Maeda America's Mini-Cranes: Navigating New Heights in the North American Market

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The chief operating officer of Japanese mini-crane manufacturer Maeda’s new company-owned American distributor is new to cranes but learning quickly.

“We just returned, from Gothenburg, Sweden, where we visited with the Kranlyft Group,” said Robert Trawick. “They are the authorized distributor for Maeda in the EU. We were interested in learning more about their business approach and operations in Europe.”

Maeda Seisakusho Co. Ltd., headquartered in Nagano, Japan, established its Maeda America subsidiary on April 1, 2022, to expand the company’s overseas market, particularly in North America.

The newly established company, Maeda America, led by chief executive officer Tommy Akamatsu, replaces the long-time independent distributor, Maeda USA. 

“North America has the potential to be the largest mini crane market,” Trawick said. “While the EU is a more mature mini crane market where the concept has been well accepted, North America is gaining in acceptance with great upside potential.”

Dealer Development

Trawick comes to Maeda with 40 years of experience working with dealer networks.

That includes 30 years with Isuzu, where he was vice president of sales and marketing, and was responsible for dealer development.

He then served for a decade with agricultural and heavy-equipment manufacturer Kubota, where he again worked with dealers.

“So, I appreciate that each industry operates differently and has different needs,” said Trawick. “Every industry has great dealers. The challenge is selecting partners best suited to represent our brand. I enjoy building, supporting, and learning to grow dealer organizations. Our value proposition is providing reliable, high-quality products designed with a priority on safety. Our products in the right markets presented by knowledgeable, responsive, and customer-oriented dealers are a recipe for success.”

Maeda America’s leadership team is fortunate to have Ingo Schiller, a well-known crane industry expert to provide strategic consulting advice.

“His industry knowledge and experience are invaluable. He is well-connected in the industry and that’s important,” Trawick said of Schiller.

Schiller, now a principal in Path Finder Consulting Group, has held executive positions with crane industry giants Tadano, Manitowoc, and Liebherr — all known for building crawler, all-terrain, rough-terrain, and mobile cranes.

In his work for Maeda, Schiller’s applying his knowledge on the smaller end of the lifting scale.

“Mini cranes have been an underdeveloped market, especially in North America,” Schiller said. “Recent industry indicators suggest it is growing rapidly. The demand for lifting solutions in confined spaces and under roofs is increasing, and mini cranes are the right tool to get inside and close to loads in new construction and existing buildings.”

Stocking Its Own Inventory

One of the advantages of Maeda distributing through its U.S. subsidiary is that it can stock its own inventory in the U.S., versus an independent distributor having to purchase and hold equipment, Trawick explained. 

“We already are — and will continue to — stock a variety of Maeda equipment stateside,” he said. “So we are able to react quickly to market and customer needs.”

The company’s Houston warehouse ships product to Maeda’s dealers in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America, which includes places like Mexico and Guatemala.

“It is true, I’m new to the crane business,” said Trawick. “However, my previous experience has helped me evaluate dealer network fitness; that is selecting dealers best suited for our network. Partnering with the right dealers is critical. Equally important are dealer good relationships; after all, this is a relationship business.”

Schiller has been instrumental in helping Trawick cultivate those relationships in the crane space.

The dollars are big, but the number of providers is relatively small.

“Ingo has opened doors for us. His warm introductions are allowing us the opportunity to discuss the Maeda mini-crane possibilities,” said Trawick.

Maeda USA Closed

For about 15 years before the parent company Maeda set up its Maeda America subsidiary, the brand was represented here by Maeda USA, an independent company owned by crane industry veteran Tony Inman and his brother Steven.

The Inmans wound down that company in 2022, but Tony Inman still runs Inman Texas Company, a crane sales and rental business in Houston that his father founded in 1979.

“After we separated from Maeda, Inman Texas still had a fleet of Maeda cranes,” said Tony Inman. “We’ve been minimizing that, and we still have a couple we continue to rent out. But we’re also looking for our next opportunities.”

Inman harbors no ill will toward Maeda. “They decided to do it themselves, and now they’re trying to figure it out,” he said.

He recalls fondly how he and Maeda got together in 2007 to help launch the North American mini-crane industry.

“It wasn’t just Maeda,” Inman said.“The whole mini-crane industry in the Western World came out of the ground in 2007-2008 from nothing. Our first Maeda USA sale was actually in Brazil in 2007.”

Mini cranes first turned heads on this continent at the 2008 ConExpo trade show.

“The economy was going the wrong way for introducing new products,” Inman said. “But we all stuck it out, and it worked out in the long term.”

Because of the poor economy, the mini-crane market grew slowly at first but eventually gained momentum.

“The whole concept then — and still today — is that a mini crane can change the way you lift in confined areas,” Inman said. 

He explained that you often can’t get a larger crane inside a building to make a lift, and that in confined areas outdoors you might have to set up a larger crane and reach a long way to do the job. 

“If it’s a confined space outdoors, you might need a big crane working at a 100' radius to handle 1,500 lbs.,” he said. “But a mini crane can go right to where the lift needs to be made.”

Gradual But Steady Growth

Marc Varricchione, sales manager of the crane and lift division for Wood’s CRW Corp., in Williston, Vermont, concurred that a mini crane can be an alternative to a truck crane or all-terrain crane for lifting a load that might weigh only 1,000 lbs.

“Some mini cranes fit through just an office doorway,” Varricchione said.

CRW has been a Maeda dealer serving New England, New York, and Pennsylvania for 10 years.

“We know the product, service, and parts very well,” Varricchione said.

In the last decade, sales and rentals of Maeda units have grown gradually each year, he said. “We think that there’s a lot of growth potential. Many industry categories have not yet discovered the value of these products.”

Wind energy is one of them. A mini crane doesn’t have the reach or heft to install wind turbine blades, but it can work on ancillary structures, such as electrical substations.

“A lot of operations at substations will be opportunities for mini cranes,” Varricchione said. “They’re small, compact, and can be moved easily. Whereas a large crane takes up a large footprint, makes a lot of ground pressure, and so forth.”

Size and Electrical Trends

CRW has also provided a Maeda CC1485 for small marine projects, such as on-barge work or handling sheet piles.

Unlike most Maedas, the CC1485 looks more like a typical crawler crane.

“We see a trend toward the larger Maeda models, as well as battery-electric machines,” Varricchione said.

The larger Maedas include the diesel-powered MC815, which has 8-USt lifting capacity, self levelling, and auto boom stow.

“We always try to offer dual-fuel opportunities, whether diesel-electric or gas-propane,”  Varricchione said. “The move to green energy is raising demand for battery-powered units. They produce no emissions and little noise while providing the same power and capabilities.”

Battery-powered units can even be plugged into 110-volt outlets. The newest battery-powered Maedas are available in the MC285 and MC305 series.

Also new is the CC1908 pick-and-carry crane.

For Wood’s CRW, the most popular models are the MC305, which can lift 6,560 lbs. at an 8' radius, and the MC405, which can pick 8,480 lbs. at 8.5'. 

Seeking Attachments

For both models, a searcher hook is a valuable attachment. “If you’re doing ceiling work and girders, it lets you place a load more precisely,” Varricchione said.

“Several contractor customers come to us when they have special applications,” Varricchione said. “We continue to grow the number of units we have available for rent or sale. And we are exploring new models. As Maeda rolls out bigger models, we will see if they’re something we can fit in.”

Trawick said that Maeda America is also looking to expand the reach of its products.

“We know that the existing customer base is great, but the larger opportunity is new industries that have yet to accept the mini crane,” Trawick said. “One example is convention centers. Another is museums that hang artwork in cathedral ceilings. A third is glass glazing in big buildings. We think the growth opportunities are really new industries and new areas, where people are saying, ‘Wow, that could work for me.’” 

SIDEBAR:

Xtreme Manufacturing Will Launch U.S.-Made Mini Crane in 2024

A U.S. equipment manufacturer is poised to step into the mini-crane arena in 2024.

Xtreme Manufacturing, part of the Ahern Family of Companies, is already cutting metal for a prototype that will be ready for testing in the first or second quarter of next year, said product specialist Duane Lloyd.

“Pretty quickly, we’ll have it on the test tables going through all the ANSI, OSHA, and EU testing because we’re going to release these to the European market, as well,” Lloyd said.

The project began when Lloyd was director of crane operations for Ahern Rentals, which recently sold its North American business to United Rentals.

Ahern Rentals was buying its mini cranes from a manufacturer, but since other members of its parent, the Ahern Family of Companies, were manufacturing Snorkel aerial work platforms and Xtreme telehandlers, Ahern explored making its own mini cranes instead of buying them.

“After doing some market research and looking at the division and how well the mini cranes were doing, we decided that we would design our own mini crane and make it a U.S.-made machine,” Lloyd said.

If all goes according to plan, the crane should go into production by the third quarter of 2024.

“The time is just an estimate,” Lloyd cautioned.

The Ahern-manufactured mini crane will squeeze through a standard 30"-wide office door.

Like most mini cranes, it will travel to lifting sites on rubber tracks but be supported by outriggers for lifting.

Black tracks will be standard, non-marking white tracks optional.

It will lift up to 7,040 lbs.

“It’s fully remote controlled, with a full LMI system,” Lloyd said. “Our crane will meet a lot more of the ANSI and OSHA standards than competitors’ foreign-made models.”

Ahern was started in 1953 by John and Martha Ahern, parents of current president Don Ahern.

In 1999, the company acquired Western Attachments, an Oregon forklift maker, which it rebranded as Xtreme Manufacturing in 2003.

A decade later, Xtreme became majority shareholder of Snorkel.

“About 10 months ago, Don sold Ahern Rentals to United and is now focusing solely on manufacturing things,” Lloyd said. “United has the rental stores for Ahern rentals, except for the international. Internationally the Ahern stores still exist.”

Xtreme will manufacture the new mini crane at its headquarters in Henderson, Nevada.

“We’re toying with the idea of calling it the Xtreme Scorpion,” Lloyd said. “If you look at the rendering of our mini crane, it looks like a scorpion.”

He didn’t have an estimated price but said it would be competitive with comparable models, if not less expensive because it wouldn’t have to be shipped to the U.S. from overseas.

“Our crane is fully designed by our own engineers. There’s no third-party engineering going into this machine at all,” Lloyd said. “This is all designed solely by Ahern Engineering, from the actual physical design of the structure of the crane all the way down to the programming and the hydraulic system. There’s nothing that’s being used from any of the other mini-crane manufacturers.” 




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