The Slag Taurus slag pot carrier transports hot metal with a temperature of 1,200 degrees from furnace to steel mill. It handles up to 140 tonnes a time running on huge rubber tyres rather than the more conventional rails. The Multi Tasker, a railway crane, can lift the weight of 40 elephants while at the same time being easy to manoeuvre and extremely safe to operate. High-tech titans like these have turned medium-sized company Kirow from Leipzig into a global market leader. Managing director Ludwig Koehne’s eyes light up as he navigates his way through the huge production halls where the specialist machines are built, in the Westen district of Leipzig. “Good enough isn’t good enough for us, we carry on making improvements and changes until we’re completely satisfied. German engineering expertise means they function flawlessly and are very durable, something our customers value particularly highly,” says Koehne. It’s a short and sweet recipe for success from a native of Düsseldorf who has lived in Leipzig since the 1990s.

Kranunion: the world’s leading heavy duty crane specialist

These specialist machines are in operation all over the world, from China to Brazil and Russia. The company exports more than 90% of its production. Kranunion is an association of three crane manufacturers that specialise in lifting and transporting heavy loads: Kirow, Ardelt and Kocks. Kirow is the international market leader for railway cranes and slag pot carriers. Ardelt is the world’s leading maker of double jib level luffing cranes, while Kocks is a global leader in Goliath cranes and container cranes used in shipbuilding. Together, the trio have a 400-year history. The three companies were acquired by the Koehne family after German reunification. “We had to take some tough decisions to make the business competitive, which included cuts in Leipzig,” says Koehne.

A managing director in hoodie and trainers

The Kirow plant in Leipzig currently employs around 200 people. The multinational team includes design engineers, mechatronic specialists and technicians. Recruiting new staff isn’t a problem, says Koehne. Higher education institutions in Saxony like the Dresden and Chemnitz universities of technology produce a steady stream of outstanding young engineers. The company also trains its own staff. Six young apprentices are currently learning their trade at Kirow. When asked about his plans for the next few years, Ludwig Koehne answers with typical Saxon understatement: “To look after our existing customers and keep them satisfied,” he says. “The order books are full until 2015.” And with that he grins, zips up his hooded top and disappears off to the next meeting. Kirow is in the process of investing five million euros in extending the production facilities.