Jost steps up a gear with latest designs5 December 2007
Jost Cranes has innovative designs and experienced partners, but above all it has the imagination of Franc Jost. Phil Bishop reports
When Jost Cranes GmbH made its debut at the 2001 Bauma Fair in Germany, this small start-up company attracted considerable curiosity. The man behind the company, German engineer Franc Jost, had already had a long career designing tower cranes for Peiner, BKT and Comedil, notably topless and luffing jib cranes. Having helped with early Comedil topless models in the 1990s, Jost was an enthusiastic advocate of their simplicity of erection.
After that first public showing, it proved to be a slow start for Jost Cranes. This may have been partly because crane buyers prefer to stick with brands they know, since a crane represents a big investment. Probably more significant, however, was the state of the global crane market: heading downwards, making life even tougher for new entrants.
Fast forward a few years, however, and 2007 was the year that Jost Cranes finally began to make its mark on the industry. Approximately 130 Jost cranes were produced and shipped in 2007.
Jost and his distributors have certainly been aided by strong global demand that has made lead times unacceptably long for all but a minority of competitors (notably Comansa, which thanks to new production capacity was able to quote lead times in weeks rather than months throughout 2007). However, more significant has been the design of his innovative JTL (Jost Topless Luffing) series, designed specifically to meet the needs of the UK market.
“The most important advantage is its high out-of-service jib condition,” Franc Jost says of the JTL series. Unlike conventional luffing cranes that have a second winch to raise the jib using wire rope, Jost’s topless luffers use a hydraulic cylinder under the jib, similar to a mobile crane, which enables them to raise the jib to near vertical. The ability to park the jib at close to zero radius is a very attractive feature in the UK because of air rights regulations controlling the over sailing of neighbouring property, which is a significant issue on congested city sites. (See also Cranes Today January 2006 pp16-20).
In 2007 Jost sold approximately 40 units of the JTL series to the UK, a territory represented by Machine Trading International (MTI), headed by Reinhold Bräuner with his daughter Christine. Like Jost, Bräuner is an industry veteran, with a career at Peiner and Liebherr behind him.
“We could sell double what we are, if we had the manufacturing capacity,” Bräuner says. “I don’t see any end in the next two or three years for crane demand.” UK customers include rental companies WD Bennett, City Lifting and Falcon Crane as well as contractors McCarthy & Stone and Lancsville.
Jost’s biggest customer is the UK rental company London Tower Cranes, which took its first unit from Jost in 2004 and now has 43 of them, says Franc Jost. The special relationship was cemented in 2006 when London Tower Cranes was given distributor status, in competition with MTI in the UK.
Most of the JTL models built to date are the JTL 108.6 (1.6t at 45m jib end) and JTL 158.6 (2.4t at 50m). In September 2007, Jost shipped the first two of a new smaller model, the JTL 68.4 (1.5t at 40m). In each case, the maximum capacity of the cranes is indicated by the number after the point. Thus the 108.6 lifts a maximum of 6t.
Jost’s hydraulic luffing cranes are smaller than his conventional rope luffers not because the design is unsuitable to larger cranes, he says, but simply because ‘we need to gain experience and take it step by step’. He recalls when BKT started designing topless cranes in 1989, 1.5t capacity at 40m jib-end and then 1.6t at 50m were considered big cranes at the time. “Now there are 700tm topless cranes,” he points out. Jost says he plans to introduce a larger 200tm model in 2008, the JTL 208 with 55m jib. A 300tm unit may follow after that.
Jost also makes a range of luffers with conventional designs with lifting capacities from 200tm to 350tm, including a new JL 416.24 (5.1t at 60m), two models of which were shipped to London Tower Cranes in September to work on St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. An even larger rope luffing crane, the top-of-the-range JL 616.32 (9.1t at 60m), has been designed and enters production in 2008. A total of 17 JT (Jost Topless) hammerhead flat-top series cranes have been sold in the UK, or exported to Australia, South Korea or Dubai.
Today, all genuine Jost cranes are manufactured at one of three locations in Europe to whom all manufacturing is subcontracted. In Arneburg, Germany, in the factory where BKT cranes used to be made, AMS produces smaller luffing jib cranes under subcontract. AMS was acquired by Potain in 1998 when it acquired the intellectual property of BKT out of receivership, but Potain later sold the factory back to its management. As well as producing cranes for Jost, AMS still produces BKT-designed models for Potain, which is by far the larger part of its workload.
There is a second subcontractor in Slovenia, which makes the larger JT topless hammerhead models. With UK demand rising for the JTL hydraulic luffers, some of the bigger JL models are also now being made in Slovenia to allow AMS the capacity to make more JTLs.
In addition, there is Jost Cranes BV, a Dutch company owned by the Van Zitteren family’s Kranenbouw, a leading rental company. When managing director Edwin van Zitteren began talking to Franc Jost, the original plan was to create a joint venture but in the end Jost Cranes BV remained wholly-owned by Kranenbouw, manufacturing Jost Cranes under licence and distributing Jost cranes in the Benelux region. The initial licence runs from 2007 to 2009 and covers six JT models initially, says Franc Jost, although he added that there are already discussions to add further models to the licence.
Jost Cranes BV started out assembling cranes shipped from Slovenia and by the end of 2007 had sold in the region of 30 units, mostly the mid-range JT 312.12 and JT 352.12, although later in the year it began selling the JT 212.12 as well as the smaller models from the JT series.
In 2008, its own production is likely to gather pace and it plans to manufacture 30 units by itself. It also plans to begin crane production in the UAE, says Frank Crombé, who looks after the Dutch firm’s sales. Crombé is another tower crane veteran, with nearly 30 years’ experience with Potain, Peiner and Arcomet.
Under the manufacturing licence, Jost Cranes BV is obligated to purchase components specific to the design, notably the cabin and the slew ring, from Jost Cranes GmbH. It is free to source all generic components where it wants. This way, Jost Cranes GmbH can retain a degree of control of production.
With all production outsourced, Jost Cranes GmbH is actually little more than a design office. There are just three employees: Franc Jost himself, now aged 69, and his sons Alexander and Andre. Both sons are new to the crane industry. Alexander previously worked in computers, for Intel, and is now taking an increasingly important role in the company. Andre is an accountant and has only recently joined his father’s business.
Asked if he aspires to owning his own production facilities, Franc Jost says, “We talk a lot about changing the company structure”. But having experienced the collapse of the market from 1997 to 2003, it would be “a big risk” he says, to build up the company in that way.
It was only a few years ago that an initiative to manufacture in China failed. In 2001, Jost Maschinenbau Sdn Bhd, a Malaysian company owned and managed by former BKT dealers and early backers of Jost, set up manufacturing in China. Over the next three years, the firm produced about six units in China, before the venture was dropped. “We pulled out of China because the production was not strong enough and the financial support was not strong enough,” Jost explains.
Jost says that his manufacturing partners have all the necessary welding engineer inspectors and ISO certifications to ensure production quality, and he himself is active in checking cranes.
The lack of the kind of extensive service network that major competitors have is not seen as an issue by Reinhold Bräuner. “98% of problems can be solved by phone and laptop,” he says.
Crombé points out that BKT was a team of just half a dozen people and also outsourced everything. That company only failed, he says, because it was over-reliant on a single customer in Germany, Zeppelin, which collapsed. This was followed by the collapse of the market in Southeast Asia, BKT’s main export market.
Perhaps Jost's biggest asset is the hard-working Franc Jost himself. Despite his age, Jost has no plans to retire. “I am already retired but I cannot use this time,” he says. “I am a working guy. I like to work. I enjoy designing. It is not only my work but also my hobby.”
Among planned new products is a crane for dismantling tower cranes, like a derrick crane. “I have a lot of new ideas to make new cranes and I will do it,” he says.