Columbus McKinnon Corporation

Issue Mar Apr 14


When acquiring lifting products, equipment and systems, the initial acquisition cost is only one factor to consider. Over the life of hoists, cranes and rigging equipment, the costs related to maintaining, repairing and replacing an unreliable piece of machinery will multiply   the total cost of ownership (TCO) to several times the original purchase price of the equipment. Columbus McKinnon’s (CMCO) robust product portfolio and applications engineering expertise have put a sharp focus on providing end-users with safe and productive lifting solutions that deliver the lowest TCO. “Our company’s heritage goes back 139 years to 1875 and includes a well-recognized and market-leading portfolio of brands including CM, Yale, Coffing, Shaw-Box, Chester, Duff-Norton, Pfaff, Little Mule and Budgit,” according to Gene Buer, vice president North America and global vertical markets.

By concentrating on manufacturing the highest-quality hoists, cranes and related rigging products on the market, CMCO offers customers a wide range of lifting solutions that may not be the lowest initial purchase price, but provide a compelling financial return over the operating life of the equipment. This combination of broad product portfolio with lowest TCO, deep industry knowledge, and application engineering expertise make CMCO the overhead lifting market leader with the largest installed base in the United States and a significant player in the global market.

The company is the result of a merger between two chain operations – Columbus Chain and McKinnon Chain – that took place 97 years ago, and the newly formed company thrived in the economic expansion of early 20th century America. In 1928, the company acquired hoist manufacturer Chisholm Moore, adding the CM brand of hoists to its product offerings. This was the catalyst for CMCO’s evolution into a leading manufacturer of complete lifting solutions, culminating in the company’s purchase of numerous domestic hoist manufacturers in the 1990s. “We became the leading hoist company in North America by a wide margin,” Buer says.

Because the company continues to drive greater efficiency in its manufacturing processes with the CMCO Lean Business System while improving the high quality its products are known for, CMCO expects to maintain its edge over the rest of the lifting solutions industry. Buer says once customers understand the true value of buying lifting solutions based on TCO, CMCO products are the clear choice. “Columbus McKinnon views itself, and I believe we’re viewed by our customers, as providing the highest value and lowest TCO in lifting solutions,” he says.

Multiple Sectors

One of the biggest keys to CMCO’s leading market position has been the breadth of its product portfolio, Buer says. Although the company’s customer base could broadly be defined as industrial, CMCO serves several vertical markets with industry-focused products and services. The company’s cranes, hoists and rigging equipment are designed for demanding and specialized end markets such as heavy equipment manufacturing, construction, mining, oil and gas, automotive, metal-working, transportation, power and utilities, and entertainment. Although CMCO faces many competitors in the market there is no comparable company to provide such diverse solutions. “There’s no single competitor that we compete with across the entire breadth of our product portfolio,” Buer says.

Having such a diverse customer base provides CMCO with numerous opportunities for success, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. Buer says one of the company’s biggest initiatives is gathering end-user and channel-partner input to anticipate the evolution of their customers’ needs across the end markets it serves. He says the company strives to understand its customers to the extent that it can anticipate what they will need so they have a solution that will enable their customers’ success.

For CMCO, the trick simply involves spending a lot of time working face-to-face with customers and never taking their needs for granted. “You’ve got to be deeply embedded in your customers’ business to understand what users are doing now and where they’re headed,” Buer says. “We also offer a robust training curriculum to ensure a well-educated end-user and distributor network.”

Centers of Excellence

In its 18 global manufacturing facilities, CMCO focuses on operational excellence to ensure customer satisfaction through the implementation of its CMCO Lean Business System. The company embraces lean principles to serve customers more efficiently while improving returns for its shareholders. The company has developed its recent manufacturing strategy around “competency centers” defined by product type, as opposed to its legacy approach of the plants being brand specific. For example, the company’s highly engineered line of hoists is produced solely at its Ohio facility, whereas the vast majority of its high-volume chain hoists are manufactured at its Virginia plant.

“That combination of the CMCO Lean Business System and strategic competency centers helps us to provide top-quality products and be very competitive,” Buer says.

Maintaining Focus

Although the company holds a leading position in the lifting solutions market, Buer says CMCO knows it can’t afford to let its guard down. This is especially true given the increasingly global nature of the marketplace, where new competitors spring up constantly. Buer says the most effective weapon CMCO has in this arena is education. By effectively educating customers about the total cost of ownership, he says, the company helps them understand the difference between the cheapest price and the lowest cost.

As the company looks ahead to the near future, Buer says CMCO believes it has the pieces in place to extend its position as a market leader. He says the marketplace knows and understands what CMCO can bring to the table, and that reputation is one of the primary reasons that the company continues to lead the industry today.

“We have focused intensely on specific vertical markets,” he says. “We believe that our value proposition is well-tailored to end-user segments that value and understand what lowest total cost of ownership really means for their bottom line.

“We have global customers in our core vertical markets who demand safety, durability and reliability in their lifting solutions; and those requirements match up extremely well to our design philosophy, applications and technical expertise, and our operating system,” Buer adds.

The company says that by building off the traditions of excellence that have defined it for its entire existence, CMCO will be in a strong position to continue building its reputation for many years to come.

“Columbus McKinnon is a leading worldwide designer, manufacturer, and marketer of material handling systems and services, which efficiently and ergonomically move, lift, position, or secure material,” the company  says. “With a rich 135-year tradition, the company is focused on commercial and industrial applications that require the safety and quality provided by its superior design and know-how.”


Columbus McKinnon Corporation