Quality Street

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I often wonder in the future whether we as a race will ever actually develop any really new machinery. OK, so we may improve on what we have and as technology (hopefully) develops many aspects of the structure of the vehicles may improve to varying degrees through better use of material and processes and embracing new methodology or machining.

But in real terms I think that certainly in the off highway sector we have everything covered. When I thumb through the catalogue of any of our industry shows very few if any of the vehicle categories will be alien to me. How many of us would be confused by the title “tracked excavator” or wheel loader? Even the specialist sectors like mining have well established vehicle frameworks that conjure up a precise image when spoken. There is to all intent and purpose a machine type for every possible need within our industry and whether they are bigger or smaller by design the plain fact remains that the last significant development in our industry was 20 years ago with the inception of the telescopic handler. Since then it has all been variations on a theme.

So I am asking “Quo Vadis” where exactly shall or will we be moving as an industry? It would seem that in the future vehicle development (certainly from the aspect of vehicle concept) must diminish. And whilst component development will still be around it will be severely hampered by the increasing pressure on the expected price reductions which strangle the life out of technological advancement.

From my perspective as the product manufacturing bases are moved away from their previous bases in the western economies the demand for “pedigree” products must slip away. And in the same way that we pick up a cheap wrench at a market these days rather than going to a tool shop for a branded tool our demand for off highway kit will move to the “barely serviceable but cheap”

Of course like the cheap wrench equipment will become more expendable and may well be scrapped after a project (much as we are now starting to do with perfectly serviceable automobiles) or replaced rather than refurbished. It does not paint a pretty picture in my books because my background has always been in quality engineering.

But the effect of industrialisation of the “developing economies” where low paid worker cost peanuts on an industry that is oversized both in terms of manufacturing facility and development capacity will take its toll. I firmly believe that if we continue down this path the probable scenario is that within a decade or two our industry will just be a series of third world manufacturing outlets attempting to “knock out” modular vehicles at the lowest price.

Our customers will by that time have become conditioned to expect that the only thing innovative or of quality about the product may well be the designer decals that will be applied as the machine rolls off of the assembly line. And those will be the only remnant of the previously proud brands that we recognise today.

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