Factory tour: Bobcat Dobris Campus, Czech Republic

We visits Bobcat Dobris Campus in the Czech Republic to take a look at the brains behind the compact equipment manufacturer’s brawn

Bobcat Dobris Campus’s production plant occupies an area of 22,000 sqm and hosts 590 employees.
Bobcat Dobris Campus’s production plant occupies an area of 22,000 sqm and hosts 590 employees.

Situated less than an hour’s drive from Prague in the leafy countryside of the Czech Republic, Bobcat Dobříš Campus is about as far removed from the Middle East as it’s possible to get. Construction Week’s wintertime excursion to the complex was replete with grey skies, wet earth, and – although apparently mild for the time of year – what one might politely refer to as ‘sub-GCC’ temperatures.

Yet despite its unmistakably Eastern European setting, Bobcat Dobříš Campus represents the key to the manufacturer’s future success in the Middle East. Indeed, with global design responsibility for an array of lines – from the smallest skid-steer loaders (SSLs) to three-tonne mini-excavators – many of the newest Bobcat models working in the Gulf were most likely conceived and manufactured in the Czech Republic.

The site was established back in the mid-1990s by Superstav, a Czech-headquartered firm that designed and manufactured backhoe loaders for the North American market. Bobcat arrived in Dobříš following the 2001 acquisition of Superstav by its then-parent company, Ingersoll-Rand. In 2007, the plot changed hands once again when Doosan Infracore acquired Bobcat.

The site has undergone significant development since the South Korean equipment giant took control. Four main facilities comprise Bobcat Dobříš Campus: a training centre, a manufacturing plant, an innovation centre, and a distribution centre. The new factory and training centre were inaugurated in 2007 following Doosan’s acquisition of Bobcat. Last year saw the addition of both the innovation and distribution centres.

The idea, according to the brains behind Bobcat Dobříš Campus, is to have all components of the product development cycle on one site. The training and innovation centres oversee the research and development (R&D) of new products, whilst the manufacturing plant and distribution centre are responsible for bringing these models to market.

‘Campus’ might sound like a grandiose title, but it is one that Bobcat’s Dobříš site has most definitely earned. Martin Knoetgen, EMEA president of Doosan Infracore, explains: “In terms of engineering, we are committed to doing more and doing better. More in terms of taking responsibility for engineering within Doosan, starting with our lighter mini-excavators. Bobcat Dobříš Campus has expanded both production and engineering responsibility [in this segment]. We are also providing services related to mid-range excavators for our colleagues in South Korea. All of these activities are centred on engineering expertise here in Dobříš.

“The ability to [conduct these activities] in an efficient and effective manner is one of the reasons we decided to build the innovation centre,” he continues. “Everything is collocated so that we can work together as a cross-functional team.”

The product development cycle begins at Bobcat Dobříš Campus’s training centre, which is used not only to educate, but also to collect feedback from the manufacturer’s stakeholders: 215 training sessions were conducted last year, with approximately 2,500 internal personnel, dealers, and customers passing through the training centre’s doors.

Jose Cuadrado, vice president of Doosan Infracore’s Compact Business Unit, says that the training centre is one of his team’s most valuable research tools.

“This facility allows us to obtain feedback from the market,” he notes. “It is a place where we can pitch, but we can also learn from our customers and dealers about products, competition, and the areas in which we need to improve.”

This feedback is then used to inform engineering activities at the innovation centre: a facility designed to accelerate product development, bringing high-quality machines to market in the shortest possible timeframe.

“The things we learn from the training centre are used to devise new products in the innovation centre,” says Cuadrado. “This facility houses the people who work on product development; not just engineers but also manufacturing and marketing professionals. All of these teams work together using feedback from our customers and dealers.”

Dobroslav Rak, vice president of engineering at Doosan Infracore’s Compact Business Unit, adds: “Doosan invested a huge amount of money to build the global R&D centre in South Korea. The company then established an acceleration centre in North Dakota, and at the same time – in 2014/2015 – it built this innovation centre in the Czech Republic.

“The theory is to establish a chain of global R&D facilities capable of working together on product development, innovation, and [route to market]. That’s the vision for the innovation centre – to help build and sustain our level of technological leadership, and to pass this innovation on to our customers,” Rak explains.

Once a product has been designed, prototyped, and validated, it is sent to the production line. At present, the factory at Bobcat Dobříš Campus is being used to produce 14 mini-excavator and 10 loader models. In the past three years, five new models have been launched from this plant, and seven have been transferred from the manufacturer’s North American production hub. The Dobříš facility has the capacity to build 23,800 units per year.

More than 70% of the units produced at the campus are sold in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) region. The remainder are exported to other markets, such as North America and Asia Pacific. The site’s distribution centre, therefore, represents the final stage of the production cycle. In addition to the distribution of units designed and manufactured at the campus, this facility is used to store and distribute EMEA-bound machines produced in other global regions.

Peter Debnar, the campus’s director of operations and total quality management (TQM), comments: “Machines produced in North America and South Korea are imported to EMEA through Dobříš. We use this facility as a supply base for our dealers and customers: it offers a unique opportunity for us to focus on quality and to prepare units for the field.”

But the distribution centre, according to Debnar, is just the beginning. “It is the first step along the way to a customisation centre, which will allow us to really tailor machines based on the requirements that are being fed back from the field,” he continues. “Ultimately, we want to be able to receive machines and prepare them based on the needs of our customers.”

Of course, facilities such as these don’t come cheap. Knoetgen says that Doosan is investing around €15m ($16.4m) in Bobcat Dobříš Campus on a yearly basis. This money goes towards general equipment, increased capacity, and the development of technology.

“For the innovation centre specifically, [including net investment and incentives] we have so far spent around €16.2m ($17.6m), which is a huge amount of money – especially in times when the financial situation is not always easy,” he adds. “But from our perspective, we need to do a good job and provide the right environment for our employees. We need to have the right equipment and invest in the future. Fortunately, our colleagues in Seoul – Doosan’s senior management team – see things in the same way. It’s a great thing to be able to look to the future and build something that will create value; value for us internally, but ultimately, for our customers as well.”

Encouragingly, this investment has already resulted in tangible development- and production-related returns for the manufacturer. In terms of development, the Dobříš team has added the T110 and T450 compact track loaders (CTLs); the E08, E10, E14, E16, E17, E19, E20, and E26 mini-excavators; and the S450 SSL to Bobcat’s line-up since 2007. With regards to production, whilst the 2008 financial crisis led to a significant dip in output, the numbers are once again following an upwards trajectory. More than 13,000 units were manufactured at the site in 2015, a year-on-year increase of around 20%.

“The plan over the next five years is to increase this number to more than 20,000 units, nearly doubling the production volume at Bobcat Dobříš Campus,” Knoetgen reveals.

Impressive though these figures are, the term ‘EMEA’ covers a vast area. So, what proportion of these units is likely to reach the Middle East? Cuadrado tells Construction Week that this is a growth market for Bobcat. In addition to its solid loader base, the manufacturer is enjoying significant success in less-mature segments.

“There are some [established] product lines in the Middle East that are growing [gradually], and there are other emerging product lines that are growing more rapidly,” he says. “The mini-excavator product line, for example, is still an emerging product in this region. The number of units being sold in the Middle East is limited. However, growth is very high; double digits for the past three-to-four years.”

With regards compact equipment, Cuadrado predicts that the Middle East will follow the same trajectory as markets like Europe and North America. “If you look at how the mini-excavator has become popular in other global territories, it has typically followed the popularity of the backhoe loader,” he explains.

“The Middle East is a very large backhoe loader market,” Cuadrado continues. “When it comes to productivity and efficiency, a mini-excavator can do the job faster than the backhoe. It’s less versatile of course, but it does the job of excavation faster. With this in mind, I think that the mini-excavator will undergo significant growth in the Middle East during the coming years. This is already happening.”

Shifting the focus back onto the region as a whole, Knoetgen says that the EMEA market will play a key role in Doosan Infracore’s longer-term success.

“Within the context of Doosan Group as a whole, the importance of the EMEA is continuously increasing,” he says, adding that the Czech Republic represents a vital base for the South Korean manufacturer.

“We must continue to develop products that meet the highest standards in terms of both productivity and safety. We can continue to make significant contributions to the growth and profitability of Doosan Group. That’s why Doosan is willing to invest here in Dobříš,” Knoetgen concludes.

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