Upsides in a downturn

Mining equipment and machinery companies have always been fairly quiet about what they do. 
They design the equipment, watch it at work, and see that it gets the job done. 
Whether it's moving and shifting or heavy lifting, if their machines and equipment does what it's supposed to then end of story. 
We rarely hear about what else the company is doing, especially in the case of crane and lifting com­panies. 
Manitou is fairly typical of this standard. 
It's a quiet company, and even the company itself agrees. 
So it was a definite break of form for the crane company in late May when it held a massive showcase of all its latest equipment, and brought in more than 1000 dealers, bankers, suppliers, analysts, and journalists from around the world for a few days for "The Festival". 
During my time there I ran into companies from countries such as Australia, Russia, Spain, Germany, and Thailand; it really was a multi-national affair. 
Held in Spain, the event was designed to discuss the company's outlook and its future growth, particularly in the mining, agricultural, and industrial space. 
Heavy machinery lined the pavement for half a kilometre in front of the event's premises, while conferences and roundtables were held almost continually inside, on the main day. 
It was an interesting move for the company considering the massive debt spiral that has engulfed Europe, and especially holding it in Spain, a nation that only last month received a massive Euro Zone bailout of more than $126 billion. 
It looked like a company that was aiming to buck the Euro trend and highlight its growth amidst the downturn, with CEO Jean-Christophe Giroux stating "after three very difficult years, it's time to share our convictions and our view of the ­future  this 'Festival' aims to give us a real platform where we can exchange ideas and subscribe to a shared goal". 
So what exactly was The Festival? 

Face to face 

One of the most interesting points were the 21 roundtables, which were designed as way to pick the dealers, suppliers, and operators' brains and find out what was working, and importantly what wasn't. 
While the roundtables did focus on brands and environmental issues, the predominant question they all asked was "tell us about our pro­duct", asking what the operators liked and disliked.  
One of the most blatant examples of this was the roundtable 'New product range for industry: Any suggestions?' 
It also gave the machinery dealers a chance to air their customers' complaints or concerns to the people who design the machines themselves. 
Sitting in on one of the roundtables, it became a barrage of statements for the Manitou personnel as to how their machines were used, what would work better, and what should be dropped. 
Dan Miller, head of the American operations explained that "all of the input that we get [from the roundtables] will be put back into the business and be utilised to improve applications, maybe develop new products".  
It was a different approach to the usual design process of assuming what the customer's needs are and creating a machine, and instead may lead to more customer influenced machinery and equipment, particularly attachments. 
The conferences gave a more precise view from the company and just how it was changing its structure. 
These mostly dealt with the new divisions; the various markets such as agriculture and materials handling; servicing; attachments; new product lines; and the rental market. 

Moving into mining 

Mining is set to become a major component of Manitou's new structure. 
Speaking to Eric Lambert, the president of the Rough Terrain Handl­ing Division (under which mining falls), he told Australian Mining the focus for the division will be on "developing machines and developing attachments. 
"For example our tyre handler for the mining industry, if that is a custom machine it is being used for one task only, but with a number of attachments you can keep the machine in constant use, so it is not just sitting idle between tyre handling applications. It's the same machine, just changing the attachments. 
"Our ambition is to have multi-task machines with special attachments." 
Part of The Festival was also announcing Manitou's greater focus on mining. 
"With this new business we can find out what the customer wants, and learn from their very specific requirements in mining worldwide, so we can continue to improve our presence in mining and safety," Lambert said. 
The release of its flameproof, underground coal mine specific tele­handler – the MT732 – last year at AIMEX has demonstrated the company's early steps. 
At the time, Manitou's export sales manager Francois Piffard told Australian Mining "the development of this explosion proof tele­handler is an Australian first and may even be a world first". 
Managing director for Mani­tou South Africa, Lindsay Shank­land, told Australian Mining at The Festival that the new focus on mining attachments is seeing new drilling products trialled at coal mines in South Africa. 
However Shankland was reticent in describing how the drill attachment works and its applications on site. 

Australian focus 

Despite the ongoing European ­financial crisis, the company remains focused on the region and its development. 
But as is the case with many companies, it has seen a "huge potential" for its existing operations in Australia, and its mining industry. 
The company heads stated that they would "use niche markets [such as Australia, Brazil, and Russia] and try and capitalise on their markets". 
However, geographically around 75 per cent of its business is still focused on Europe. 
Speaking to Stuart Walker, Mani­tou Australia's managing director, he explained that the handl­ing company is "looking at attachments, skid steers, and ­really adapting our products to the ­problems". 
Walker went on to give an example of its current work in Australia, developing solutions to eliminate some of the swinging load problems faced by BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, and the increased risk factor they cause on site whenever cranes are used. 

Making a mark 

It was an interesting approach to highlight what the company is doing, and how it is working to stay innovative. 
One of the most interesting aspects in its round up was its movie themed show highlighting its Gehl, Manitou, and Mustang product line of aerial work platforms/elevated work platforms, telehandlers, and skid steers. 
Surreal and quite hard to explain, the show mixed famous movies and its products, such as King Kong ascending in an AWP; a Wild West showdown; an Apocalypse Now re-enactment; and as a dénouement – fake U.S. dollar bills with Manitou's CEO's face plastered on them. 
It was a different end to what may have been expected from such a previously quiet company, and shows a corporation that seemed to have fun making fun of itself while still getting its core message across, and looking to grow despite what has been a catastrophic downturn and shake up for the entire Euro Zone. 
It also highlighted a company that "is back to the ¤1.3 billion mark [following the consolidation of its Chinese acquisitions]. 
Eric Lambert, Manitou's president of Rough Terrain Handling ­Division, told Australian Mining that through the event "we feel what we wanted to show and say has been done, as we wanted to create an event to involve everyone in the growth of the company, and make them aware of what we've done. 
"The Festival has been very successful, and paedagogically, it has really shown what we're doing and the diversity of the range." 
It will be an interesting few years ahead of this company, but with its restructure it has definitely prepared itself to weather the storm. 
*Australian Mining travelled to Spain courtesy of Manitou. 
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