Opinion

Plenty of good news at INTERMAT

Last month’s INTERMAT show was a good chance to gauge the confidence of construction-machinery sellers, and a chance to learn of new developments, whether investments in the network or new releases.

While the first day of the show was certainly a little slow, the number of visitors grew across the week, and it appeared to be a good balance between quantity and quality. After all, when shows are too busy there isn’t enough time to give new potential customers full attention.

Questions for executives from OEMs about the impact of the drop in the oil price revealed that as yet there has been little drop in demand for machinery. This is due to the enormous scale of infrastructure projects underway (and planned), many of which have significant importance to social and economic aspirations. These projects often have a significant workload and duration, giving contractors the confidence (and incentive) to invest in large fleets of new kit.

One exception to this rule seems to be Qatar, where I am told project awards have slowed down or even stalled since the beginning of the year, while slow payments are a perennial problem.

As to whether 2016 will bring smaller spending from the state budgets, whether the oil price will rise, or whether spending on social infrastructure will remain steady – the best answer was given by one executive, who remarked, “We just don’t know!”

On the equipment side, quite apart from any of the new launches, it was pleasing to hear that contractors and plant users are increasingly invested in taking advantage of latest-generation technologies.

Especially in the UAE, fuel efficiency is now a key consideration when buying a new machine. After all, it adds up to a significant cost over a machine’s life, and nobody is certain what the price of diesel will be in three years, when the machine is still a part of your fleet.

Operator-friendly features, ergonomics, air-conditioning and effective climate isolation are also increasingly sought after, with the awareness that comfortable operators are more productive across a long shift. The attitude of ‘my operators don’t need AC’ still exists, but belongs to the older generation of plant owners, one regional director explained.

With the pace of projects and the volumes of material to be shifted, maximum productivity is required to complete projects quickly and remain profitable.

Meanwhile, the shortage of skilled operators in the region means that buyers are looking for machines that will keep their top operators happy and productive. As has long been the case in Europe, operator preferences are starting to factor into machine purchasing decisions, which seems to be a case of winners all around.

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