A customised access solution delivered in just 90 days may seem a wild ambition but, that's just what Elliott Equipment aims to achieve.
Over the past few years order backlogs on access equipment have been suffered, endured and enjoyed: depending upon where you stand in the supply chain. But, if you ordered a piece of equipment from US company, Elliott Equipment, of Omaha Nebraska, you might have been pleasantly surprised. Jim Glazer, president of the company, says that the average waiting time for Elliott's truck mounted access platforms and cranes is just 120 to 180 days, and is more dependant on chassis availability than the Elliott components.
It might be tempting to attribute fast delivery times to a small order book; indeed demand for truck mounted access solutions was reputedly a little flat in 2007. However, Elliott Equipment's business increased last year and that was fed mostly by a twitchy North American home market. In addition many of the machines supplied are customised for specific applications.
In the present climate many manufacturing companies would be satisfied with this market position, but Elliott Equipment is pushing for more growth driven by enhanced design and manufacturing practices. By the second half of this year we can expect to see extensions to existing product lines, new products and delivery times as short as 90 days.
The process to achieve this ambitious target started late in 2006. The Elliott team began by carrying out a gap analysis in order to identify areas of the business and product range that needed to be addressed. They worked with the dealer channel and Elliott has subsequently set up a dealer council which provides a valuable stream of feedback from the market.
"We knew that Elliott was renowned for customised machines," says Mr Glazer, "so why not have a group that looks at customising solutions. Our ‘Engineered Solutions Group' is led by a veteran in the industry, and drives new opportunities from some of the dealer council and customers' input. We set about identifying three key market areas for which we already customise machines and now we are developing specific product lines for these areas."
Tantalisingly Elliott Equipment is not prepared to reveal at which market areas these products will be aimed but, that is very much their style. "Our experience has taught us to keep things quiet as we develop our position and products: to adopt a stealth approach to marketing,"
"When we are happy with the product and have developed it to a stage that is mature we will show it to some customers and dealers for their feedback. Based on their response we may adjust the product then send it into the field for testing. Further feedback might lead to more changes so it could commonly be the third prototype that makes it into production. But at least you're sure it's right."
Elliott's reputation for customisation has required a strong R&D (research and development) team that know how to interpret customers' wish lists but, in order to fulfil the objective of driving as much value into the product as possible, marketing and R&D have to work even more closely together. "Elliot has always had a very active R&D department," says Mr Glazer, "In fact it's key, but R&D and marketing have never been so connected."
When it comes to manufacturing the product Jim Glazer also has a strategy in which the team approach with operations plays a principal part.
With a new emphasis on operations since the beginning of the year, and a focus on lean manufacturing taken from the world of automotive component production as well as six sigma disciplines, Mr Gazer believes the Elliott team is well set to achieve its goals. Within three months the operations team, were able to address areas in the production process where improvements could be made quickly and was able to bring about a dramatic boost to weekly output. Clearly the hopes of achieving a 90 day lead time are embedded in process-based initiatives.
One of the biggest obstacles to export, when your product is a truck mount is that engine regulations are different all over the world and fuel specifications vary from region to region. The differences in customers' emissions regulation requirements have led Elliott to develop their HiReach platforms and BoomTrucks in close co operation with the chassis manufacturers in the USA.
"You can't simply take a truck from stock, like you used to," says Mr Glazer, "You have to find out where it's going first, and where and how it will be used."
These factors together with the fact that Western Europe is already well served by its home manufacturers makes it a less appealing target market to the company. But, with new products and manufacturing practices in the pipeline, Elliott is looking to increase exports in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Australasia, SE Asia and South Africa.
As president, Mr Glazer is typically enigmatic about the precise nature of the future activities at Elliott but he will admit to having an aggressive five year plan based on organic growth in the Americas and international growth. He is not prepared to say how much of Elliott's future custom will be abroad but he does agree that North America is already a mature market.
Mr Glazer also hints that some growth this year might be accomplished by acquisition or joint ventures with other access and material handling equipment manufacturers.
As the company's plans come to fruition Elliott Equipment Company expects to be well placed to take advantage of the global growth in aerial equipment use with a range of targeted products and the ability to react quickly to demand.