Kocurek: A one-off companyPublished 15/9 at 12:05
UK-based Kocurek is an excavator modifier that tends to undertake projects no regular OEM manufacturer would ever dream of attempting. Particularly famous for its bespoke high-reach demolishers, Kocurek appears to have taken the notion “sky is the limit’ to heart. Andrei Bushmarin reports from Kocurek's home base in Ipswich, Suffolk.
For years, Kocurek has remained a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Despite the fact that Kocurek machines operate all over the globe, very little was known about the company itself. It took a trip to Ipswich to get to know the company and uncover its secrets.
Owner in oil-stained overalls
Born in the UK to a Polish father and a British mother, David Kocurek personifies the idea of a self-made man. He did not receive any formal education in engineering, but thanks to his natural ability for machine building he managed to achieve some remarkable heights. Being the very opposite of an "office person", at work he is dressed in oil-stained overalls just like any other Kocurek worker on production floor.
When David started his business back in 1983, he quite literally lived on the job. He had his caravan parked outside of Kocurek’s original facility in Ipswich to which he returned to rest after day's work. In its formative years, Kocurek operated a plant hire company primarily serving the drainage and extractive industries. Its modus operandi changed in the late 90s when it graduated into demolition with the focus on making its own machinery. The company sold off its plant hire fleet to avoid any speculation of conflict of interest with customers and started offering excavator-modifying services to specialist contractors.
“Good men are hard to find”
Those who have never visited Kocurek’s facility would find it hard to believe how much work can be done with a workforce of just 60. Given Kocurek’s chosen specialty, many operations are not routine and every machine the company builds is different. In a business like this, experienced and skilful personnel are crucial.
Kocurek is proud of its staff, and the feeling is mutual. The company boasts a very low staff turnover, with dozens of employees racking up over 10 years of service. Kocurek sales manager Ron Callan is the prime example. Callan began his career in 1956 as an apprentice and after over 50 years of selling excavators, rope-operated cranes and draglines in England and Ireland, there is very little he does not know about construction machinery. Ron was a salesman at a company called Priestman Bros when he first met David Kocurek in 1982, and their paths have remained intertwined ever since. In 1998 when Kocurek zeroed in on the excavator conversion business, David asked him to join the company in the capacity of sales manager. This was the proverbial offer that Ron could not refuse. He currently leads a sales team, which includes another long term employee Fred Stearn, who is also involved in product development, and Alan Bamber.
“Nothing is impossible” attitude
Its low profile notwithstanding, Kocurek has no shortage of orders. No customer is ever turned down, but sometimes they have to wait for a slot in its production schedule. The lead times for smaller excavators average between 10 and 12 weeks, while it might take up to eight months to put together a large customized machine.
In order to optimize production, Kocurek has developed two basic excavator ranges. The high-reach one featuring a non-telescopic boom is built around 22t to 90t carriers. The ultra high-reach series comprises 50t to 150t machines equipped with telescopic booms. Within this range Kocurek has about 30 standard variations to offer its demolition clients. However, it is the cornerstone of Kocurek’s philosophy that it takes on board the initial concept with a customer and designs it through to manufacture and completion. Kocurek does not distinguish between the makes of carriers. At customers’ requests it can build a rig on a base machine of any existing make.
Over the course of 20 years, Kocurek has designed and customised over 600 demolition rigs. The latest two were rolled out in June. One was an ultra high-reach demolition rig based on a 140t Cat 6015B excavator with a maximum working pin height of 70m. It is currently in use with the UK specialist contractor DSM Demolition assisting with dismantling the Tottenham Hotspur football stadium in London.
The other is a 130t Liebherr R9150 excavator customized for the Switzerland-based company Aregger to perform high-reach demolition work on local sites. In its heaviest 321.5t configuration this demolition monster can operate a crusher weighing 25t at a height of up to 31m. Both of these “beasts of destruction” feature extending undercarriage, tilting cab, cab guard and hydraulically removable counterweight.