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Alexander BELOGORTSEV,
President of Mercator Holding LLC

Mercator Holding is one of the largest manufacturers of special equipment in Russia. According to various estimates, about a quarter of all the road-utility vehicles in the country were produced at the Mercator Kaluga plant. At the moment, the company offers original developments both in mechanical engineering and in the field of digital control technologies.

The President of Mercator Holding LLC Alexander BELOGORTSEV tells about the history of the formation and development of the holding, approaches to business and interaction with customers, about innovations and interesting design solutions.

Company evolution: reliability in a new era
Mercator Holding LLC celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2020. The name of the holding for most of those who hear it for the first time evokes associations with a medieval cartographer, however, the creator of the cylindrical projection of the globe is not connected with our brand. Mercator is translated from Latin as “merchant” or “merchant”: this is where we started - the company was originally engaged in the supply of municipal equipment from Russian and foreign manufacturers. In turn, the pyramid on the logo symbolized reliability and sustainability - at the turn of the century in Russia it was an important quality. And the rays of the sun signified the rise and the beginning of a new era.

A symbolic change of eras for Mercator Holding was the moment of revising approaches to business: we started as a trading company, but a little later we were the first among the suppliers of municipal equipment on the Russian market of that time to develop engineering and service. This allowed us to make a significant technological breakthrough: to launch the production of “hybrid” cars - mounted equipment from Bucher was installed on the KamAZ domestic chassis. Such "hybridization" helped to achieve the optimal ratio of the Russian price and Swiss quality.

Then Mercator Holding entered into an agreement with Bucher Municipal companies, which ensured large-scale localization of production. According to it, certain technological solutions remained with the Swiss side, and at the Mercator Holding production they were supposed to create part of the attachments and complete the assembly. The result of such cooperation was the launch in 2014 of its own Mercator Kaluga plant in the Kaluga-South industrial park. For more than five years, he has been producing combined road cars and attachments. Today, the Mercator Kaluga plant is the first in Russia in the depth of production localization: all technological processes are fully implemented on site. This means that each machine produced goes through a full production cycle: from the design stage in its own design bureau to the testing of finished equipment. Those cars that used to be foreign are now 100 percent Russian.

In addition, investments were attracted for the construction of the second and third phases of the Kaluga plant. And in 2018, the holding opened a new production enterprise in Vladivostok. The total number of workers in the production is about 300 people.

At present, the geography of supplies of Mercator Holding products covers, without exaggeration, practically all of Russia. About 27% of all road utility vehicles from Kaliningrad to the Far East came off the assembly line of our plant in Kaluga.

The wide geography of supplies requires the development of service centers. Over the past few years, we have seriously expanded our network of centers and have been able to change the approach to the provision of services. Now we are not only opening our own service centers, but are actively developing a dealer service network. Our task is to provide the client with the minimum arrival time of the repair service and the implementation of the necessary repair work. All our partners undergo thorough instruction and staff training, in order to control the quality of the services provided, we regularly conduct the necessary checks and tests of our dealers. In case of any difficulties with the equipment, the Mercator client receives prompt and qualified assistance.

Within the Russian Federation, companies are already crowded: new sales markets and the development of international partnerships in the CIS countries are our urgent tasks. Now the company is negotiating with potential partners in the Republic of Kazakhstan, on the territory of which production enterprises will be created in the future. A wide export of products is still under development.

As part of the development of international relations, a plan for deeper production cooperation with the Bucher concern is being developed. Part of the equipment manufactured at the Mercator Kaluga plant will be exported to Bucher enterprises in the EU countries.

We are also currently actively developing a partnership with the international company Terberg RosRoca and by the end of 2020 we plan to introduce a line of garbage trucks localized in Russia.

Customers Need Innovation
As our experience shows, all customers are united by a request for innovative solutions - because it is they that ensure the achievement of the most effective result with optimal costs. Mercator Holding's road-communal equipment is really the best in this sense: we offer solutions not just equipment, we offer our customers solutions depending on the tasks assigned to them.

The success of most of our developments, we owe to the efforts of our own Design Bureau (hereinafter - Design Bureau), which since 2014 has been working at the Mercator Kaluga factory.

What is your own KB? On the one hand, it is a resource for studying world experience in the industry and analyzing current developments in mechanical engineering. On the other hand, it’s a tool for their adaptation to Russian realities: not only to find the best solution, but also to make it as effective as possible for working on our territory. For us, design bureau is a “melting pot” of advanced ideas and our 20 years of experience.

Over the past few years, we have been developing and actively introducing new special equipment, for example:

- KDM based on the SCANIA dump truck. The car is distinguished by increased carrying capacity: the body volume is 20 cubic meters. (instead of the common 16). These additional 4 cubes can play a huge role for road builders, increasing the cost-effectiveness of cargo transportation. For the first time, the equipment was presented at the exhibition “Road-2019” in Yekaterinburg.

- Clearing roads from snow is a strategic area of activity of road services in Russia and we are constantly working to expand the line of snow removal equipment. One of our latest innovations is a KAMAZ chassis milling and rotary snow blower. The equipment is able to work both as a dump truck for transportation of bulk cargoes, and as road-utility equipment designed for road maintenance throughout the year. A powerful machine is capable of removing up to 2800 cubic meters of snow per hour. Special equipment was developed by order of AK ALROSA in partnership with OJSC RIAT and LLC ZMT, and at the end of 2019 it was delivered to Yakutia.

Also, a working prototype of the milling and rotary self-propelled snow blower “Bor” has been created, designed to operate in the Far North - in conditions of extremely low temperatures and difficult terrain. A search is underway for a strategic partner to refine the technology and launch it into mass production.

- Recently, noise screens and barrier fences are installed along roads in Russia. For effective maintenance of these facilities, Mercator Holding Design Bureau has developed a special manipulator that allows for work at a height of up to 6 meters. At present, prototypes have been created; in the spring of 2020, the start of mass production of equipment is expected.

Smart Road to the Digital Factory and Highly Automated Systems
The country follows the path of active digitalization and our industry also does not stand aside. Mercator Holding has developed and is widely implementing the “Mayor Monitor” road and communal services management system. The system provides an opportunity for the regional leader to monitor online (on a tablet or personal computer) the execution of tasks related to the maintenance and cleaning of roads, give and adjust tasks, and also monitor the status of working equipment.

Initially, the system was tested and implemented in Kaluga as part of the Smart City concept. According to the city administration, thanks to the implementation of the Digital Kaluga project, the city managed to significantly reduce costs. For example, fuel costs were reduced by 38%, the number of completed cleaning work was increased by 1.4 times, and the processing time and tasks were reduced by half. Failures in work and emergency situations are reduced by 90%. To date, the software package is already operating in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Yekaterinburg, Veliky Novgorod and several other cities.

The system works on the principle of remote collection of information about work

different types of equipment involved in the maintenance of the entire urban complex

households. The program processes large amounts of data and displays the results in

clearly visible on the tablet by responsible persons, which allows you to quickly take

effective solutions. The digitalization system allows you to control and analyze the routes of cleaning equipment, speed of work and fuel consumption. To put it simply, we are teaching a technique to provide data without human intervention, and a system - processing data, understanding the task that this technique faces and, in essence, comparing what this technique does with what it should do. When the influence of the human factor is minimized, the system really can rightly be called smart.

It is noteworthy that initially this program was created to assess the quality of our own technology, then we realized that the market has a request for such solutions and began to adapt our developments to the market. Now it is already a full-fledged digital product that can solve complex problems. All attachments manufactured at the Mercator Kaluga plant are immediately equipped with Smart Road sensors, but this system can also be integrated with other brands of equipment.

Another landmark development of the holding is the Digital Factory software package. The program includes monitoring and planning tools, as well as automated dispatching and in-plant logistics systems. The company received a grant for the development of software from the Ministry of Industry and Trade of the Russian Federation. The project should be completed in 2022. One of the first enterprises where the digital control system will be tested will be the Mercator Kaluga plant. Implementation of the program on average should ensure production growth of 10-15% and cost reduction of 10-20%.

The company is also actively developing a direction of highly automated technology - in fact, this is the first step to unmanned systems. Now the driver of road equipment - for example, a snow blower - is forced to divide attention between driving a machine and adjusting attachments. A higher level of automation will change the situation: a computer algorithm will “make a decision” based on the regulations and information from the sensors, and set the operating mode of the equipment; only the control of the situation on the road will remain for a person’s share. So, during the exhibition “Road” held in Yekaterinburg in October 2019, Mercator Holding LLC and Rosavtodor signed an agreement on the joint development of an automated road cleaning machine. The experimental sample will be tested on the Moscow-Bobruisk federal highway in the Kaluga region.

Environmental Safety
When designing equipment, Mercator Holding designers do not lose sight of the need to preserve the environment. There are several areas of development that should support environmental safety.

Firstly, it is a line of vehicles with hybrid engines (that is, consuming both diesel and gas fuel). Secondly, it is the development of attachments for electric chassis.

This also includes the course taken by the company’s engineers to increase the efficiency of introducing anti-icing reagent in the winter. Mercator Holding was the first to introduce machines on the Russian market that provide a transition from the distribution of sand and salt mixtures to the distribution of pure reagent.

This allows you to make a smaller amount of active substance (30-40 grams of pure reagent per square meter instead of 250 grams of sand-salt mixture). This approach is not only less traumatic for the environment, but also significantly reduces utility costs.

***

We at the company understand that a business has no prospects without a strategic goal, without a “super task”. The strategic goal of Mercator Holding is to develop the industry and create effective integrated solutions in the road and utility sector.

This includes, firstly, the production of special equipment, which will be able to solve problems in the most difficult situations, will be both high-tech and quite comfortable to operate. Secondly, we will continue to introduce digital control systems in the road and utility industry, thanks to which Russian cities are becoming closer to Smart City status. Thirdly, this is a high-quality after-sales service for our products.

Over the 20 years of existence, Mercator Holding has never violated its obligations in terms of production or service. For 20 years, he has not stopped in development, he has not once set the bar higher and we plan to adhere to this rule further.

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