10 April 2008

Ken McDougall, group president of Skyjack.

Ken McDougall, group president of Skyjack.

Skyjack has been talking about being a full-line aerial platform producer for some years, and there is no doubting the seriousness of the project. It's just that, for Ken McDougall, it can't happen quickly enough.

The development of the new 40 and 45 telescopic booms “took too long for my liking”, he tells Access International, speaking in the board room of Skyjack's Guelph head office, “Our biggest priority is product development – we need to get a full line of designs.”

Mr McDougall joined Skyjack from its parent company Linamar just five months before the last APEX exhibition in 2005, and is now group president of Linamar's industrial division, which includes Skyjack, and is running the business alongside Lloyd Spalding, Skyjack president, before Mr Spalding's retirement at the end of February.

He has a clear strategy to increase the pace of product development. The in-house engineering team has increased by 30% over the past year, and there are now four separate product design teams focusing on both the new boom products planned and extensions and updates to its core scissor range.

“I want two new products a year”, he says, and he means two families rather than two models. So, for example, he counts as a single product the two new 61 ft and 66 ft telescopics that will be launched at the Rental Show in February.

Also on the cards on the boom side are 45 ft articulated models (slated for the first quarter of 2009), a 60 ft articulated and 60 and 80 ft telescopic models as well as 35 ft and 45 ft narrow articulated booms.

The design team will also be strengthened by a new Skyjack technical development centre in Guelph, construction of which – aided by government grants – will start next year. Meanwhile, David Hill, the English ex-Grove design engineer and current Skyjack European product manager, now assumes global product development responsibility and will report directly to Mr McDougall.

More than booms

The activity on the booms is, of course, just one piece of the product development pie: the company now has telehandlers following its acquisition of Carelift (see box story), and it continues to develop its scissor lifts, including a new 9242 rough terrain model, a scissor that will have the same 24 ft long dual-deck platform as the 9250 but on a 41-42 ft scissor stack (see our scissor feature in the January-February issue of AI).

If the push is on to develop new products, almost equally important is developments in the company's European business, especially since it is the European and wider international market that are growing so dramatically just as North American demand starts to level off. “North America is going to soften, and we want to be more global”, says Mr McDougall.

One aim is to increase the volume and range of production at Linamar's Hungarian facility where the small 3220 and 3226 electric scissors have been made for several years. “We're focusing on the electrics”, says Mr McDougall, “we'll have the full line of electric scissors [made in Hungary] by the end of next year [2008].” The 46 range will be next to arrive, followed by the 19s.

These Hungarian produced models will also now be what he calls “soft metric”, which means that – unlike the first scissors – will be interchangeable with North American product. It will be 2009 before Hungarian production of rough terrain scissors will start. What about booms in Hungary? There is no commitment from Mr McDougall, only the comment that “ideally you produce for the market in the market.”

Plans for Europe

Other developments in Europe include continued efforts to expand sales outside of the UK, where Skyjack has historically and currently performed very well. Skyjack UK's Charlie Patterson is soon to get some help with the appointment of Alan Dengo as European business development manager. Mr Dengo was formerly Skyjack's inside sales and credit manager.

One of the priorities here will be to secure a German facility. Earlier this year it also acquired Nordic Lift (NC-Lift), its Swedish distributor. “We're still very UK based”, acknowledges Mr McDougall, “The NC purchase is a start.”

The elevation of a Linamar employee to the top job at Skyjack is another sign of the close involvement that the owner is taking in the Skyjack business. Linamar, a C$2.3 billion (US$2.35 billion), global automotive component manufacturer, is prepared to invest to make Skyjack one of the big-league access manufacturers, and also brings expertise in manufacturing and purchasing.

Skyjack is already benefiting in ways other than simple investment. Linamar supplies Skyjack's hydraulic cylinders, its rough terrain axles and, soon, its hydraulic manifolds. This gives Skyjack security of supply in important components as well as good visibility on its production costs.

Linamar will be looking for a healthy return on its investment, of course. Despite what Ken McDougall says about the US market – he reckons that any softening will “not be big” – he says Skyjack is on track to expand; “We're targeting 15-20% every year, and I think we'll do that this year and next.”

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