Providing cranes and other machines with operator assistance devices is a bigger business than many people realise. Every crane sold in Europe has to be fitted with a rated capacity indicator (RCI – also known as an SLI or LMI), although US legislation has yet to make them compulsory.

Italian manufacturer 3B6 is one of the leading producers of operator assistance devices and has a productivity rate to be proud of. It was formed by three young engineers 20 years ago in the town of Castelletto Ticino, in the Lombardini region near the Swiss border. It has since grown into one of the world’s leading providers of electronic safety systems for cranes and other equipment.

Managing director Sandro Bertola is proud of how the company has built up an international sales base from northern Italy. ‘We supply systems to cranes worldwide,’ he says. ‘Every one of those systems is customised for the individual customer.’ It has a German partner in HFS and has this year set up a US operation, 3B6 Technologies, in Illinois.

‘Our customers see us as an outsourcer,’ says Bertola, ‘but the market is asking more and more of electronics. That means we are constantly looking to improve our products.’ The company produces safety systems for cranes, access platforms, mobile plant equipment and fire ladders. The product range includes not just RCIs, 3B6 also offers load sensors, geometric data sensors, boom sensors and central processors. The customer list is also varied, with names including Demag, Grove, Terex, Locatelli, Marchetti, Rigo, Comedil, Ormig and Cormach, as well as big names from the earthmoving sector like Caterpillar and JCB.

Bertola says that all customers are involved in long term deals with 3B6. One contract he is particularly proud of is a deal with Fassi that sees his company provide the loader crane manufacturer with 3,600 LMIs and SLIs a year. ‘We have been working with Fassi for two years now,’ he says.

Fassi claims to make 5,000 cranes a year, that means that 75% of cranes that leave the Bergamo factory are fitted with 3B6 systems.

An interesting aspect of 3B6’s sales approach is that the products differ from country to country. ‘We think about the economic situation in the countries that we are selling to before doing anything,’ says Bertola. In countries with a weaker economy, the product is manufactured and sold more cheaply, but Bertola insists that this does not affect the quality of the product. ‘3B6 is 3B6, wherever you are,’ he says.

Bertola believes that it is important that the products being sold in the US are recognised as 3B6 products, not badged up as someone else’s. In Germany, however, a different approach is taken. HFS, which also manufactures its own range of operator assistance devices, sells some 3B6 product under the HFS badge and some as 3B6.

As well as providing parts and services for 3B6 in Germany, HFS is also involved with developing new systems with 3B6. ‘We are a partnership that works very close together. We make developments with each other,’ says Hans Schenk, managing director of HFS. ‘German companies are very demanding, so the systems are tailor-made for them.’ One of the reasons behind the team-up of the two companies was the need for better communication, Schenk says. ‘It is easier for the Germans and the Swiss to deal direct with us so there are no language problems. HFS has a history of producing its own products so we are known in Germany.’ HFS is now planning to move into overhead travelling cranes, ‘We are looking at systems for EOTs and harbour cranes, that is an area 3B6 is not in yet.’ The partnership looks solid and Bertola is confident about his company’s future. ‘We are always looking to sell everywhere,’ he says, ‘and we want to grow stronger by technology.’