Having taken over as head of Alimak Hek Manufacturing, Frank Klessens talks to Maria Hadlow about the benefits of bringing manufacture and rental under one umbrella.
Frank Klessens joined Alimak Hek (Hek at the time) in 1994 as financial controller, prior to that he had worked at accountancy firm Ernst & Young. In his role at Ernst & Young he'd had dealings with Hek and found his interest sparked by the business, the product and the market. "As an accountant," he said, "you are always looking backwards. This gave me a chance to look forward and make decisions based on moving the business forward."
After 15 years Mr Klessens is still enthusiastic, and his new role as head of Alimak Hek Manufacturing has given him a new set of challenges which he is vigorously addressing.
Already running Alimak Hek's rental business worldwide, Mr Klessens took over Alimak Hek Manufacturing earlier in the year when Ernst van Hek left the company due to personal reasons.
Under Mr Klessens, Alimak Hek Manufacturing and Alimak Hek BV (the Benelux rental business) are combining into one company and the teams are identifying where the synergy between them can be beneficial to the company and its customers.
Alimak Hek BV moved into the purpose built Waalwijk facility in 2000 when it outgrew the manufacturing facility at Middelbeers.
At the Waalwijk facility there is a lot of outside space for storing equipment, loading and unloading. The carrier units are pre-assembled in the workshop to save time on-site and to insure that no parts are missing and everything is in working order.
Transportation of the bulky platforms might have been a problem but Alimak Hek BV has worked closely with a transport company which has invested in the necessary equipment to load and unload the platforms. The transport drivers have also been trained in some elements of installation so can help on-site if necessary, "It is a very productive arrangement," says Mr Klessens.
The downside of the rental operation moving away from manufacturing and R&D was a certain amount of duplicated effort and less communication between the divisions. Already Mr Klessens has made big steps towards bridging the gaps.
Independent of Alimak Hek Manufacturing, the rental division had been developing its own accessories for jobs such as special fencing or deck extensions. In the last three months Alimak Hek's rental organisations have been working with R&D to identify a standard range of accessories which will satisfy all their needs and can then be made available to all Alimak Hek's customer base.
"Feedback from our rental operations is an invaluable resource for our manufacturing division," says Mr Klessens.
When the accessories range is ready Mr Klessens believes that Alimak Hek's modular range of mastclimbing equipment - also developed with a great deal of input from the rental businesses - will be the most complete in the market.
The modular system MCM has been designed with relatively few basic components, "Half the number as other systems," said Mr Klessens. Using the same drive unit, mast and three adapters, a wide range of mast climbing work platforms and transport platforms can be configured from a basic set.
The modular range of work platforms was launched in the second half of 2007. It will eventually come in three sizes: light L350 (for use on masts with 350 mm by 350 mm cross section; medium M-450 (450 mm by 450 mm) and; heavy H650 (650 mm by 650 mm).
The heavy range has been held in abeyance partly, says Mr Klessens, because Alimak Hek wants to be sure that the medium range is complete before they start work on the heavy range and also due to the downturn in the economy.
However, the development of a "modular controller" can enable users to get even more out of their mast climber - taking the medium range into the realm of the heavy-weight.
Alimak Hek has identified a number of parameters which affect a user's choice of mast climber: payload, speed, total height, height above top anchor, for example. Within limits, the new controller will allow the user to select, say a higher payload than is specified for a particular mast climber. The other parameters such as maximum height and speed will automatically adjust to accommodate the greater weight.
The controller has pre-determined combinations of operating parameters from which to choose, "The controller makes the MCM range even more flexible," says Mr Klessens. "Around 25% of units sold now have the new controller."
While Alimak Hek's rental market is "Quite OK: utilization is around 60%," says Mr Klessens (see box), new sales are down 70%. "I expect some recovery in 2010," he says, "or at least no further drop."
"But when the market does pick up there will be additional business from the work we are doing now."
Alimak Hek's used equipment business, however, is doing well amounting to around 300 units a year. The company has a dedicated department for used equipment ,where units are bought back or sometimes taken as part of a trade-in. Equipment is refurbished to "as new" standard and, says Mr Klessens, "Its sale helps us enter new global markets." Alimak likes to keep as much control over used equipment as possible so that it can be sure of the quality going into the market.
Mr Klessens admits to being slightly surprised that even in the current tough market conditions Alimak Hek is selling and renting equipment, "Customers are still looking for the best solution. Price is a dominant consideration but the total package is important."
To provide customers with the best package is the driving force in an innovative project between Alimak Hek and LSB Group, a traditional scaffolding business based in Geleen, South Netherlands.
The companies' collaborative work is based on the premise that sometimes the most cost effective access solution is a combination of mast climbers and traditional scaffolding. The companies have been working together since March and training employees on both sides about the strengths and drawbacks of their respective projects. The intended outcome is that future quotes from Alimak Hek BV and LSB will include both mast climbers and scaffolding if that is the most economic and appropriate solution.
At the time of Access International's visit to Waalwijk, Alimak Hek BV and LSB were working on their first joint project - we hope to bring you more news of this later.
Just a few months into his new job and enjoying spending a little less time travelling Mr Klessens still has work ahead, "The biggest challenge is to bring the business together and get the maximum out of the market," he says.
Having chosen not to attend Intermat, Mr Klessens is looking forward to Bauma next year, "We are attending in force," he says, and with so many projects coming to fruition the Alimak Hek stand must be worth a visit.