Some firms’ senior managers keep their distance from the workers on the shop floor and field operations, but at Konecranes, the entire management team at all levels has daily interactions with these key players, Key Account Manager John Zellmer says. “They’re out in the trenches with the entire team,” he states. “They’re very approachable people.”
With global headquarters in Hyvinkää, Finland and regional headquarters in Springfield, Ohio, Konecranes provides overhead lifting equipment and services to many industries, including mining, power, steel, general manufacturing, automotive, pulp and paper, shipyards, ports, and intermodal and rail. The company started business in 1933 as KONE Corp., a manufacturer of electric overhead traveling cranes for the pulp and paper and power industries.
In 1994, KONE Corp. sold its crane division, which now operates as Konecranes. Today, Konecranes’ product lines include custom-engineered lifting solutions, inspection and maintenance services, electric chain hoists, lift trucks, nuclear cranes, container-handling equipment, shipyard cranes and more. “If it’s related to overhead lifting, we can do it,” Key Account Manager Doug Werch says.
However, Konecranes’ services have truly “spring-boarded the company in North America,” he says. “Those services include consultations, inspections, preventive and corrective maintenance, spare parts, modernizations and retrofits.”
Specifically for the mining industry, Konecranes offers overhead material handling solutions for all applications and for all brands and makes of cranes, not just its own products. “No other crane company in the world serving the mining industry can match Konecranes’ application knowledge, engineering capabilities and product range,” Zellmer adds.
He goes on to say, “Our shared knowledge through our team of crane experts, hands-on experience, and on-going R&D has helped Konecranes develop a mining expertise that is trusted around the world.”
Zellmer is a longtime veteran of the overhead crane industry. Previously, he had worked at the P&H brand of Morris Material Handling, which Konecranes acquired in 2006. P&H is a trademark of Harnischfeger Technologies Inc. and is used by Morris Material Handling Inc. under license. Morris Material Handling Inc. is not affiliated with Harnischfeger Technologies Inc. or P&H Mining Equipment Inc.
After a long history with P&H, Zellmer relocated to Phoenix, where he became the key account Manager representing the mining industry in the Western region.
During his tenure there, he helped P&H obtain its largest site accounts customer, a large mining firm in Arizona. “[I] approached their corporate officers, proposing a site contract,” he recalls.
However, it was very challenging to be responsive to the mining firm’s operations because its mines were located remotely throughout Arizona, Zellmer admits. Additionally, “You have to be as proactive as you can to forecast the needs for machines that are running 365 days a year,” he says.
When contracting at a customer site, Konecranes is fully equipped to bring an entire crane repair team to the mining site, making sure that preventive maintenance and emergency repairs are always readily available.
Konecranes also provided multiple services to a large natural-resource company located in Arizona. “We were able to provide those intense demanding services to challenging remote locations,” Zellmer says.
Being Its Best
These two conglomerates have since merged, but things have not changed under the new ownership. “We still provide site services,” Zellmer says. These range from site inspections and compliance, administration MSHA documentation, weekly repairs, equipment upgrades projects, crane reliability services and TRUCONNECT remote monitoring (a new overhead crane service technology from Konecranes) to constant site interactions with rotating mine site planners.
But the work remains very complicated. “It’s very, very intense to have these remote operations,” he says. “[It requires] a tremendous amount of additional support mechanisms from the different service branches here.”
Konecranes follows the regulations of the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). “It’s equivalent to OSHA,” Zellmer says. “Because of the fact that these mines are so large with high risk safety factors to consider daily.”
Currently, Konecranes’ work for the mining firm is divided into six locations with three on-site locations contracts, throughout Arizona and New Mexico. The Konecranes service branch also services eight additional mining companies’ locations.
“There’s quite a bit of vintage equipment out there” at these mining locations to support the daily operations and reliability in this harsh mining environment, he says.
At one site location, the mine harvests $4 million worth of material daily, Zellmer says. “It’s a matter of how much tonnage you can get through the cycling of the machine,” he says. “They rely heavily on this equipment. Without the cranes, production would be at a standstill.”
Konecranes is a global leader in the mining industry and provides a highly qualified staff prepared to withstand the intense demands and all the logistics required for the mining industry.
Werch, who has spent his entire career at Konecranes, is the key account manager for the Midwest States District, which primarily generates its business from the mining industry in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and surrounding states. “The bulk of the material mined is related to iron ore,” he says, noting that the company serves 10 iron ore mines in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Konecranes’ business in the iron ore market has increased over the past three years. Although mining represents up to five percent of the company’s total business, “It’s been a niche market [for our district],” he says.
A large portion of the Midwest States District’s business, he adds, consists of updating equipment for its clients that was originally built in the 1950s and 1960s. That makes it “ripe for selling spare parts and modernizations,” Werch says.
As clients in the Midwest continue to replace or require maintenance for their aged equipment, the company’s share of the mining business “could double in the next three to five years,” he predicts.
On the Cutting-Edge
Konecranes always keeps its fingers on the pulse of new technologies, Werch says. Those include its TRUCONNECT offering, which is a suite of products that provides remote monitoring, diagnostics, analytics and usage-based predictive maintenance.
Originally developed by Konecranes’ Research and Development group in Finland, the product is “the future of crane maintenance” for the service industry, he predicts. Through the use of devices placed on cranes, TRUCONNECT can monitor equipment and provide customers with data, which can be used for maintenance activity planning.
Coping With Challenges
Konecranes regularly deals with challenges in its market, including the entry of more competitors. “We have competitors that do a lot of what we do at a lower price,” Werch says. “That’s one of the biggest obstacles.”
But Konecranes counters by providing its customers with a better value, he asserts. “We have the experience and expertise that our competitors don’t,” he says. “No one is better than us when it comes to our engineering capabilities, the quality of our products and services, or the quality of our technicians.”
It is also challenging for the West Coast District to recruit new employees, Zellmer says. Not only does it have to find people with the right skill sets, they also have to be “willing to relocate to the very remote areas out in the desert,” he says.
“We pride ourselves on being a very employee-friendly company,” he says. “We are constantly reaching out to our employees and interacting with them. We [also] provide excellent training opportunities, health plans and benefits that make it appealing to work for us.”
Konecranes’ success is largely due to its staff. “There’s a lot of people that make the company work,” Werch says. “It’s typically a group effort if a project is successful.”
Werch sees a bright future for Konecranes as its customers become willing to spend more on equipment and services. “Things seem to be improving, albeit [slowly],” he says. “We’re starting to see more investments being made.”
The company has set ambitious goals for itself. In the past year, its sales exceeded $1 billion. “It took us close to 30 years to hit that first billion,” Werch says. “Our goal is to double that by 2022.
“It’s definitely possible,” he says, noting that there are many new markets for the company to explore. “[But] finding enough quality people to get to that growth is always a challenge.”
Zellmer also predicts continued success for Konecranes’ West Coast District. “Last year, we came up No. 2 [in] ratings within the Konecranes organization globally,” he says. “That was very, very prestigious.”
Although it experienced a decline in 2014, he says. “I believe that 2015 will be very, very rewarding for us.” Additionally, if the price of copper rises, “It’ll intensify the demand,” he says.
Zellmer also sees growth for Konecranes as a whole. Not only will the company continue providing service in the United States, “but also globally,” he says. “Peru’s a hotbed right now for the mining industry with copper. It’s just a manner of having the staff to support it.”