The CXT took the mass-production of wire rope hoists to a new level. Launched in 2000, it was the first one specifically designed to be manufactured close to customers in factories in North America, Europe and Asia. At the same time, the company would benefit from global purchasing possibilities, he says – saving money by ordering in bulk, and being able to order from wherever in the world parts have the best quality/cost ratio. And it would be built in the factories, and sold partly through the distributors that the corporation has bought up around the world: R&M, Verlinde, SWF, and this year, Morris Material Handling of the UK.

“We started with a white piece of paper. We started empty-handed; we didn’t continue anything. It was a totally new product. We questioned even the old norms, how earlier wire rope hoists were made,” he says. “It was the first new hoist design in a century.”

From the beginning, Konecranes planned to do final assembly on the hoists, but outsource most of component manufacture. The two exceptions are the rope drum and the gearbox, both of which happen to be more cost-effective to make in-house, he says. Every KCI hoist has a gearbox made by KCI in Finland.

Early days

Kiviniitty originally joined Konecranes in 1983 to finish a thesis on gearbox manufacturing quality assurance. “At that time Kone was one of the most international companies in Finland, if not the most, and that was one of the reasons why I wanted to get into it then,” he says. Konecranes did not separate from the lift business until 1994.

Kiviniitty says that Konecranes’ dwindling manufacturing base and increasing reliance on suppliers was in fact one of the key factors in its growth. “Assembly was always a major part of Konecranes. A lot of our own manufacturing has been moved outside and in that way enabled us to be more flexible and grow as much as we have.

“The aim has been all the time to be global,” he says. “The change depends on how widely we are operating. Meaning that when you are a local player, in the European market, you can organise production one way, and when you are global you have to look globally, and in that sense we have developed a wider point of view due to our growth.”

Although the company has hived off manufacturing to suppliers, it has held on to its technical expertise. For example, although motor production was outsourced to an Estonian subcontractor in 2004, Kivinitty maintains that the knowledge is not lost: “The experts are still in our company, and we will keep it like that,” he says. “Our main focus is the product know-how and of course the distribution, supply chain and service operations. It is essential to own the production units, in China, the US, Finland and Europe, so that those can be controlled and assured locally. We have to have control in place.”

In October, Kiviniitty took over as Konecranes’ chief technology officer. Part of the appeal for him is its perspective: “You can really see the development of this area, and not only see it, but affect where it is moving.”

He says that customers are demanding greater hoist control – and this demand is driving hoist design. “Safety issues are really important ones. Safety for the operator: how easy it is to perform an operation safely. This includes controls and of course load handling, such as anti-sway.”

The company’s global purchasing power has made it easier for the company to meet those needs. “The volume you have gives you the possibilities. When you have higher volumes, you can also invest more in electronics, drives and so on. That came with the CXT model when we standardised those inverter drives.

“For standard cranes, cost pressures will always be there, he says. “The development of low-cost products has been there with many products. For the present, for us, it is more how to give customers more features.”

In the future, industrial cranes will not necessarily grow hyper-developed computer brains as packaging robots have done, he says. “For sure hoists and cranes will be different. That’s one part of their development – in major countries automation will increase.

“There is also room for the other side of that. There is so much growing market for development: India, Russia. There will still be a long-term need for simple solutions.”