New plant, new plan19 March 2018
Sotiris Kanaris visited the new facility of pick and carry crane manufacturer Manitex Valla in Cortemaggiore, Italy and learned about its growth strategies and product development.
Valla was, in 2013, one of a series of acquisitions in Italy by US boom truck manufacturer Manitex. As well as the pick and carry crane builder, these included loader crane manufacturer PM and aerial work platform brand Oil & Steel, in 2014, and port equipment company CVS Ferrari, acquired in 2010.
At the end of 2016, Manitex sold CVS Ferrari, with which Valla had shared a production facility in Roveleto Di Cadeo, requiring the pick and carry firm to find a new factory. Last February, the company moved to Cortemaggiore, 10km away.
Luigi Fucili, CEO of Manitex Valla, says this location was chosen because most of the employees and suppliers are based in the area. He highlights how important it was for the company to keep its experienced team members, as their knowledge of the product is extremely valuable.
Since the acquisition by Manitex in 2013, Valla’s team expanded with highly qualified technicians, and product development and operations manager Cristian Falceri joined from fellow company Oil and Steel.
Apart from the sharing of talent and knowledge, Fucili says the acquisition has contributed to the sales growth in markets where many people are unfamiliar with pick and carry machines.
He explains that for the North American market, being part of a reputable local brand gives people confidence towards the product.
A sales team has been developed in the region, whose task is not only to promote Valla as a brand, but most importantly to explain the benefits of the pick and carry concept.
“In many countries, especially in the USA, we have to sell the application; the possibility for one of our cranes to do a job that wouldn’t possibly be done with a product the locals use,” says Fucili.
In addition, through the sales network of fellow Manitex-owned truck mounted crane manufacturer PM, Valla saw a sales boost in South America. The company is growing in the Far East, particularly in South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong.
The expansion of business in these markets shows the potential for Valla as well as the pick and carry sector overall. At the moment it is a very niche market, with sales across all brands globally estimated at around $50m per annum. These machines are most popular in Europe, where they can be found in factories, marinas and construction sites.
The automotive industry is a big customer for Valla, with some of its models used at the Fiat, Renault and Groupe PSA’s plants. The cranes’ compactness and flexibility have been appreciated by major manufacturers across different fields.
Falceri says manufacturers are very demanding, looking for robust products in order to ensure downtime is as minimal as possible.
He says for Valla the quality of the products is proven by their life of approximately 40-45 years and by the fact that they have never been involved in an accident.
Last September Valla received ISO 9001:2015 accreditation; as an Italian manufacturer, its products comply with the European machinery directive.
Valla has seen an increase in sales in Europe, especially Eastern Europe (Czech Republic, Poland, Russia), Germany, France and Italy, the latter because of a government incentive called super-amortisation.
“If you invest in a new machine the government gives you back 30 or 40% of the value of your product in 4-5 years,” says Andrea Rossini, service and sales support manager.
Rossini says in Italy the most popular models are small cranes like the 25E and big cranes like the 400E. In the last two years, Valla has introduced the 18E, 1725-36/SD, 160S, 220S and 250E cranes.
“The 18E is the natural evolution of the 25E which is a small pick and carry, it is the best seller in the US especially for glass façade installations and building construction. The 18E is the 25E with the wheel base reduced 30mm, which is important for customers with space limitations,” says Rossini.
The 1725-36/SD is the new generation of the carry deck crane launched in 1993. It has a maximum capacity of 16t. Valla says this model has been popular with military units for aircraft maintenance and ground movement of drones.
Seeing competitors launching products in the 25t category, Valla decided to renew its offering in this category with the introduction of the 250E. It has a four-element boom, with synchronized telescopic movements, and a working radius of almost 11m. Compared to the previous model it is much more compact and the cabin is altered.
“The 250E is especially suitable for moving industrial components such as presses. This crane was designed to be frequently moved, it can be loaded on a low bed trailer without counterweights and without the two batteries which can be easily removed by a forklift. Its weight is less than 25t which is important for the German market,” says Rossini.
These models are part of a series of product renewals, according to Fucili. “We are not working on one specific model, we want to renew the whole range of products, sharing as many components as possible. Being able to standardise some components makes the machines easier to produce and the production process more cost-efficient.”
The Valla CEO talks about customers requesting refurbishments on 20-year-old cranes which were customized at the time, and how difficult it is to do that. “We have people that are skilled at this, but it is not an easy job,” says Fucili. With the standardisation of components, this issue can be resolved.
The company is also planning on using steel with higher yield strength for its booms in the future, to boost capacity. In addition, it is planning on improving the efficiency of the hydraulic system and the batteries even further.
Seeing the trend towards fleet management, Valla now offers the Cobo Intouch system as an additional feature, which can also be retrofitted. The Intouch system consists of an electronic control unit equipped with GPRS and, optionally, a GPS system, offering a bidirectional connection between the cranes and an online portal.
Customers willing to subscribe for this service receive automatic alerts if a system failure is detected.
“It also allows the fleet manager to continuously monitor the status of the cranes— the hours, what the crane is doing, where it is,” says Falceri.
In November, Valla delivered a carry deck crane to Dubai, which had the Cobo Intouch system incorporated.
With product and technological upgrades as well as the expansion of sales in ‘non-traditional’ markets, at Valla they look at the future with optimism.