Moving with the times

posted on 2nd October 2019
Moving with the times

CIMC Airmarrel, a specialist in loaders and transporter design and production, is adding to its GSE’s capabilities with the latest technological developments

CIMC Airmarrel can trace its history back over many decades, although the CIMC Airmarrel name dates back only to 2014. Airmarrel’s origins lie in a company called Bennes Marrel, which originally manufactured tipper industrial units. About 40 years ago, it began leveraging its knowledge and experience of the industrial vehicle business to diversify into the GSE sector, particularly in the production of high lifts and cargo loaders.

Then, in 1999, Airmarrel was hived off from Bennes Marrel as an independent company, and since then it has focused its attention on the design and development of loaders and transporters. Finally, five years ago Airmarrel was acquired by CIMC (China International Marine Containers Group), a Shenzhen-headquartered industrial giant that manufactures logistics and energy-related equipment.

CIMC has a division called Airport Facilities, within which Airmarrel fitted snugly. In fact, the airport sector was a major priority for CIMC around that time; over the 2013-14 period, it not only acquired Airmarrel but also bought German fire-fighting vehicle manufacturer Ziegler, Singaporean baggage handling system manufacturer Pteris, Chinese bus manufacturer XINFA and the Singaporean producer of catering trucks and ambulifts, Aeromobile.

CIMC also has an extensive passenger boarding bridge business, for which the CIMC brand name is perhaps currently best known in the airport segment.

The CIMC Airport facilities division now has an annual revenue of more than 500 million euros (US$600 million) and, says Gwenn Hervet, CIMC Airmarrel’s sales & marketing director, it has plans to acquire more airport GSE-related businesses in the coming years.

Airmarrel has continued to focus on airport loaders and transporters. It was the first company to offer a specalised cargo loader for the A320 (the 3.5-tonne capacity LAM 3500), recalls Hervet, but is equally proficient in the supply of loaders for narrowbody and widebody aircraft. In fact, it offers a maindeck capacity loader of as much as 35 tonnes’ capacity, while it has sold GSE into no fewer than 150 countries over the years.

Technological development

Adding new capabilities to its loaders and transporters is a big priority for CIMC Airmarrel, Hervet informs. First and foremost, it is meeting the increasing demands for electric GSE, he says. Thus, it has introduced electrically powered variants of its 3.5-tonne LAM 3500 and 7-tonne LAM 7000 loaders, and is today in the process of developing an all-new 14-tonne electric loader.

“We have seen more and more requests for electric units,” says Hervet. “Especially this year and not only in Europe – also across Asia and particularly from China.”

Furthermore, CIMC Airmarrel has been at the forefront of investigating the potential of hydrogen fuel cell technology and, to that end, has developed a hydrogen fuel cell option for its LAM 7000 unit. The variant was developed some seven or eight years ago, explains Hervet, but the airport market was not then ready for this innovative technology. Now, CIMC Airmarrel is receiving more enquiries regarding this option.

Hervet also points to other GSE manufacturers now starting to look into the possibilities of hydrogen fuel cell technology, a development that can only be good for CIMC Airmarrel, he believes, as the technology’s potential gains greater understanding in the market.

CIMC Airmarrel has tested a hydrogen fuel cell-powered loader in Spain with national airport operator Aena, and Hervet describes the trials as having been successful. What is holding back developments in this area is the newness of the technology and the reluctance of many GSE operators to be pioneers in adopting it; nevertheless, handlers are now starting to make enquiries about it, he reveals.

Another technology that has been quickly developed and included on CIMC Airmarrel GSE relates to collision avoidance. The Safety Approach System is fitted as standard on its 3.5-, 7- and 14-tonne loaders. It is fully compliant with IATA 913 2018 stipulations, says Hervet, and was originally developed for use with the newly developed composite aircraft, the A350 and B787 ‘Dreamliner’. But, he adds: “More and more customers are wanting this sort of safety system, and want it installed across all their loaders, whatever types of aircraft they are handling.”

A loader fitted with the Safety Approach System has its speed limited to three different settings (‘rabbit’, ‘tortoise’ and ‘snail’) depending on its proximity to an aircraft, while its bumpers contain sensors that will immediately ‘deadlock’ the loader on impact with an aircraft. A supervisor’s key is then required to restart the vehicle, meaning that no collision can go unreported by a loader’s operator.

Another technology that CIMC Airmarrel is investigating is automatic docking. CIMC has already developed such technology for its passenger boarding bridge business: trials are currently under way with Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. While it is certainly an option for CIMC Airmarrel, there are no immediate plans to introduce auto-docking it to its loaders though.

The latest technologies described above for GSE have undoubtedly enhanced the CIMC Airmarrel portfolio, and have been designed to meet evolving customer needs. But while the business always meets the industry’s highest standards, Hervet says CIMC Airmarrel is also careful not to over-engineer its products; reliability and ease of use and maintenance remain critical characteristics of its GSE, he believes.

After-sales service is another consideration that is vital to CIMC Airmarrel as it seeks to guarantee customer satisfaction, Hervet continues. To that end, it has after-sales engineers based at three different locations – at CIMC Airmarrel’s headquarters and manufacturing plant at St Chamond in France, in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and in Beijing in China.

Given the booming nature of the Chinese market, CIMC Airmarrel is also looking hard at opening up a new manufacturing site in China dedicated to electric GSE. This would be located at the XINFA facility in Beijing, Hervet confirms.