Per Torp, CEO of TIME International and TIME Denmark; and export manager for parent company TIME Man

Per Torp, CEO of TIME International and TIME Denmark; and export manager for parent company TIME Manufacturing in Waco, Texas, USA.

As CEO of TIME International and TIME Denmark, Per Torp has been largely responsible for bringing the van mount to the attention of the world since his unplanned entry into the sector back in the mid-1980s. He talks to Euan Youdale.

During the early 1980s Per Torp, who is also export manager for parent company TIME Manufacturing in Waco, Texas, USA, was involved in a family business producing machinery for the construction and developed a waste reducer used in incinerators for crushing down bulky waste.

After selling that business Mr Torp was looking around for something new, although vehicle mounted platforms could not have been further from his mind. “There was a company I was interested in buying which included a Versalift distributorship. I was not really interested in that part of it, but the owner had passed and his wife would not sell it to me unless I took everything. I was experienced with truck mounted cranes as my father was an HMF dealer, so I thought it would be easy enough to pick up.”

Mr Torp’s initial efforts to engineer European ‘export options’ for the Versalift machines coming out of Time’s headquarters in Wheco, would lay the foundations for the company’s success outside of North America in the coming years. “We had a better idea about what was needed in Europe, so with small changes to controls, etcetera, the Versalift became more saleable in Europe.

“At that time machines were mainly sold into Norway, Belgium and England. And we became more like a sub-contractor for the company producing different items for the European market and supporting secondary distributors.” At that time mounting was carried out by the main distributor in each country.

Spreading out

“In 1991, I was asked to work exclusively for Versalift, and in 1992 I took it on full time and started building up a strong net of distributors across Europe. Also, at that time we started to look at mounting in fewer places and developing more items, like fly jibs.

Mr Torp is now responsible for Europe, Africa, Middle and Far East and Oceania.

“The unique concept with Versalift has been to mount on the van with the sub-frame up under rather than on the top. Everyone else came from the philosophy of putting a subframe on top of the chassis. I came without the old knowhow. I saw they had already had done an up under in 1978 in Wheco and redeveloped it for European vans.”

“We were not the first to put a lift on a van; that was Ruthmann, but it was a reverse articulated boom not a telescopic boom. Combine that with a fly jib and the idea that you could use a van mount with outriggers; it was a huge selling point. We then developed the walk in bucket; next was the walk through system.”

Such innovations have led to the company’s famed presence in Northern Europe, but there has been a steady rise in sales in other parts of the world, notably the Middle and Far East as well as Australia and of course interest in South America.

Versalift’s three new lines: the Heavy Duty, Medium Duty and Light Duty ranges, which have been developed over the last four years and recently completed with new products at Bauma, have been designed with the international marketplace in mind and its different requirements. The details of these machines have already been covered in the pages of AI, and cement Time’s reputation in the van mount sector.

However, the company is also making serious inroads into the truck mounted sector, with a particular interest in the 3.5 tonne truck category aimed at rental companies.

“We have never been known for producing these machines to rental companies. We decided five years ago to focus on rental and develop machines for the rental business.” It started with the light duty line for 3.5 tonne chassis, from 9 to 24 m. The company has just produced a prototype of the biggest in that line, the 24 m – more information about that will follow soon. Next will be a 22 m machine, followed by a final model in due course.

New trucks

The series will be completed in the next two years – specifically on 3.5 tonne chassis. “That’s a huge market in rental business. “We are already quite strong in the medium and heavy areas on chassis from 5 tonne and up but they are mainly going to end users; there are few rental companies buying in that area.

“We believe we can take a good market share in the 3.5 tonne area, except Italy, which is a very difficult country because it’s where you have most competitors, so it’s probably not where our focus will be as we have a very good distributor base elsewhere. My dream is that rental will be 40-50% of the business,” Says Mr Torp.

Currently, including France and the UK, rental stands at about 10% of company sales. “But we are very strong in UK, Ireland, France, Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, so we will take advantage of that strong distributor network, because they already sell equipment to rental sometimes through a second line of machines from one of our colleagues, like Ruthmann.” The company has a strong relationship with Ruthmann - the German truck mount manufacturer.

While the company will continue to concentrate on innovations for van mounts, Mr Per does not expect the van mount area of the business to grow a great deal. “We will be satisfied if we can keep it at the same level for the next few years. We spend a lot of time developing our vans but at the same time we have a strong focus in the 3.5 tonne chassis market and bigger chassis.”

The strength of the van mount market chops and changes from country to country and is also affected by other factors, such as the loss of the 7.5 tonne Mercedes Vario, which is not being produced anymore. The solution is to use a 7.5 ton chassis with a TIME Smartbox (van box). The benefit is that with the payload left over, you have a workshop in which you can stand inside and upright.”

Although, it should be remembered the 7.5 is a relatively small part of the overall market. “So now there are the 3.5 tonne or 5 tonne vans. That’s okay, but if you go back to our history in Europe, there have been years where 80-90% of what we sold were vans - that’s down now to about 50-60% across Europe. The vans business has not gone down; we have the same or more sales, but we have been growing in the chassis and pick-ups. The 3.5 tonne truck segment is still a huge market for developing new machines and a big market for the future.”

But Mr Torp does not think we will see taller machines than today, “In fact I think we will go down a bit. The 3.5 tonne gets heavier, because every time you go from one emission regulation to the next you add 30 to 60 kg, and as a manufacturer we have to take that weight out of our equipment. You can’t keep taking 60 kg off without also having to reduce the working height.”

Picking up

But it’s not just truck mounts that will tickle the interest of rental companies, according to Mr Torp pick-ups will be the next big thing.

The company produced its first pick-up about four years ago to test the market. Then last year another big step was made with the Versalift Quick Shift system, introduced at bauma last year.

Mr Torp had been approached by Volkswagen to produce a lift for its Amarok pick-up. At the same time he had been drawing up a new idea for the quick shift system which allows multiple attachments for different applications.

“Overall the rental business is looking for pick-ups with different sizes of lifts – I see a lot of opportunities for the future and to develop new products.”

So far, there are three models with booms designed specifically for pick-ups: 9, 11 and 14 m telescopic booms, “I don’t believe that on the telescopic side we will have taller machines than 14 m, but there will be other kinds of telescopic boom pick-ups in the future.”

The interest in the pick-up will be global, says Mr Torp. “It’s a matter of time for all countries; I don’t see any country that won’t be interested, because it’s a small compact 4 x 4, as they are mostly sold - so you can use them on rough terrain, for municipalities, rental companies, or in the backyard, parks and roads. Pick-ups could become as much as 20% of our business.”

The company has just opened a new 7000 square metre facility new facility. “Until a few years ago our main production and engineering was done in Wheco, Texas at our main factory, but we would extend the engineering we already had here in Wheco for the European market and build prototypes that would then go into production in Wheco.”

A few months ago the company also launched the VO-455E80 double lift elevator. Its assembly replaces a traditional pedestal and provides a 25 ft (7.6 m) or 33 ft (10 m) vertical lift. It consists of two arms and is actuated by two double acting cylinders.

Each arm can be actuated individually, allowing additional reach over the front or rear of the vehicle; 25 ft (3.6 m) or 33 ft (4.8 m).

Despite all these areas of growth Mr Torp remains focused on Versalift’s traditional van mount market. “We never want to lose the end user utilities customer for van mounts; that’s a core market.”

See this interveiw and much more in the AI January/February 2014 - out in the next few days.

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