Bobcat Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Pontchateau Plant

On Friday, 12th July 2013, Bobcat held a special ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Bobcat telescopic handler plant at Pontchateau in Loire-Atlantique in France, which was attended by almost 250 people, including local dignatories and former employees of the plant. To mark the occasion, a commemorative plate, produced by one of the workers in the factory for this unique event, was unveiled on the front wall of the plant.

As well as providing an opportunity to meet up with old friends and to meet the current workforce, visitors were treated to a full day programme which contained a factory tour, speeches from plant management including anecdotes from the previous 50 years, an exhibition of old Sambron and new Bobcat machines, demonstrations and the chance to try out the new machines for themselves.

Among the local dignatories were André Trillard, the Senator for Loire Atlantique; Christophe Prioux, the Deputy Mayor of Guérande; Bernard Clouet, the Mayor of Pontchateau and Philippe Belliot, the Mayor of Saint-Anne-sur-Brivet, who were present throughout the event at the Pontchateau plant.

Current employees at the plant were very willing guides for the factory tour and took pride in showing former colleagues and the other visitors around the site. For the ex-Pontchateau personnel, it provided the perfect occasion to check out how much had changed over the years, and to compare the state-of-the-art processes and procedures in place today in the factory, with the tools and materials they used to employ when they worked at the facility.

“The factory has changed a lot, and all for the better,” explained André Tricodet, who worked for many years at the plant. “I am 80 now, and I worked here for 26 years as a machine tool operator. I was delighted to be able to attend the Pontchateau anniversary celebrations.”

Christian Judic is Plant Manager at Pontchateau; he said: “I started in the company as a milling machine operator when I was just 17 and I have been working here ever since, for 39 years now. Today I am a toolmaker for Bobcat prototype machines and I am also in charge of the maintenance programmes for the welding jigs.”

Bobcat Pontchateau: 50 already!

The history of the plant dates back to the early 20th century, when Joseph Sambron, a locksmith by trade, took over his father’s workshop and turned to producing agricultural machines – and bicycles. Just a few years later, in 1920, Joseph was running a 3000 m² factory, where around 100 employees produced flower mills and cider presses.

When Joseph retired, his son, Maurice, stepped into his father’s shoes. Always looking to exploit new opportunities, Maurice entered the material handling business in 1953 and started producing wheelbarrows. It turned out to be a good decision; more than 50,000 units would be sold over the years, with several products still leaving the production line in the sixties and seventies, such as dumpers and all-terrain handlers. The company did so well that it received the ‘Oscar for Export’ in 1972. The export market has always been and still remains today a focal point for the company. More awards would follow, such as the ‘Best Material Handling Machine in the World’, a prize awarded by the American magazine, World Construction, in 1974.

All of this laid the groundwork for the development of the world-famous Sambron range of telehandlers, the first of which, the Drop 2000 model, was launched in 1979 when the factory was bought by the Fayat Group. In 1981, two new series of telehandlers followed, and Sambron extended its network of dealers, including over 50 in France, with almost 70% of its revenue coming from export sales.

The year 2000 is when the history of Sambron and the telehandler range made its first connection with the Doosan group. Ingersoll-Rand, owner of the Bobcat brand, bought Sambron that year and changed the name of the company to Bobcat France. In 2007, Bobcat France won an award for Industrial Business Excellence from the French magazine, L’Usine Nouvelle. At the end of the same year, Bobcat France became part of Doosan, as part of the company’s acquisition of the Bobcat range of products.

Today, Pontchateau manufactures 12 different telescopic handler models, including the new generation TL360 and TL470 models launched in 2011, followed by the new high-flow 130 HP TL470HF model in 2012. It is the story of a small family business that became a model of industrial evolution, carrying with it a passion for its products and a commitment to invest in the future for its loyal workforce.

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