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JCB’s Pooler plant builds on success for military equipment

  • JCB is modifying a model of its Loadall telescopic handler into a specialized light-capability, rough terrain forklift for the U.S. Army. (Photo courtesy of JCB)
  • Much more than a forklift, the Army’s newest machine is also a telescopic handler that can tow and utilize different attachments. (Photo courtesy JCB)
  • The Army has contracted with JCB to build more than 1,600 of the special forklifts, which are designed for use in harsh marine environments as well as on land.(Photo courtesy JCB)
  • Arjun Mirdha President and CEO of JCB North America

Heavy equipment manufacturer JCB may have its roots in the United Kingdom, but two recent contracts make it bullish on the U.S. military.

The company, whose North American headquarters and manufacturing facility is located just off Interstate 95 in Pooler, started 2017 by winning one of the largest single orders in its 71-year history — a 10-year, $142-million deal to supply the United States Army with a massive fleet of machines.

The company will build more than 1,600 light-capability, rough terrain forklifts for deployment on tasks around the world, including loading and unloading aircraft and shipping containers. JCB’s Government and Defense Division won the competitive contract by modifying its versatile 527-58 commercial Loadall telescopic handler to meet the Army’s specifications.

“This order is fantastic news for JCB and a great way to start the New Year,” said JCB CEO Graeme Macdonald. “It is the second-highest-value order in the company’s history, and I congratulate everyone who has worked to secure this valuable contract in the same year that we mark 40 years of telescopic handler production.”

The largest single deal in JCB’s history also came from the U.S. Army in 2005 when a $206 million order was placed to produce hundreds of high-speed military versions of JCB’s famous backhoe loader.

Building on success

That machine, the High Mobility Engineer Excavator – or HMEE — is capable of speeds of up to 60 mph and has also been sold to allied forces around the world, including the United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.

“We are proud that the U.S. Army has once again chosen JCB and its Pooler-based manufacturing facility to produce an extraordinary piece of specialized equipment, said Arjun Mirdha, CEO and President of JCB North America.

“Over the past three decades, JCB has supplied more than 4,000 machines to armed forces in 57 countries, and we have acquired a deep understanding of how the Army uses equipment and the unique features needed.”

Indeed, the Army signaled its ongoing satisfaction with the HMEE three years ago when it ordered another $50 million worth of the machines, prompting the company in 2015 to move its entire global Government and Defense division from its worldwide headquarters in Great Britain to Pooler.

A good move

That decision proved serendipitous. In addition to the new forklift order, the Army just last week awarded JCB in Pooler an $11.4 million contract modification for 33 more HMEEs.

“We’ve been building the HMEE here for a dozen years, now,” said Chris Giorgianni, JCB’s vice president for product support and government and defense.

“Now, to be able to expand our product portfolio to the government is really exciting.”

With its defense division at the production site, the team was able to be more “hands-on,” meeting – and then exceeding — the Army’s specifications.

“This machine is much more than a forklift,” said John Kyler, JCB’s general manager of government and defense.

“It’s a logistics enabler, designed to utilize buckets and other attachments, broadening the scope of what the Army originally wanted it to do.

“Whether it’s preparing defense positions in the field, loading and unloading aircraft or performing humanitarian reconstruction missions, the 527-58M is another example of how JCB has been able to take that innate understanding and develop a machine that can tackle the toughest military applications under the most grueling conditions,” he said.

A compact workhorse

At 80 inches wide and 78 inches high, the 527-58M is optimized to work in confined areas. With a travel speed of 20 mph, the machine has a maximum lift capacity of more than 5,000 pounds and a lift height of 19 feet.

Powered by a JCB DieselMax engine, the machine’s cold-start capability means it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice in any climate and its maneuverability allows it to work easily in tight spaces. It’s also designed for use and long-term survival in a harsh marine environment, including wading and fording.

Like the HMEE, the new forklift is built to minimize operational costs, with a two-year service warranty and extended service intervals, Giorgianni said, adding that parts will be available from distribution centers in the company’s worldwide network, making it faster and more efficient for the Army to maintain and service the new forklifts.

“With JCB producing nearly one of every three telescopic handlers sold globally, the U.S. Army will benefit from a leading commercial design and associated cost and operational efficiencies, he said.

“Just as the JCB-built and supplied HMEE revolutionized how the military tackled engineering tasks, the new JCB light-capability rough terrain forklift is designed to improve military logistics capabilities.”

First things first

Kyler said he expects production of the new machine to begin really ramping up sometime in the second quarter of 2018.

“Part of our process was proving the machine to ourselves before we attempted to prove it to the Army,” he said. “We are all former military, so it’s a matter of pride to make sure the machine does everything we say it will do – and more.”

In the current test phase, the company will produce several machines for the Army to use and provide feedback, Giorgianni said.

“JCB’s proximity to and relationships with the local military installations really helped us understand what the needs of our service men and women are and how the 527-58 could really make a difference for them,” he added.

“Once we conclude the test phase and have satisfied all of the Army’s testing requirements, we’ll be ready to begin production.

“Then, the Army’s needs will determine the number of machines we produce in any given time period.”

Growing a workforce for the future

Production of the new 527-58M will definitely require additional workforce, Mirdha said.

“Our current projections are the addition of more than 40 positions at JCB, likely with an equivalent number in our supplier base through the contract period,” he said.

“This award is not only great news for JCB, but also for our community.”

Mirdha also hopes JCB’s partnership with the U.S. military is only just beginning.

“In 2016, JCB relocated its global Government &Defense Division to Pooler,” he said. “It is here that we currently produce the HMEE and will manufacture the new forklift, beginning in 2018.

“JCB is creating a very flexible local manufacturing base and a highly skilled work force, which positions us for continued growth of our commercial construction and agricultural businesses throughout North America and our military business worldwide.”

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