Since 1968, Manitex Liftking has been designing and manufacturing heavy-duty equipment for commercial and military applications. Based in Woodbridge, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto, the business serves customers throughout the world, building specialty rough terrain forklifts, mission-oriented vehicles, carriers, heavy material handling transporters and steel mill equipment. The company has more than 8,000 units operating worldwide and works with a network of more than 170 dealers to market and distribute machinery.
Originally established as Liftking Industries, the business joined Manitex International in 2006. As a fully-owned subsidiary, Manitex Liftking has benefited from the strong support of its parent company as well as improved access to new markets.
General manager, Jeff Cockerton, has been working with Manitex Liftking since 2012. His background in management throughout the manufacturing industry has provided him with the experience necessary to improve efficiencies and grow the well-known brand. Over the last few years, Manitex Liftking has gone through significant structural changes that will allow the company to provide better turnaround, service and responsiveness to customers in both the public and private sectors.
Lean and mean
Cockerton’s area of expertise is lean manufacturing, a strong asset he has brought to Manitex Liftking during a time of transition. “It is all about throughput with the least amount of waste in the process,” he explains. “We are creating a world-class lean enterprise, removing all the non-value-added tasks from our production and building the value we can pass on to customers.”
This restructuring of Manitex Liftking is the most recent in a line of successful lean manufacturing ventures for Cockerton. As one of only 300 recipients of Lean Bronze certification in North America, he has lent his expertise to several industrial corporations in Canada. By engaging employees, leading by example and instituting value-oriented changes to corporate processes, Cockerton has seen businesses through major turnarounds; cutting costs and helping these companies better serve their customers.
At Manitex Liftking, the emphasis on efficient practices and added value translates to a restructuring of the manufacturing process. While the company previously performed all aspects of fabrication, manufacturing and assembly in-house, the business is now outsourcing fabrication and will eventually serve exclusively as an assembler.
“We used to perform fabrication ourselves, so our supply relationships have changed over the last few years,” Cockerton says. “Fabrication was where we had a serious bottleneck in efficiency and outsourcing allows us to improve our output.
“We work tightly with our partners,” he adds. “These fabricated components comprise the majority of the cost of our product, so we have to be invested in order to achieve cost efficiency and quality. When we choose suppliers, we are not just looking for the lowest price; we are selecting partners based on their capabilities including engineering, delivery and location.”
The change in process at Manitex Liftking has helped improve relationships with customers, including private commercial contractors, steel processors and fabricators, and military entities. While the business performs some forecasted builds, most orders are built to order. “We are always in the process of designing new equipment,” Cockerton notes.
His team recently landed six contracts with the U.S. Navy. “These are all shipboard lift trucks,” Cockerton elaborates. “We are designing these for a defined application and working with very in-depth design and test specifications. The requirements include very stringent testing such as high-shock testing, electromagnetic testing, water-ford testing and a capability test which puts our equipment through an obstacle course for 2,000 laps. In the military market, this is pretty standard.”
Other important customers include the Canadian military, private contractors and international security organizations. In 2013, the business completed the design and assembly of four 67,000-pound rough terrain container handlers for NATO. With military and international clients, the business is on a list of approved contractors and has access to specific bid opportunities.
Maintaining positive momentum
The global economy has not been kind to the construction and manufacturing industries, making it more difficult to build and maintain margins for businesses like Manitex Liftking. Demand for products is changing and many contractors have put off equipment upgrades for longer than previous cycles.
The company’s adaptation to lean manufacturing has made a significant impact on market share. By improving efficiencies, Manitex Liftking is better able to compete on the international market. “Growth is our vision for the next few years,” says Jeff. “We are adding value, designing new products and reaching out to new markets. It feels good to see the organization changing for the better. We are engaging employees and getting them involved in the transition, which has been really beneficial to our workforce.”
With a dedicated staff and a new lease on value-added design and production, Manitex Liftking is setting the stage for efficient production of durable, high-performance equipment in the years to come.