Exploring Malaysia’s trailer scene

Recent economic developments in Malaysia reflected to a large extent the developments in the global economy during the past half-decade. The 28-million people state recorded a strong recovery over 2010; but the rebound did not prevail as momentum tapered off soon and growth became jittery. Output first contracted and then rebounded, manufacturing performed inconsistently and consumer and business sentiment evolved in opposite directions. But, recent indicators are encouraging and suggest renewed drive.

In such an unstable environment, the survival of a company can be closely tied to the product portfolio, as market needs tend to vary just as much as business sentiment. New Zealand side loader specialist Steelbro has understood that principle, as growing sales indicate as plain as can be. “Having the right product for the right market is crucial, both in a fast and a slow economy,” says Steelbro’s General Manager, Global Sales, Steve James.

For instance, when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak recently showed fresh optimism over Malaysia's economic outlook, Muirsmeath and the team at Steelbro responded in an instant and launched a new 45-tonne model to help carry the upsurge.

Designed for heavy-duty use and demanding work environments, the new 45 tonne unit has been optimised to suit the Malay market and is supposed to revolutionise the local wharf sector. But, it’s not the first model the brand has offered in the kingdom. In fact, Steelbro has been servicing the area since 1996, when the brand’s first operation in Kuala Lumpur was set up. At the time, it had over 40 side loaders operating in the country; hence the new workshop was focusing on part supply, repair work, maintenance and the assembly of new vehicles.

“From the outset, Malaysia was not only an important market in itself, it served as a strategic base for other countries in South East Asia as well. Kuala Lumpur is a large port area so there is obviously a big market for our product here,” says James – pointing out that setting up a local entity has been a success from day one. “Since 1996, the workshop in Kuala Lumpur has more than doubled in size, which is a reflection of the spectacular growth Steelbro has developed, based on a solid reputation for quality and product support. It was just a natural progression to set up a local manufacturing presence as it enables us to immediately react to a changing market – and the SB450 will once again prove us right.”

Since the Malaysia launch in April, Steelbro has been overwhelmed by the response to the new SB450 series, which has kept the local factory especially busy.

“Previously, the highest lift capacity we could safely offer was 40 tonnes,” says Engineering Manager, Greg Muirsmeath. “This latest unit has a massive 45 tonne safe working load rating, enabling it to safely transport very heavy containers.”

James adds, “The market demanded added capacity, and we think the SB450 is the best solution. Customers across Malaysia are starting to see the huge benefits of a 45 tonne unit and recognise that smooth, efficient delivery solutions are the key to success in today’s challenging and fast moving transport market.”

According to Muirsmeath, the design process sees the engineering team start with an existing model and decide what parts can be strengthened to achieve the desired capacity. “Those components are then re-designed as required. But, involving our supplier base in every development is just as important as getting design and manufacture right.”

When designing the crane, for instance, steel suppliers play a critical role to achieve the desired outcome. “The mechanical properties of the steel we use determine what can – and can’t – be achieved. The advantage of a highly reliable material is that Steelbro can be less conservative with the numbers it puts into its calculations, hence the steel supplier plays a critical role in the process.”

One selling point that has convinced the Malay clientele is the SB450’s outreach of 3.9 metres, measured from the centre of the trailer to the centre of the lifted container. “The SB450 can now lift to its full hydraulic capacity at a further distance than previous models, giving you more freedom and less incentive to take risks. And, the stability Steelbro equipment is known for is still on board – especially useful when transferring containers from side loader to trailer and from side loader to rail wagon,” says Muirsmeath.

According to Steelbro, superior outreach is crucial to ensure an efficient transfer of shipping containers to and from companion vehicles, increasing the efficiency of the entire operation by providing greater flexibility when lining up containers. Where other machines need to drive very close to companion vehicles in trailer-to-trailer operations, this side loader will even handle badly positioned containers and in doing so speed up the whole process.

“Being a stronger, more powerful unit, less stress is placed on the unit, extending the life of the componentry and reducing the overall cost of life of the unit,” Muirsmeath explains. “It also allows containers to be placed with precision exactly where you want it.”

Generally, the idea behind the side loader concept is simple, yet revolutionary. “A side loader’s ability to shift containers between different transport systems means operators can save time and thereby increase efficiency. The option to load and unload containers on the ground also increases efficiency and safety,” he adds. “To most organisations, this will eventually add more to the bottom line.”

In Malaysia, the concept has been embraced on the spot. ““Malaysia is a significant market for us at the moment and being present here helps us understand all the requirements of our customers in order to provide the best solutions for their current needs,” says James.

“The factory is especially busy at the moment as we try to expand in Malaysia and elsewhere in South East Asia,” he adds. “We focus on those countries that require the use of containerised freight.  This is where side loaders customers can see massive increases in efficiencies, especially with the new SB450.”

Local Business Development Manager, Chew Len Chet, says that operational agility is the key ingredient to keep growing as a company in the current business environment. “The introduction of the SB450 proves to be a timely example of Steelbro’s ability to adjust the product offering according to changing customer expectations. Since the arrival of the SB450 into Malaysia, interest in the new model has been excellent. And, this also speaks volumes in terms of the customers’ confidence in the Steelbro brand.” 

Regardless of the target market, Steelbro continues to invest in new technology to ensure that its portfolio of specialised transport equipment will keep fascinating the global audience – even in a fluctuating business environment.

Looking forward, James concludes, “The focus at Steelbro will continue to be on delivering innovatively designed machines that set the benchmark in value for money, reliability and competitive advantage for our customers. 

“That’s why we work closely with reputable international partners to supply vehicle componentry, high strength steels with superior fatigue toughness, integrated printed circuit board controls, high pressure hydraulics and superior paint systems. These basics can make all the difference.”

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