Interview: Emerging in Iran

By Euan Youdale06 December 2016

Meysam Abnoozadeh, managing director of Iran’s Balan Sanat

Meysam Abnoozadeh, managing director of Iran’s Balan Sanat

Meysam Abnoozadeh, managing director of Iran’s biggest AWP manufacturer, explains the potential and pitfalls of working in the country to Euan Youdale.

There are but a few aerial work platform manufacturing companies in Iran, although it will be news to some in the worldwide industry that there any at all.

One of the biggest is Balan Sanat, which specialises in vertical masts, while the other Lajvar, concentrates on truck mounts. Between the pair, they represent most of the Iranian AWP market; however, as with so many ‘young’ nations when it comes to powered access, the situation is set to change, as booms and scissors make themselves known.

There are as few as 200 scissors and booms in Iran right now but if Balan Sanat has anything to do with it, that figure will increase exponentially as potential users become wise to their benefits.

Meysam Abnoozadeh is managing director of the family business, founded by his father in 1985 in the city of Shiraz – the sixth most populated in the country - and realised a need for vertical masts for a whole range of maintenance work, both inside and out. It is a pattern in line with other fledging AWP markets; for example China, where vertical mast producer Sivge was the first to make headway in the country in the early 2000’s, when the only other units of note were a few big booms in dockyards.

“Nowadays, there are so many people who want more technical products and new products in powered access, for example boom and scissor lifts, and I think a very good market is going to appear in Iran in the near future,” says Mr Abnoozadeh.

Balan Sanat’s facility covers 32000 square metres, with the factory taking up 12000 square metres. It produces 100 models across four product series’, those being Personal lifts, Stationary lifts, Industrial ladders and Cargo lifts. All products are produced in accordance with ISO9001-2015 and the plan is to gain the CE Mark in the near future.

Broad range

The major part of the range is push-around aluminium products. They range from a single-mast product with a working height of 11m and 130kg capacity; to a 14m double mast model with 200kg capacity and a four-mast, 20m working height version, with 250kg capacity.

Beyond the domestic market, Balan exports to a number of countries, such as UAE, Qatar, Oman, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Turkey, Georgia, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and North Africa, although exports are small in numbers.

It has sold an impressive 30000 units in Iran, and this year will have despatched around 2000 units. “We are well known in our country and most people call us when they need lifts,” says Mr Abnoozadeh, “There are three or four other companies in the AWP category but they are not major concerns.”

As he explains, the requirements for vertical masts will remain but the need for other types of access equipment is on the horizon and has the potential to substantially overtake masts.

“It is very interesting in Iran right now. The situation has changed due to major construction and other projects, so many people will want these machines.

“Following the lifting of the international sanctions on Iran about a year ago, the income of Iran has significantly risen and so many projects have started, specifically in the fields of tourism, oil & gas, transportation, industry and so on,” says Mr Abnoozadeh.

Major new construction projects include the Iran Mall and the Imam Khomani International Airport, both in Tehran, along with Foolad Football Club (FC) stadium in Ahvaz, and an airport in the same city. Another example is a cable-stayed bridge in Shiraz.

The previously mentioned truck mounts, produced by Lajvar are by far the dominant form of powered access equipment found in outdoor use. Mr Abnoozadeh is unsure of the numbers produced by the company each year, “But,” he says, “It must be a considerable amount because their products can be seen in many areas and cities of Iran.”

Lajvar’s smallest machine is an 11m model, with a 150kg basket capacity, while the biggest has a 26m working height and a 250kg capacity. They are used for power grid maintenance, as might be expected, but they are also seen in a range of general applications for which booms and scissors are commonly known for.

Changing minds

“Many people have never seen something like a scissor lift or an articulated boom lift,” confirms Mr Abnoozadeh. “There not very many, about 100 each of booms and scissors, most of which are Haulotte. People here do not have enough information about the wide range of access platforms available, they just know about truck mounts. But we want to change this by distributing more products in the future.”

Balan Sanat’s aim is to become a major distributor of a range of self propelled brands and Mr Abnoozadeh says he is in communication with a number of well-established manufacturers, based in Europe and China, with the hope of striking a deal. His interest lies in all product types, including truck and van mounts, as well as tracked platforms.

“I think spiders will be very popular in Iran because they can be driven through doors and are good for maintenance inside hotels and malls,” and, as Mr Abnoozadeh points out, they are often used in the types of applications that are carried out with the products that Balan Sanat already produces. “I already have some requests from Iranian companies for Spiders; they see the benefits and they want them.”

Mr Abnoozadeh plans to visit APEX, taking place in Amsterdam in May next year. “I think it will be a great place to expand our business with international companies.”

At the moment, much of the outside working at height is carried out using old scaffolding. “We see scaffolding that is very old and with very low safety standards, and that is very hard to assemble. It is also very heavy and difficult to transport. I think aluminium scaffolding would be very popular but no one works with it at the moment.”

Political challenges

For the future, Balan Sanat’s three main areas of interest are AWPs, scaffolding and mast climbers. “We plan to introduce all these categories in Iran. There is such an opportunity to expand all these types.”

The problems in acceptance of powered access in Iran are the same as those shared with many new access nations. Firstly, the cost of powered access, in terms of unit price, compared to other less expensive options. “People do not accept the concept and value. They are shocked at the price. But after that they will realise it is good for them, that they will save money and we can show them the advantages of using these machines.”

Mr Abnoozadeh believes his company could sell about 30 scissor lifts and 20 self propelled boom lifts in Iran during the first full year of setting up as a supplier.

Other challenges can be found in Iran’s political landscape. Sanctions have been placed on the country for many years. But in July 2015 a United Nations Security Council Resolution set out a schedule for suspending and eventually lifting UN sanctions.

“It was a political sanction, very important and there were big problems. But these matters are solved.”

Mr Abnoozadeh explains that working with US-based companies is still difficult. “We can’t import any products from America, as the American government forbids it but there is no problem with Europe.”

There is also great potential to grow the rental sector in Iran. “We do have rental companies in Iran but they are concentrated in general construction, for example loaders, graders, paving machine, but no one works with powered access. It’s another goal for our company to start this business in Iran.”

There is a major problem, however, with the rental plan. “We cannot import used machines to Iran, as it is prohibited by our government – we can only buy new machines. And, I think, for the rental business at this stage it would work better to import used equipment’ it’s more economical.”

Unfortunately, there is no immediate solution to the issue in sight. “I don’t know what will happen with this. But, through some discussion with our government, we might manage to do it in the future. We are working on a way to solve it.”

Even importing new models has its difficulties. “If you want to import a lift you must pay 20% import duties. But I think this will decrease to around 7%.” The Iranian government hopes to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the next 18 months, which will mean import duties would have to decrease to a maximum 7%, says Mr Abnoozadeh.

Then there is the matter of Iran’s safety culture. “To be frank,” concedes Mr Abnoozadeh, “Safety is not big in Iran and there are not any serious laws and regulations in Iran which forces workers to use powered access. But, I guess, we could try and encourage the government to set some safety regulations.”

In Iran, the cost of labour is on the rise by 30% to 35%, which is always a good sign for the potential development of powered access. “I think it could be a reason for using powered access more,” concludes Mr Abnoozadeh.

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