Construction Plant News visits the rapidly expanding European production facility of lifting and access specialist, Genie.
It has been described as the green heart of Italy, and amidst the rugged and remote medieval hill towns of Umbria, it is the blue machines of Genie that are at the core of the region’s economy. This ancient landscape is now home to a more modern pedigree in construction plant manufacturing, and one where Genie can call upon extensive levels of experience amongst its labour force. The central Italian province of Perugia has been home to a production facility since 1973, was acquired by Terex in 1998, and transferred to the Genie brand in 2006. In recent years a buoyant market and significant new product developments have coalesced to drive considerable expansion at the site. Today, the factory extends to some 15,000 sq m of covered area, a further 36,000 sq m of yard, with the addition of a demonstration facility, and over 400 employees.
The access platform industry is, in fact, reaching new heights, with IPAF’s Powered Access Global Rental Market Report recently revealing that the global MEWP fleet exceeded a record 1.5 million units last year. It is sustainability, productivity and new technologies that are driving the demand for machinery and Genie are helping to raise the standard at every level. Indeed, from 2016 to 2017 production numbers actually increased by a colossal 40 per cent, and with the likes of its Xtra Capacity (XC) units proving particularly popular with end users that’s an upward curve that is set to continue.
These blue units have forged a formidable reputation with end users for their reliability and efficiency, and that is an ethos which is reflected in their making, with the Umbertide operation encompassing a design, testing and manufacturing centre of excellence in one location. As a result transit times to customers have been reduced and new innovations can be brought to market much quicker.
Umbertide builds the full range of Genie articulating Z boom lifts for EMEA (Europe, Middle East & Africa) from the Z-33/18 all the way up to the Z-62/40, as well as the telescopic S-65 XC and, the newest addition to the family, the S-65 TraX. A separate assembly line also delivers five separate telehandler models, the GTH-2506 and GTH-3007 for EMEA, and the GTH-5519, GTH-1256, and GTH-1544 exclusively for the United States.
Not only is the 12metre maximum height, Z-33/18 assembled in Italy, it was the first product to be entirely the work of the Umbertide-based research and development team, with the compact dimensions and tight turning circle of this articulating electric boom lift, subsequently finding favour with European mobile elevated work platform users. “Over the years that the factory has been under the Genie umbrella we have gradually added more and more machines to the plant’s portfolio,” explains the company’s Francesco Aiello, “whilst we have also become far more active in our R&D functions. That means that we can deliver the local solutions that are customers require, and access vital feedback from them at the same time. More machines means greater complexity – with a maximum of up to six different models fabricated on just one line – and that’s why we’ve made major and continual investments at this site.”
The latest model to emerge from the drawing boards of the Umbertide machinery boffins is the S-65 XC telescopic boom lift and Genie promises that many more will follow. That’s because the company is anticipating that increases in demand will be sustained, not just for its XC concept but also for the newly launched hybrid solutions, and the lean manufacturing processes are in place to ensure that they can be supplied.
Much can be gleaned about the culture of an organisation from an examination of its production processes and the Genie experience speaks of efficiency, quality and safety. A just in time logistics operation that holds no more than two days’ worth of components feeds five separate assembly lines. Every work station, checks the work of the previous one, whilst end of line checks are complemented by an exhaustive full functional testing regime of every single machine that rolls from the line.
Just a short drive from the factory itself is a dedicated Genie testing and demonstration area. This is where the labours of Umbertide engineers are first used in anger, and features a 2,000m test track, slopes and rigs, where units can be examined for stability, durability and more. It is here that we are introduced to a concept that is the future not just of the Umbertide plant but of the lifting and access industry as a whole.
The Z-60/37 FE Fuel Electric Hybrid System heralds the low emission, energy efficient future that our society is now demanding. It represents the vanguard in a fleet of new products that will benefit from the technology in the years ahead, and its advantages are considerable. Because it can be operated indoors on its electric drivetrain, for instance, or outdoors with its diesel engine, fleet managers can reduce the number of machines they are utilising on site at any one time. Thanks to four separate AC drive motors, and four-wheel drive, there’s a high level of control, traction and manoeuvrability, and excellent rough terrain characteristics. Moreover, there’s no sacrifice in performance, whether making use of the Stage V compliant 24.9hp Kubota engine or electric power. Indeed, thanks to the increased levels of torque that electric delivers at lower speeds this hybrid unit is actually more efficient at climbing slopes than its purely diesel siblings.
Reduced noise levels and zero emissions are destined to become a pre-requisite of operating in our inner cities – and on many individual projects. With the Z-60/37 FE a full eight hour shift can be completed on a single charge, and thanks to an engine powered generator, the batteries can be recharged whilst the unit is in use. The diesel engine will automatically intervene if the batteries do run out of power and, despite the additional componentry, there is no change to the geometry of the machine. Indeed, because the battery pack has been utilised as a counterweight, the electric powertrain has a positive input on the overall stability of a machine that can deliver 20.16m of working height, 7.39m of up-and-over reach, all with 2,268kg less weight that a conventional diesel.
The fact that the electric motor can be charged whilst the machine is operating is a crucial factor in reducing downtime, and is one reason why contractors and hirers are embracing hybrid as a solution. Genie does, however, also supply a full electric DC version of the Z-60/37 with the same performance as its FE counterpart. Not only that, but the unveiling of the Z45 FE at Bauma signals the firm intent to develop the FE concept still further.
Another Genie innovation which has quickly found a fanbase in the UK is the Xtra Capacity (XC) design. Clearly, being able to carry more men and materials reduces lift cycles, time, and wear and tear on the machine, and the manufacturer reports that it is a capability that its customers have been requesting for many years. Two machines that are made at Umbertide, the S-65 XC and new S-65 Trax telescopic boom lifts, join a full line of machines that can accommodate an unrestricted platform capacity of 300kg (660 lb) and a restricted capacity of 454kg (1,000 lb). That means that up to three people can occupy the same basket, along with their tools, an increase in productivity that has motivated Genie to shortly offer XC as standard in the stick boom portfolio from the S-65 up to the S-135.
Additional brawn there may well be but there’s also brains at work into the bargain. A load sensing system continuously checks the weight in the platform and adjusts the working envelope to match the load chart for example, whilst the boom will retract automatically when it reaches the limits of that working envelope. Tool trays will feature as standard, with the option of pipe and panel cradles for material handling applications.
Genie is, of course, a global giant in its industry with production facilities in China, and its US homeland – as well as central Italy. What the latter brings is the ability to deliver the solutions that European contractors and plant hirers are demanding, and to do it quickly – whether it is higher capacity units or hybrid technologies. The construction plant sector is currently experiencing a period of unprecedented change, with the fundamentals of how they are powered and managed rapidly evolving. The Umbertide plant has become adept at recognising those shifts in focus and delivering for its customers.