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20 years Mennens Cleanroom Cranes

20 years Mennens Cleanroom Cranes

It started out as a small project, a nice little extra, when 20 years ago, chip machine maker ASML asked Mennens for a clean crane to use in their dust-sensitive production environment. Twenty years later, Cleanroom Cranes has grown into a full-fledged subdivision of Mennens. Danny van Deuzen, Managing Director of Mennens Group and CEO of the Cleanroom Cranes division, looks back on all the developments in recent years and looks ahead as well.

Did you expect 20 years ago that your production of cleanroom cranes would grow into what it is now?

'Nobody expected that, I think. It all started with one small crane, a nice little project. Ten years later we our took our large cranes abroad for the first time, and now we also focus on industries other than semiconductors as well. We could have never predicted that.'

Take us back to 1998 when you decided to produce your first clean crane.

‘ASML asked for cranes for their dust-sensitive production environment. They did not know exactly what they needed or what was available, so we started investigating together. The supplier of our standard cranes had the belt hoist crane in his portfolio, which is cleaner than traditional hoists with chains, and our salesman saw the possibility to use them at ASML.’

'A year later we delivered our first clean crane. And it suited quite well. Ever since then ASML has been a large and important customer and together we have further developed the product. This collaboration is working perfectly, our products are becoming more beautiful, better, more complete, safer and can handle more heavy workloads. Back then, we talked about 3 ton cranes, now the latest development is a 40 ton crane. '

At that time, the cleanroom cranes were still a part of the regular activities of Mennens. Why did you decide to make it a separate brand?

'When we first received international customers in Dongen in 2007, they did not understand how we could supply clean cranes. A clean room environment is supposed to have a clean appearance, neat white floors. Our traditional heavy chains and cables and technicians in greasy overalls do not fit in well with that. That is why we decided to make a separate brand in 2010 with its own neat website and matching logo. '

How has the CRC department developed over the past twenty years?

'The semiconductor is a nice market for cleanroom cranes, but not the only one. Since a few years we also focus on other industries: pharmaceutical, food and aerospace. Pharmaceutical in particular is a large and growing market, and after the polluted milk powder scandal in China, production in the Netherlands has grown enormously. The expertise we have built up in semiconductors is very useful for those industries, but there are also differences. In the case of food and medicine, pollution absolutely cannot occur, the requirements are stricter and different. We have also stepped up our after-sales and service activities: during maintenance and inspections we want to demonstrate the same clean quality as we do with our products. A traditional mechanic with a dirty toolbox simply cannot walk into a clean room just like that.

'Two years ago we have hired a full time sales engineer who actively offers our products to those industries and you see the effect of that. These activities are also being developed at Mennens Belgium and our sister company in Germany. It is not always easy: not every customer understands this market. We must first explain that they have a problem, that pollutants are emitted by traditional cranes, but then we also have a solution for them. Our products are specially produced, clean-room-resistant materials are used, parts are polished, products that will not collect pollutants will not have to be cleaned! We know what is allowed in a clean room or controlled environment and what is not. That offers opportunities in the market. '

Is there an event of which you have a special recollection? 

'In 2007 ASML ordered cranes with us. We had barely delivered them when ASML asked if we wanted to visit some of their customers who also needed cranes. We started with six pilot projects, Intel, Toshiba, TSMC, Samsung, Hynix and the University of Leuven, and we said to ourselves: if we score three of those projects now, it's party time. We scored all six of them. That was a fantastic international start. "

'The different cultures with which you come into contact also remain special experiences. We have learned to abandon our expectations when, for example, we go to Korea, because the schedule is always turned upside down. In many Eastern countries work gets done very differently, so there we tell our mechanics: count to 10, go with the flow, because you are not going to change this. By traveling and getting to know our customers and local partners, you learn what their expectations are and what you want to convey to them. That is very instructive. '

How do you see the future for the CRC division?

'For the time being we are very busy with the success of the EUV machines with which ASML can produce microchips in a more cost effective way. Despite some earlier setbacks, this is really becoming a mature market, factories are being built for those machines and cranes will have to be installed. This year we hope to deliver, for first time, a newer and larger version of the crane type that we introduced in 2007.

'That market will be saturated in a few years. That is why we are also actively recruiting a position in the pharmaceutical industry, food and aerospace and we are continuing to develop our service activities. We already have more than 100 cranes operating in the field this year, which have to be maintained and inspected. Finally, we will focus on the conversion of cranes, the addition of new components. In Korea we are now working on our first crane conversion.'

'We are currently still at 3 different locations, but soon we will be moving to Eindhoven. Then we will be positioned as we should be: together, with a larger production capacity in order to be able to build the new generation of cranes better.’

What distinguishes you from other companies in this sector?

'First of all innovation, the products that we have developed. In addition, we have knowledge of the market, are flexible and inventive. And we are a small, very nice group of people. We are always there for each other, we have an incredible drive, we can laugh together and are very serious. That is our strength.’

Which message do you find important to convey to potential customers?

'That the hoisting equipment in their production space is special as well. Some companies want to be clean, but still throw in a polluting traditional crane, often because they do not know any better way. But if you do not bring pollution into the production process, you will not have to remove it either. We have to demonstrate that. And we have to show that our cranes are worth the extra cost: they are built tailored to you and your production process, and that will benefit you.'