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Hydro Mobile designs, manufactures and markets mast climbing work platforms used as access equipment for commercial, institutional, industrial and residential construction. David Soyka reports on this Canadian company’s uplifting approach to a hazard-free work environment.

According to the law of gravity, what goes up, must come down. Hydro Mobile designs and builds innovative mast-climbing work platforms that ensure what goes up safely stays up until it needs to come down. These platforms not only virtually eliminate
the possibility of falling, but also reduce work-related fatigue and injuries with ergonomic structures expressly designed to increase productivity and facilitate project completion.

Scaffolding, a modular framework system of pipes upon which are laid planks to provide the working surface, has always been the traditional means to perform work on high rising construction. Back in the spring of 1987, a group of independent masons and a local inventor based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, sought a better way to scale new heights in safety and ease-of-access. The patented solution, powered by a hydraulic ratchet drive technology, was truly revolutionary.

“Scaffolding has a number of significant limitations that our mastclimbing platforms are specifically designed to overcome,” explains Thierry Lachapelle, marketing director. “To begin with, it takes time to set-up scaffolding. The planks are set at fixed intervals; sometimes workers will have to stretch to reach certain areas of the building facade, or go up and down ladders to get to the desired work height. Workers must use fall protections at all times on scaffoldings, which limit their movements and their productivity.

“Our mast-climbing work platforms, in contrast, can be up and running with considerably faster set up time. Because the platforms can be easily moved up and down the mast, the work area will always be at waist high level. Furthermore, there are guard rails around the platform, so the workers don’t need to be tethered. This
makes it easier for them to perform the work, and allows them to work faster with greater ease of access to the work site. A safer work environment that is less physically demanding means fewer injuries, which also reduces operational costs and improves efficiency – we estimate general productivity gains of 30 percent. Also, a more comfortable work environment reduces staff turnover, so it’s easier to attract and retain
skilled workers, which in some regions is a continuing challenge.”

Today, Hydro Mobile remains a privately owned corporation with 125 employees
headquartered in city of L’Assomption, a suburb of Montreal, Quebec. Although the
company distributes its products in North
America and worldwide through a dedicated network of distributors, more than
80 percent of its sales are exports to the United States conducted through its
wholly owned subsidiary Hydro Mobile USA Inc., based in Wisconsin, and
22 distributors.

“The Midwest in particular was immediately receptive to our product, and
remains our largest geographic presence,” Lachapelle explains. “There’s a lot of union labor in the Midwest. On the one hand, the trades like the better, safer work environment. At the same time, contractors reduce high labor costs by achieving
faster completion times. It’s the classic win/win situation.”

He adds, “Our customers are primarily contractors working on commercial and industrial construction projects as well as some multi-unit residential buildings. Scaffolding will always have its place and is still the way to go for most small residential applications.”

In 2006, Hydro Mobile Export CIS was created to develop business and distributor relationships in Russia, the Middle East, and several Eastern European countries. Another subsidiary division, Hydro Rents, was also created in 2006 to rent and sell equipment in the states of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. Another
subsidiary company, RAXTAR, makes modular solutions for passenger and material hoists, industrial lifts, and material hoists.

“Given what’s going on in the U.S. economy, we’re expecting a dip in sales from there, maybe down to 70 percent,” Lachapelle notes. “Typically, we’ve done less than 10 percent of our business in Canada, and the rest from foreign sales. This year, I don’t see much growth in Canada, but we’re expecting international sales to grow to about 25 percent of total sales. There’s a lot of new construction going on in Europe and the Middle East. Asian markets are a little tougher for us because our key selling points are safety and lower operating costs and over there labor is very cheap and they don’t place the premium on security, although sometimes the short deadlines required to deliver a project might, by itself, justify the use of mast-climbing platforms.”

ELEVATING EFFICIENCY
Current total annual sales are $34 million in Canadian dollars. Hydro Mobile has the capacity to produce 1,400 platforms a year, comprising four specific product lines used for both new construction and restorations. The M-series is the company’s high
capacity “workhorse.” With a load capacity of 20,000 pounds and a climbing rate of three feet per minute, it is perfect for masonry (brick or block), stone or marble facade work from 20 to 250 feet in height. The 138-foot length has a set up time of three hours. The decks, which can be expanded to seven feet in width, provide ample room for workers to perform their jobs in comfort. The MSeries structure allows for angled set-ups, and there are a multitude of accessories.

Hydro Mobile also manufactures several other models of mastclimbing work platforms, offering products suitable for all trades in the industry: the P-Series, perfect for smaller jobs that require high capacity or for restrained areas; the F-Series, specifically designed for projects 100 feet in height and more and accommodating a wide variety of work applications, and the E-Series, which combines low ownership and rental costs with versatility, reliability and safety for various trades.

The company manufactures in a modern 40,000-square-foot facility. “While we do subcontract certain production processes, we perform all the key assembly operations,” Lachapelle points out. “That’s the only way to maintain optimum quality control of your product. We also have a research and development department
that, in addition to developing new products and improving existing ones, is also in charge of optimizing the manufacturing process”

He notes that Hydro Mobile maintains a considerable inventory of modular stock. “We do that to help the dealers and provide them with just-in-time (JIT) inventory.” A good deal of its product is made out of steel, a raw material that has become considerably
expensive of late. “It’s a problem over which we don’t have a lot of control,” Lachapelle says. “We’ve been trying to hold the line as best we can on our pricing, but I don’t know for how much longer we’ll be able to so.”

Lachapelle notes that Hydro Mobile has a 60 percent market share in the United States. “We expect to continue to grow by capturing additional market share. There are other manufacturers of products similar to ours, but we are the originators and, what’s more, one of the only companies to offer a complete product line. Also, we are
the only manufacturer that provides extensive training and support in the safe use of the product. In fact, the company is considered a pioneer in that area and has developed a training program called Hydro Mobile University that provides a certification process for workers operating its platforms. Hydro Mobile University has trained more than 5,000 persons in the past 10 years.”

Given the benefits of its products and the support it provides, it would seem that things are looking up for Hydro Mobile.

Volume:
11
Issue:
5
Year:
2008


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