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Columbus McKinnon Corp., moving to add cranes to its line of material handling products, has bought an Illinois crane manufacturer for $7 million in cash, the Amherst-based company said Tuesday.

Columbus McKinnon, continuing an acquisition binge that has seen it purchase 10 companies in the last four years, said it bought the Abell-Howe Crane division of Abell-Howe Co. in Forest Park, Ill.

The Abell-Howe acquisition will give Columbus McKinnon a line of jib cranes and other overhead cranes that are used in a host of work stations designed to move materials from one location to another.

"We've been targeting this part of the material handling business for some time," said Robert L. Montgomery Jr., Columbus McKinnon's executive vice president and chief financial officer.

"This acquisition marks our entry into another complementary product line," said Timothy Tevens, Columbus McKinnon's president and chief executive officer.

The deal adds to Columbus McKinnon's lineup a company that had $9.5 million in sales during its most recent fiscal year and employs about 50 people at its plant in Forest Park, Ill.

The acquisition also extends Columbus McKinnon's push toward developing integrated systems that are custom designed to help its customers move materials within their facilities.

One of Abell-Howe Crane's main products are jib cranes, which essentially are extended arms attached to a pedestal that allows them to move in a circle.

"All jib cranes have hoists on them," Montgomery said. The crane products are used in a wide range of industries.

Columbus McKinnon plans to
keep the Abell-Howe Crane name and to run the company as an independent crane builder. The company also makes bridge cranes that span the width of a building and move along an overhead track. Abell-Howe also designs new cranes, installs them and services them.

"As a nationally recognized designer and builder of jib cranes, Abell-Howe Crane creates significant cross-selling opportunities," with Columbus McKinnon's top-selling hoist products and its growing business that develops customized material handling systems, Tevens said.

Columbus McKinnon's business of designing customized, integrated systems that can take care of an entire plant's material handling needs accounted for about 11 percent of the company's total sales during the last fiscal year.

But executives expect that share to grow to roughly 30 percent of its sales during the current fiscal year, mostly because of Columbus McKinnon's acquisitions of Lico Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., and Univeyor AV in Denmark earlier this year.

The company also hopes to increase Abell-Howe Crane's sales by tapping into new markets and reaching more potential customers now that Columbus McKinnon's worldwide sales network now will be handling its products, Tevens said.

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