Ready for another record

20 August 2018

Sotiris Kanaris visits Danish loader crane manufacturer HMF in Aarhus and interviews CEO Brian Stage and regional export manager Keld Frank Jensen

Earlier this year, HMF changed ownership, as the two sons of the founder Arne Bundgaard Jensen sold 30% and donated the rest of the shares to the Bundgaard Foundation.

“The company is now 100% owned by the trust fund, which has the values of the founder, to invest in HMF and donate money into medical centres in the area,” says CEO Brian Stage.

The manufacturer has been experiencing a strong growth every year since 2011, achieving record revenue last year. Stage comments: “In 2017 we announced the best result ever in the business; our revenue exceeded £120m with two digit EBITDA, and a strong order backlog.”

In order to meet the increased demand for its products, the manufacturer has invested heavily to automate its production line. Some examples of this transformation include a fully automated welding facility, a welding robot, and a recent order for a fully automatic pipe bending machine.

“We are investing a lot to reduce lead times but also for scalability, we want to have a manufacturing line or supply chain that we can scale up and down,” says Stage. “We have invested both in machinery and people. We have added a number of engineers across the different divisions. We are not only working to develop the mechanical part of cranes but also the electrical and software parts.”

At HMF they recognise the shortage of welders and blacksmiths, so they are investing in a training facility with robots and working areas for apprentices.

The skills of existing stuff are enhanced, with a welding academy and courses for mechanical engineers on hydraulics and trouble shooting.

The research and development team, mechanical engineers, project managers, software engineers and assembly line staff are all under the same roof, at the Aarhus facility which has been the home of HMF since the late 50s.

“Years back there was a lot of outsourcing of manufacturing capabilities, but a lot of companies realised that you have to have engineers working close to each other. Having everything under the same roof is beneficial for quality control and product development,” says Stage.

Apart from this site, HMF has vehicle body building facilities in Denmark and wholly-owned subsidiaries in the UK, Germany and Norway. The company directly employs more than 600 people, and has around 50 distributors around the world.

Stage says Western Europe, North America and Australia are the strongest regions for the company. In its range the company has products targeted on specific markets, for example wall boards for the USA and muck away cranes for the UK.

“In the US, they have a lot of big office buildings, eight and tenstorey high. Our cranes are used by builders merchants, who deliver wall boards straight into the storeys. We offer the Wall Board 84 and 64.”

Regional export manager Keld Frank Jensen says the newly launched muck away crane is a typical UK crane, used for handling construction and road waste such as concrete and asphalt.

“For this job you need an extremely strong crane that can stand a lot of abuse, it is a key factor, more than weight or beautiful design. All the extension cylinders are inside the extension arms in order to protect them as best as possible,” says Jensen. “It operates with one extension cylinder and a chain and that is to increase speed.”

The muck away cranes are available in two versions, the HMF1310R-MC with manual control, and the HMF1510R-RCS with remote control. “We are just beginning the deliveries now, we already have a couple of cranes in the UK doing tests at the moment,” says Jensen. He expects that the 1310R-MC will be the most popular.

HMF has enhanced its large crane range with two new models, the HMF 7020 and the HMF 9520. The company says they were both designed for particularly demanding lifting tasks and assembly work. With the introduction of these two models, HMF 6020 and HMF 8520 will no longer be available.

In terms of the difference between the new models and the ones discontinued, Jensen says: “They have higher lifting capacity, two slew motors, wider more rigid extension system, standard with Progressive Crane Control and Priority Flow Control and the option of a colour display on the remote control. In the new models there is the Autoswitch, that deactivates the EVS when the stabiliser beams are completely extended and stabiliser legs on the ground. Compared to the increase in lifting capacity, the increase in own weight is minimum. The hoist system is also new.”

Jensen reveals that there is a new stabiliser leg system under development, while Stage says new features for the middle crane range will be launched soon.

HMF is also looking beyond the cranes, and is currently running field tests in the UK for its telematics system. “The technology is not new, we have had it for years and has been included in our software, but it is just now that the markets are requiring those things,” says Stage.

He believes that remote diagnostics will be a big thing in the future as well as online shopping for spare parts. “I think a lot of customers are using the web to search for parts, so we are looking at how we can accommodate that move in the market.

Accessibility is important not just to parts but also to part lists, manuals, videos. This is an area where we will also invest in the future to make sure that it is easy to select, operate, and service an HMF crane.”

In 2017 the manufacturer reached its 2020 goals, the next revenue milestone is £250m. Commenting on the plans for the future, Stage says: “It is going to be a growth journey, where we will utilise our skills and robustness to put more scalability into our manufacturing line. We will look into growing further in existing markets and develop new products.”

Inside HMF’s factory in Aarhus, Denmark.
At HMF’s vehicle body building facility in Galten, Denmark.