Sometimes all it takes to transform your life is a piece of paper and a pencil. And so it has proved for Amilcare Merlo. Three decades ago the likeable Italian found himself at a restaurant table preparing to draw what was to become the most important picture of his career. He had been an exhibition […]
Sometimes all it takes to transform your life is a piece of paper and a pencil. And so it has proved for Amilcare Merlo.
Three decades ago the likeable Italian found himself at a restaurant table preparing to draw what was to become the most important picture of his career. He had been an exhibition in Ireland and had seen something that was playing on his mind.
He describes the moment he invented the telescopic handler in finer detail. “We were at this exhibition and I saw this picture of a very old, a dinosaur of a machine. But it had this long boom…”
Sketching the future
The long boom pre-occupied him that night at the restaurant. Euromat (now Intermat) was coming and Merlo needed a new machine, but how to make that boom?
Sitting down with a member of his team, the dinner service was set aside and he began to sketch out what would become one of the last great construction machines. Necessity really can be mother of invention.
The next day the sketch was passed onto the design department and the new machine began to come to life.
However time was against him and his team. Euromat was barely two months away and this was an age before computers, before CAD.
He explains, “We didn’t have technological tools, no informatics but we worked very quickly. The machine had to be totally Merlo. We didn’t have time to go to another company.”
Spurred on by the need to make the event, production of a prototype began in earnest. Soon the design team passed on more detailed designs and it began to take shape.
In those early days, Merlo knew they were working on something entirely knew for the industry. He had worked extensively in the past with rough train forklifts but had been frustrated by the limits in terms of height.
“The main point was the extension of the boom. To that point people could only lift vertically and the main idea was to [be able to] move,” he moves his hands upwards and diagonally, mimicking the action of a telehandler.
“We realised that forklifts were not the right vehicle for construction. The innovation of the machine was the machine. The long boom profile was the big difference we gave to the market.”
He adds: “We knew it was a different way to work, but frankly we didn’t realise it would be such a revolution (in machinery design).”
Despite the rapid turnaround and being determined to make the exhibition there was one seemingly minor detail that wasn’t ready.
“The mudguard had to be made of wood,” he laughs. “Because of the short amount of time for the exhibition.”
A carpenter was quickly asked for to make the mudguards for the machine. They were promptly painted and the machine was ready, just in time, for Paris.
“Today it would be impossible to do but back then it was okay.”
TAKING IT TO THE SHOW
With the machine safely on show, the world’s first telescopic handler could make its debut. Although it didn’t take long for the strange new machine to start attracting attention and so did its equally odd-looking mudguards.
Andrea Bedosti, commercial director for Merlo, interjects: “At first nobody noticed, but after the first one did, everybody was coming over to knock on the wood. Everyone was coming back, checking the machine, knocking the wood, laughing and then going away.”
Bedosti add: “Nobody joking at the time probably thought 30 years down the line the machine would prove to be so popular.”
While explaining that the prototype was capable of lifting 13t at 6m, Amilcare Merlo recalls the debut fondly.
“At the beginning, the first hours of the exhibition, people were looking at it as if saying, what is this new animal? But afterwards we met all the dealers and we explained why we were doing it.”
Putting the boom on the other side to the cab and engine, so the boom could be moved while retaining complete visibility, may have look strange to passers-by then, but as the main patent it meant that the Italian manufacturer was the only company able to use it for ten years.
The telehandler has been instrumental in the success of his company, Merlo describes the invention of the machine as “good luck”.
Beside the telehandler, Merlo is producing a range of machines with construction and agricultrual applications and continues to innovate and today produces rough terrain concrete mixers, small tracked carriers (a multi-purpose smooth