The strong growth of the European telehandler market last year is likely to represent a peak in demand following three years of continuous growth, according to the most recent report from Off Highway Research. Despite a likely moderate decline in the next five years manufacturers have been launching bigger, more powerful, more compact and more multi-functional machines.

Speaking to CE at ConExpo, which took place in Las Vegas last month, Marcel Claude Braud, president and CEO of Manitou, said with new machines the company aims to bring more productivity to its customers.

"Cycle speeds, safety, operator comfort and ergonomics are some of the current product drivers," he said. "It really depends on the level of the customer but we can tailor our machines with a lot of options and features to meet these developments," he said.

Operator comfort

Manufacturers are emphasising operator comfort and safety in new telehandlers, while increasing the productivity of the machine. One way this can be achieved is to improve the manoeuvrability and in-cab visibility of the machine.

According to JCB, all-round visibility on the company's new Loadall 535-125 HiViz and 535-140 HiViz models launched at ConExpo, has been improved by +10%, particularly to the rear of the machines, compared to the models they replace. This has been achieved by reducing the boom pin pivot height by 235mm.

A spokesman for JCB said, "An innovative use of materials and components on the new machines has also resulted in a +13% reduction in overall boom section."

In addition, the new machines have a more compact rear chassis, which results in a 90 mm reduction in overhang.

The company stated, "These improvements in manoeuvrability and visibility combine to make the new HiViz Loadalls easier and speedier to operate - making them much more productive machines."

Improving operator comfort need not mean major design changes. In a relatively straightforward example of this, Genie has repositioned the throttle foot brake pedals on its GTH-2506 to give the operator a more comfortable driving position.

One clear trend in the industry is for smaller and smaller telehandlers, that are not much bigger than large skid steer loaders or compact wheeled loaders. Such machines can offer the same ‘tool carrier' credentials as traditional loaders, while at the same time providing much more reach and higher load heights.

But the trick with any sort of compact machine is to keep the dimensions as small as possible for manoeuvrability, without making the cab cramped. Caterpillar's new ‘super compact' TH255 telehandler, which was introduced to the European market at Samoter this year, features a spacious cab allowing for easier access for the operator, despite the machine's narrow 1,8 m width. Made for Cat by JLG through its global telehandler manufacturing alliance, the machine design offers "exceptional" sight lines from the comfortable suspension seat - despite the low profile provided by a cab height of less than 1,9 m.

JLG sells a near identical version of the TH255 under its own brand as the 2505. Jonathan Dawson, JLG's sales director for telehandlers, said the 2505 is designed for top-of-the line operator comfort and ease of use and is able to work in extremely confined spaces. The variable-speed transmission provides precise control in tight spaces and improved visibility is provided by the low-level boom and side-engine layout, he said.

"In this class of machine, a high degree of manoeuvrability is essential. The Model 2505 is configured with 4x4x4 hydrostatic drive to provide a turning radius of only 3,35 m," he said.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Cat said the new TH255 is also adept at working in confined areas, with a low cab height and machine width of only 1,8 m and a turning radius of just over 3 m.

Machine design

Mr Braud said one of the big differences in new machine design in recent years has been the focus on performance with regards to the machine's compact design and manoeuvrability. He added improving the balance of the telehandler enhances machine manoeuvrability.

"The balance of the machine is key because when a machine is well balanced it performs well in rough terrain and at different lift heights - so the positioning of each of the components inside the machine is very important," Mr Braud said.

One of the reasons telehandlers have grown in popularity is the availability of a wide range of attachments, which in turn enhance machine versatility.

Speaking for Merlo, Peter Grant said the majority of customers today are asking for no more than a bucket and a lifting hook of some kind. "But, there is an increase in platform use and as the applications of telehandlers expand, so does the request for different attachments," he added.

Mr Grant said the company's ‘intelligent' attachments are suitable for Panoramic or Roto machines. He said, "Many of the lifting attachments now feature a ‘load-limiting' cell similar to that required as part of EN280 for platforms.

This means that an attachment rated at 1000 kg lift capacity can never exceed that rating, even if it is being used in a part of the reach/lift envelope where the base machine can lift more than that." The benefits, Mr Grant added, are safety and reduction in damage to the attachments.

Meanwhile, Bobcat has launched a new man platform approved for use on its three largest telehandlers: the 12 m T35120SL MP, 14 m T40140 and 17 m T40170 models. The new EC approved man platform has a capacity of 500 kg and is capable of holding up to 3 people at one time. As well as buckets, other attachments available for the T35120SL MP, T40140 and T40170 telehandlers include pallet forks with side shift, a crane jib, extension jib and a winch.

Mr Grant told CE that Merlo's fully integrated man-platforms for its handlers are certified as compliant with EN280, the European MEWP (Mobile Elevating Work Platform) Standard.

Using a forklift with a ‘dumb' uncontrolled platform is completely banned in many European countries because of the implications of the Machinery Directive, he added. "A telehandler is no different - it is a type of forklift referred to as ‘Variable Reach' Truck' in the standards. Essentially, if you are lifting people then the requirements are exactly the same as for a MEWP. The difference is that many VRT manufacturers have only one or two platforms so certified." However, he said, "Merlo has a book full."

Mr Braud said more specific attachments are used on telehanders in Europe than in the US market making the versatility of European machines far greater.

Market

David Phillips, managing director for Off Highway Research, said the European telehandler market experienced "further strong growth" in 2007 following three "excellent years" from 2004 to 2006.

France and the UK continue to dominate demand Mr Phillips added, each with 29% of the total market share, but the Spanish market (11%) has passed its peak and did not grow in this sector.

According to Mr Grant, the total market is still increasing but the construction market has decreased in Spain and "shows signs of being nervous in the house-building sector throughout Europe." However, he added, this is yet to show up as a decrease in orders.

Paolo Peretti, brand communication manager for Merlo added, "Demand shows no sign of a decrease at present, but we would expect to see the established construction house-building sector decline later in the year. However, newly opened markets in the East (of Europe) seem likely to compensate."

Mr Grant said Eastern European markets present big opportunities and as they grow, these new markets will begin to appreciate the value of mechanical handling compared with manual labour, he added.

Mr Braud said every country in Europe is bouyant but the biggest market for the company is France followed by UK and Benelux, Germany and Spain.

"We will keep concentrating on Western Europe but we see faster growth in Eastern Europe in the agriculture, construction and industries applications," he said.

With regards machine capacity, Mr Grant said fewer machines are being sold in the 7 to 9 m bracket and there is no particular demand for panoramic style machines above 17 m.

"Demand for greater capacity is outweighed by the popularity of the Merlo concept of a light, compact and manoeuvrable machine for European sites. Demands for significantly smaller machines is increasing, for city centre/underground operations," he added.

Some markets have seen significant growth in the Roto style machine and the reasons for this vary, according to Mr Grant.

"In some markets it is the ability to lift as high as 25 m because it is impractical to lift higher than 17 m with a rigid chassis machine. In others it is the sheer versatility of this concept, being three machines in one - forklift, platform and lifting appliance."

According to Mr Braud Manitou telehandlers are getting bigger.

"We are manufacturing larger machines such as the 20 tonne capacity telehandler," he said. "Nobody was building 20 tonne machines in rough terrain telehandlers but we try to offer solutions that no-one else has."

Future challenges

All new telehandlers introduced into the market this year feature Stage IIIA (Tier 3) engines. Manufactures must now focus on complying with the next stage of engine emissions regulations - Stage IIIB (Tier 4) that come into effect in 2011.

Mr Braud said one of the main future concerns will be reducing fuel consumption.

He added future opportunities for Manitou are through its servicing department. "We always said that the number one strength of Manitou is the dealer network and so we want to develop and strengthen this network and partnership. We train our dealers to make sure that they are experts in our wide range of products."

Mr Grant said the future of Merlo's telehandler business is "a very fluid situation." He explained, "Because we are totally family-owned and do not have to satisfy shareholders, we can react very quickly and take quite radical decisions in a short time." He added Merlo's current drive is to continue to increase production by some +20% per year, while driving quality standards even further upwards.

Outlook

According to Off Highway Research's Mr Phillips, future demand for telehandlers in Europe will continue to be strong, although "there is a realisation that sales in 2007 are likely to represent the peak of the current cycle," he said.

Volumes over the next five years are expected to decline moderately and stabilise at around 28500 units a year for the foreseeable future, he added.

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