Looking west

8 August 2019

Turkish manufacturers have for a long time built high capacity, rear axle mounted, knucklebooms for domestic and global customers. Now one, Hidrokon, is looking to the EU as it develops fully-foldable cranes. Will North joined dealers Hidrokon Europe as they visited the company.

I visited Hidrokon's Konya home with Morten Stegemejer and Michael Mortensen, CEO and COO respectively at Hidrokon Europe, the company's newly formed European distributor, and Barry Chester, Hidrokon Europe's UK sales director. Along with customers, we were shown around the company's factory and yard.

The company takes pride in the investments it has made in its manufacturing. As well as heavy structural components, all of the steel hydraulic parts used in its cranes are manufactured in-house. To finish components to the high tolerances needed, three modern milling machines are used. Up to 80% of parts on each machine are robotwelded in house, making use of $1m dollar welding machines, or by the company's skilled welders.

As well as 'classic' high capacity Turkish knucklebooms, mounted on the rear axle and laid over the back of the crane, and aerial work platforms, the company offers straight boom truck mounted cranes up to 60t capacity, and is now developing fullyfoldable knucklebooms, and a 100t all terrain.

After the tour, I sat down with the company founder and chairman, Memis Kutukcu. Kutukcu founded the company with a colleague and friend in 1993: while his co-owner focused on production, Kutukcu concentrated on marketing and sales.

At the start, Kutukcu says, Hidrokon's products were 'drawn with his own pen', on a traditional draughtsman's table. At the same time, knucklebooms were a new technology, known in Turkey, as in much of the world, as 'Hiabs'. When Turkish customers came asking for a 5t 'Hiab', Kutukcu spotted a gap in the market.

Inititally, there was so much unmet local demand, 100% of the company's production was sold domestically. But, over the years, and particularly in the last 12 years, the company has built exports, and, correspondingly, raised quality levels to global standards.

Big export markets include the 'young Turkish republics' of Central Asia, as well as Eastern European countries, and nearby countries like Israel and Syria. From Syria, Kutukcu says, Hidrokon would once see orders of 15 units at a time.

Syria has fallen into chaos, and over the last two years Turkey's domestic market has faltered. Where the company had seen 85% of cranes sold domestically, it in 2019 set a target of 35% exports. This, Kutukcu says, it is on track to meet.

This change, in part, prompted the decision to look to enter the EU. But this, Esat Kutukcu, Memis's son and Hidrokon's marketing executive, notes, is only part of the reason. By setting itself this goal, Hidrokon would verify the quality of its design and production. Already, all components comply with EU standards.

Esat Kutukcu says, "If you don’t export, you look only to domestic competitors. When you open to global markets, you need to compete with global companies. And that is not possible just with products: aftersales services become critical."

It's here that Stegemejer and Mortensen come in. Working with Danish hydraulic component supplier Nortek, and a network of ten service companies, they have built up robust aftersales support. At the same time, they have brought customers to Konya to offer feedback on the cranes.

One of the big issues for the Turkish 'classic' cranes is weight distribution. While local regulations only consider gross vehicle weight, in EU countries, weight per axle is key. So, in the last year, the company has developed its fully-foldable knucklebooms, and is working to reduce the weight of its classic cranes: working with German engineering partners, the cranes are, in Stegemejer's words, being 'put on a diet'. One—some might think unfair—obstacle to making the cranes roadable is that, as Chester points out, regulations like the UK's STGO offer leeway on axle weights for cranes with a purpose built carrier, but not to those mounted on a commercial carrier.

At the same time as developing lighter 'classic' Turkish knucklebooms and fully foldable cranes, the company is developing a new all terrain. Memis Kutukcu explains that, with telescopic truck-mounted cranes up to 60t already in Hidrokon's range, it made sense to enter a new class, 100t, with the all terrain. Testing and certification has, he says, taken longer than design and production of the first prototype: for example, brake testing required taking the crane to Spain. Now that the fouraxle AT 4100 is ready, the company plans a five-axle, 160t, model.

Hidrokon gave a detailed demonstration of two of its cranes.
One of Hidrokon's cranes ready for delivery to a customer in Israel
Preparing one of Hidrokon's three milling machines for its next job.
Two Hidrokon technicians demonstrate the jib removal process on one of its high capacity knucklebooms