The history of the mini-straddle carrier

The history of the mini-straddle carrier

While maintaining side loaders for clients in the early 1990s, Tom Schults had the thought; “there must be a better way of loading containers than this?” That thought triggered an interest in container handling…

With a background in Automotive and Mechanical Engineering and experience in maintaining large fleets in Holland and in Australia at F&H Transport followed by time at TNT as a Fleet Manager Tom was in a unique position, to understand the needs of the logistics companies in terms of how their containers were handled, loaded and unloaded.

At this point Tom asked himself; “in 20 years, will we still be doing this the way we’re doing it now? No? Well then it may as well be me who invents something better”.

With the right knowledge, education, experience and background as well as being in the right spot to understand the requirements, Tom knew he could find a better, cheaper and more efficient way.

And so the beginnings of an idea began to form.

Firstly Tom worked at trying to improve a side loader, but he soon decided that making changes to an existing machine wasn’t going to change the world of container handling. Then, while trying to sleep after too much coffee one night, he thought ‘hey!’ and the idea of the Mobicon Straddle Carrier was born.

Knowing that market research would need to be done before bringing the idea to life, while understanding that due to his current employment that the task would have to be undertaken by someone else, Tom recruited his wife. After teaching her all about the proposed Mobicon, its features and benefits, out she went to see people in the logistics industry to see what they thought and the responses were overwhelmingly positive.

From here Tom started a new company, Mobicon Systems in 1994. In 1995 he resigned from TNT to work solely on the development of the Mobicon.

As there was no money for development, Tom spoke to various contacts and family who became investors as well as A&S Steel and a local Engineering company all who agreed to donate their time and skills upfront and be paid if and when the first Mobicon was sold. From here, Tom started designing and building the first Mobicon as a one-man show with his contacts at A&S Steel giving him permission to build the prototype on their property.

Unfortunately the first prototype didn’t steer, drive or brake properly…

After mulling over the problems with, Tom still recalls driving to the opera with his wife one night and having a “light bulb moment” where the solutions came to him out of the blue, like all great creative moments are known to do.

What followed were many modifications and tests and the first finished model was ready for market in 1997. At this point Tom spoke to contacts from his days at F&H Handling about trialing the machine in their yard. They agreed, and after 2 weeks they were so pleased that they didn’t want to let it go. They bought the machine then and there and to date Tom recalls it as the easiest sale he ever made.

From that point Mobicon Systems moved from strength to strength providing solutions to the logistics industry all over Australia with the first international model sold into New Zealand in 2000, followed by South Africa in 2006. Now Mobicon Systems have machines in the UK, Japan, PNG, Angola, Mozambique, Singapore and the USA.

A highlight was obtaining a contract with the US Navy for 12 very special Straddle Carriers to work on their “Littoral Combat Ships” (LCS).

A the LCS ship was made out of aluminum, a very low wheel weight was required, and Mobicon Systems had a patent on the lightest straddle carrier in the world, they decided on us building them. Although it took years to get the contract for the first one, it was so well received that an additional 11 were ordered.

In 2012-2013 15% of Mobicon sales are international with the rest sold into the Australian market, however Tom predicts that 2013 will see more international activity. To date, they have never initiated the international sale of a Mobicon; these global companies have sought out Mobicon Systems as being able to provide the solution they needed. 2013 saw Mobicon Systems launch a brand new international web platform to stimulate the international market further.

Mr Schults says; “We are ready to release the machine all over the world. What’s that saying… it takes 15 years to become an overnight success?”

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