything over 100m working height.

Growing markets

As for the affects of the recession three years ago, Palfinger Platforms is now in a period of steady growth.

"Since the crisis," says Mr Kulawik, "It's a different market with a different style. There was no real down turn in Germany but effects are spotty across Europe: Austria and Poland are coming up for example, but France, which was doing well is currently affected by the upcoming election."

Outside Europe Palfinger Platforms has growing sales in North America in the oil and gas industry, in Australia, China and South America and Russia is said to be growing substantially this year.

"We did 20% more business in 2011 than in 2010," said Mr Kulawik "and expect to do 20% more again in 2012. Sales are still improving even though traditional markets are not."

Last year the Palfinger Platforms division generated €90 million in sales and the Palfinger Group said that, "improvements in the product division Access Platforms had a positive effect," and that "Access Platforms are expected to make even more substantial contributions to earnings."

Palfinger says that the strategic decision to grow towards the BRIC countries has already proven its worth: Some of the formerly large European markets still have not recovered from the global economic crisis of 2008/09. In contrast, markets that are still young for Palfinger are performing very well.

Currently Palfinger is concentrating on Asia and Russia, "where, along with economic growth, the market potential of Palfinger is on the rise as well. ....In China, another important future market, Palfinger has been promoting target-oriented strategic development to increase local value creation."

Demonstrating this, Chinese manufacturer Sany and Palfinger have signed two joint venture agreements to sell and distribute each others' cranes.

The purpose of the deal is to increase Palfinger market share in China and Sany market share outside the country. Two new companies will be established in a venture that will see a total of around €200 million (US$ 270 million) invested over the next few years.

Sany in China and Palfinger in Austria will each hold a 50% share in the two new companies. Changsha, China-based SanyPalfinger will manufacture and sell Palfinger knuckle boom cranes in China while Austria-based PalfingerSany will distribute wheeled mobile cranes produced by Sany in the world market outside China.

A majority of the investment will be in China to set up a factory with capacity to produce 10000 knuckle boom and straight (stiff) boom loader cranes to mount on trucks. Up to 1000 jobs will be created,

Cranes will be the initial focus of the joint ventures but work could start with the aerial work platforms as soon as 2013, Hubert Ortner, Palfinger's chief executive officer said.

New applications globally

New geographical markets are one growth route for Palfinger Platforms the other is new applications.

"There is an ever growing range applications for our products," says Mr Kulawik, "Mining in Australia, insulated platforms in Brazil, over head power lines and below zero bridge inspection and, of course, wind farms."

Mr Kulawik says that machines for wind farm work are in the 53m and above class up to the company's giant 103m working height machine. "We are just about to deliver our 30th 103m platform," he said, "they are being used in wind farm, oil and gas and building applications."

That Palfinger can supply machines for niche applications has been a help over the last few years, "Some rental companies were coming to us for the first time for a product which would differentiate them and command premium rental rates in a very competitive market."

"The rental sector is still 80% of the business and the machines are developed in cooperation with the rental sector," said Mr Kulawik, "but most importantly with the operator in mind.

"The operator is always the most important so we put a lot of emphasis on the stability of boom and basket. The end user must feel safe and stable."

An example of this is demonstrated in the 120000 cycle test that was carried out on the boom of the new P 210 BK, before the machine went to market. This is said to be the equivalent of a machine in 10 years of service.

"You cannot beta test your machines with customers anymore," says Mr Kulawik, The customer is not prepared to be a pioneer anymore, they will not tolerate downtime they want immediate efficiency."

The new machines must have succeeded in generating that confidence as Palfinger has substantial pre-orders for each: over 50 units for the P210 BK and 40 for the P300 KS.

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