Reprinted Windpower Expo Article from April/May 2009 Issue US business Review.
| Goracon develops, designs and installs customized service lifts, ladderclimbers and maintenance units
Sky's the Limit
goracon is looking to manufacture platform technology for the wind energy industry that can go higher and be environmentally friendly.
by Libby John
After being one of the leading platform technology manufacturers for the wind industry in Europe, goracon expanded into the United States last year to take advantage of the growing market. Originally based in Germany, goracon develops, designs and installs customized service lifts, ladderclimbers and maintenance units for the wind power industry.
Some of the products include wind turbine access platforms, industrial access platforms and building access platforms. Along with Germany and Lawrenceville, GA., the global company also has partners in Spain, Japan, South Korea, the United Kingdom and Australia. The companys' ability to be flexible and incorporate its customers’ needs into its products was vital to its success in Europe, President Carl Vanhoutte says.
For example, some customers wanted a product that would make it easier to conduct climbs on higher towers, so it recently launched the climb assist – which he describes as endless rope that users can hook onto personal safety gear.
When a worker starts climbing, the ladder-climber reduces his or her weight by 70 to 80 pounds. “If I’m 230 [pounds] and I’m climbing that ladder, I feel like I’m 150,” he says. “It’s less strenuous on the knees and back. So instead of four climbs a day, I can do five.
“It makes a big difference,” he notes. “In the end, every worker can climb 20 times more per month. So there is also a sense of cost savings [with more climbs].”
The climb assist is expected to be successful because the wind power industry is looking for products that can help with maintenance. “Because the industry is young, they are looking for maintenance [technology] so [products can be built] to last 30 years,” he says.
goracon expects this product to be popular in markets where a lot of towers already exist for retro-fitting such as North America, and in markets where a service lift would be expensive, such as Latin America.
goracon’s ideas for new products simply come from the customers themselves, Vanhoutte says. “We go to customers and ask them about their needs,” he says. “We ask them what we need to achieve, what the application is for, [etc]. We gather all that information and as an engineering team, we make a decision based on what we have and then go back to the customer with a 3-D proposal.”
After submitting the proposal and if the customer likes what he or she sees, the next step is to create a prototype for the customer to use. The client’s ultimate satisfaction could lead to a long-term contract. “The idea is that we are striving for mutual benefits,” he says.
This process usually takes between three to five months. “It’s much easier to get a customer for a long-term contract when we have what he needs,” Vanhoutte says.
Behind the Drawing Board
goracon was founded in 2002 by four co-workers from another platform manufacturing company. “They had the idea or feeling that they could be doing business with customers in a different way,” Vanhoutte says, such as being more flexible and focusing on customer service. The company focused on building temporary and swing stage platforms for high-rise buildings and other specialty applications.
It decided to enter the wind power industry in 2004 after attending a wind energy trade show.
“One of our competitors had a [service lift for the wind energy market] on display and [the founders] thought, ‘Not bad, but we can do it better,’” he says. “So they went behind the drawing board” and designed an open look service lift with a 360-degree view.
The company presented its product to Enercon, which is one of the biggest wind tower manufacturers in the wind industry in Europe. “They were sold,” he says.
goracon’s main focus continues to be the wind power market. “The wind industry is neat and straight-forward,” Vanhoutte says. “So far, we are fortunate to say that we don’t have the need for something else.
“A lot of our [competitors] have their core business already in something else,” he says. “We as a company, our core business is the wind industry. We don’t need to look for other business because at this point, we have more than enough.”