A smarter future

  • 18-Apr-2011 02:56 EDT

Len Walton, Director of Sales and Marketing, MICO Inc.

The off-highway equipment industry is extremely dynamic, with environmental pressures and wildly fluctuating markets creating daily challenges. Key business decisions are not made lightly or on a whim. Research is conducted, needs are identified, forecasts are projected, and goals are formed. This approach is taken because most of us believe that even more important than what the industry looks like today is what it will look like in the future.

Of course, when a global recession suddenly delivers a vicious uppercut that challenges our strategic plans and standard processes, it’s easy for any company to get caught up in the present and lose sight of long-term goals. Some may even be hit so hard that they forget to do what’s necessary to maintain a position of strength in the market once the economy rebounds.

Obviously our businesses do not exist in a vacuum, so simply having the desire to stay the course isn’t enough to overcome the very real challenges that accompany a recession. Fortunately for MICO, we were able to stick to two of our primary goals and we have come out stronger as a result.

One of those goals was to keep a viable chain of qualified suppliers intact. In the short term, it would have been logical to pull some work from suppliers and bring it in-house. Instead, we chose to take a longer view and continue to spread orders across our supply chain. We felt that doing our part to keep those companies healthy through the downturn would later ensure they would be there for us on the upswing. That philosophy has paid off with a ready source of loyal suppliers that are now enabling MICO to respond to the rapid recovery.

The other major goal was to retain all MICO employees and avoid layoffs. We challenged ourselves to maintain our full workforce and were able to do that. In the process we had time to take a closer look at how we operate. We identified areas where we could make better use of our resources and ironed out various inefficiencies. Now with the market upturn, we aren’t finding ourselves playing catch-up. We have our skilled workforce and standard processes still in place, and we are able to respond quickly as our customers get back into the swing of things.

There’s no getting around the fact that the recession created some serious challenges. But there also have been some real, tangible positives as a result of the downturn. We are now a stronger company that is well positioned to thrive as the industry moves forward.

Looking ahead, no matter where you turn now the trend is to utilize the latest technology and innovative machine design to provide new benefits to the end user. Part of that is green technology and higher efficiency vehicles. Intelligent braking incorporating ABS, traction control, and stability control is a prime example of technology that advances machine controllability, efficiency, and safety.

Obviously, we’ve seen examples of intelligent machine controls for several years, but typically it has been relegated to particular point-to-point functions and in many cases these have not been integrated together. The focus now is on finding ways to embed intelligence throughout a machine to where you’re truly talking about total machine integration and optimization. Remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, machine handling optimization—we will continue to see these types of technologies become part of an integrated intelligence package.

MICO, originally known as a designer and manufacturer of braking components and systems, has really evolved its expertise to overall vehicle stability control. We continue to lead the way in electrohydraulic brake design and have invested in a dedicated electrohydraulics group whose sole purpose is to research and develop ways to advance machine braking intelligence and safety in the next generation of off-highway vehicles. We understand how critical this trend is to the future of the industry, and we’ve focused our efforts accordingly.

Naturally, we’re also continuing to differentiate ourselves in the marketplace as we always have with regard to component customization. The MICO focus is about engineered solutions rather than high-volume, off-the-shelf products. The greatest portion of what we produce is designed with specific customer vehicles in mind. We’ve built a solid reputation as problem solvers, and we expect to develop many more new solutions for off-highway engineers in the coming decade and beyond.

Len Walton, Director of Sales and Marketing, MICO Inc., wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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