Stricter government laws will make this industry a level playing field, benefitting genuine service providers like us and also filtering out the me-too ones who compete on price but cannot stand out on merit, says Praful Panchangam, General Manager, MT&T. Excerpts from the interview.
What is the market potential for access equipment?
The developed market saw the use of aerials decades ago. There, such machines are demanded by the users for two reasons: safety and speed of work. In developing countries, initially these machines were not seen as essential. But when their use was established and their output measured, the project companies and their sub-contractors started to ask for these machines on rent. The growth rate has been therefore very good in the last two years. Also, the large projects that we saw recently were the MNCs setting up their manufacturing bases in India, or the increase in the focus of overseas companies on their Indian facilities either due to hike in equity participation or increase in their capacities. Due to this, there was an increase in demand for these machines. Due to visibility at the project stage, the users later on insisted for such machines to maintain their facilities or factories thereby stirring up demand for sales as well. It is difficult to pinpoint an exact or accurate figure for the market potential because even though there is a large demand for these machines, a major chunk is apportioned towards used machines which actually becomes like competition to new machines.
Brief us on the product range and services MT&T is offering in India.
MT & T is the largest company to reckon with in aerials, also known as powered access. It has the longest experience in aerial work platforms in both sales and rentals. Due to reasons explained earlier, the rental division expanded at a much faster pace. The product range covers almost the entire gamut of powered access except probably truck-mounted work platforms. But we are planning to launch those too, very soon. The current range comprises self-propelled boom lifts and scissor lifts both engine and battery operated work platforms, spiders, trailers, extra reach scissorlifts, mastbooms, mobile access platforms (we do not refer them as mobile scaffolds), almost any requirement for working at heights is catered to by us.
What are the major challenges MT&T faces as a service provider?
In sales of these machines, we are able to minimise the negatives. This is because the users are provided a proper training for machine usage and maintenance. Also, there are periodic checks by our personnel on these machines through annual maintenance service contracts. In rentals of these machines, the biggest challenge is the operational efficiency. There are times when the demand exceeds the machines available while at other times machines are available (slack time) but cannot be deployed due to a dwell time. To ensure that we do not starve our customers of machines when they need them and also to better utilise the machines and thereby minimise their idle time, we are trying to implement a system of forecasting by adopting a proactive approach with our customers. The second challenge is logistics. The hurdles of checkposts with different rules in different states make the transportation of these machines to project sites a bit uncertain at times. The government needs to accord a separate identity for the machine rental industry allowing for smooth passage across state borders.
Do we need to upgrade the existing specs and standards?
We are already providing EN or ANSI standard machines to the Indian market. These standards are quite stringent as it is, so there is no requirement to upgrade as such. We already have our own internal system of monitoring the machine standards and offer upgraded versions as and when the older machines become redundant.
What are the safety features (optional/inbuilt) found in the MT&T range?
All machines have inbuilt safety interlocks which do not allow unsafe use of the machines. There are platform guardrails, lanyard attachment points, tilt alarms, operational or motion alarms, angle sensors, platform overload alarms, foam-filled tyres, dual controlled dashboard controls, pothole protection(in scissors), oscillating axles, and many more standard and optional safety features that we incorporate in our machines. In fact, we also try to obtain machines with optional features fitted as standard to enhance the safety of our machines. Recently we have supplied factory fitted spider work platform with special sensors to cut off the power in case the person gets too close to the glass while cleaning.
What is the role played by MT&T to ensure safety at the job site?
All our machines undergo a stringent PDI before they are deployed at site. Our operators undergo special training in routine maintenance and troubleshooting skills. Use of diagnostic tools/kits are explained and taught to each site supervisor to ensure proper and safe use of the machines. The ultimate goal is to ensure the highest advantage to the user for his investment.
Do you think that legislation on the use of safer access equipment or tightening the safety norms could help augment the growth potential of this segment?
Government legislation will certainly provide additional fillip to this industry. The current internal legislation and safety norms of major corporates have been the key driving force for this industry. However, stricter government laws will make this industry a level playing field benefitting genuine service providers like us and also filtering out the me-too ones who compete purely on price but cannot stand out on merit.
Which are the segments where awareness is picking up?
All industrial segments ranging from oil and gas, power, steel, infrastructure, manufacturing, FMCG, food and beverages, automobile, general engineering, are growing fast. It's only the top layer of these that are adopting these practices of using such machines. New segments that are opening up are local construction companies who have now realised the utility of these machines for faster completion of their projects.
What is the potential for rentals?
There is a strong and sustainable demand for these machines on rent. As more projects get completed faster, the turnaround time for the manufacturing sector improves promising a faster ROI. The graph is all set to go steeply up in the coming days.
Is there any plan to put up a production facility for your products here in India?
As these machines need to be refurbished periodically to extend their useful life periods, we are focusing on establishing a refurbishment centre in India. This is more need-of-the-hour than manufacturing facilities. Due to the high volume of production available in the manufacturing plants of existing overseas manufacturers, the economy of scale available with them would be difficult to achieve in India over a short period of time. However, there are already a large number of vendors / manufacturers of components for these machines in India who are already exporting to the manufacturers in USA / Europe.
What makes MT&T different from the competition?
Our intention has always been to provide solutions rather than just products. Whether the customer would like to own a machine (purchase) or hire for a short period of time (rent), we make sure the appropriate machine model is offered depending upon the reach required, the terrain below, the nature of activity and other factors.
In most cases, our repeat orders for machines are a result of close interaction between our sales team and the users. During the initial project stage, our team members interact with the customer''s project team to ensure proper selection of machine models. In situations where the same work could be achieved with economical mobile access platforms, suggestions are given accordingly saving them costs and earning us the reputation of providing optimised solutions. This is what differentiates us from our competitors and more importantly helps build a long term relationship with our customers.
Another differentiating factor is our machines are much younger and in much better shape, assuring longer duty cycles and improving the project completion schedules.
To what extent is the user segment focused on fuel/energy efficient features?
All our machines are compliant with current emission and fuel efficiency standards prevailing globally. While buying new equipment, these features are expected by the users and as we supply machines direct from our principals, they are always as energy efficient as possible.
How do you expect to end this fiscal?
We see a lot of growth this year and are expecting to end this fiscal with overall increase in business of at least 30 per cent compared to the previous year.
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