Manufacturers are looking to the lower to mid-capacity class with upgrades and range fillers as they seek to maximise sales in their best markets. Euan Youdale reports
The biggest news in the articulated loader crane sector over the last 12 months came from Austria-based Palfinger and the announcement that it had signed two joint ventures with Sany in China to sell and distribute each others' cranes.
The purpose of the deal is to increase Palfinger market share in China and Sany market share outside the country. Two new companies will be established in a venture that will see around €200 million (US$ 270 million) invested over the next few years, Herbert Ortner, Palfinger CEO, told IC.
Sany and Palfinger will each hold a 50% share in the two new companies. Changsha, China-based SanyPalfinger will manufacture and sell Palfinger knuckle boom cranes in China while Austria-based PalfingerSany will distribute wheeled mobile cranes produced by Sany in the world market outside China.
Earlier this year Palfinger also posted the highest revenue figures ever recorded at the company in its 2011 financial year results. Revenue rose by 29.7% from €651.8 million (US$848 million) in 2010 to €845.7 million ($1.1 billion). In addition to the recovery of the markets, the main reason behind the increase was the expansion of both its markets and its sales network, says Ortner.
North America, South America, Asia and Pacific, India and CIS, stepped up their combined contribution to group's revenue for 2011 to 26.5%. "In Europe, business in many core markets continued to grow in nearly all product divisions in 2011, with a distinct recovery being observed particularly in the crane business," says Ortner. However, Spain, Greece and Portugal were still weak during the period under review.
On the up
As if to confirm this view of Europe, Fil Filipov, who acquired the Atlas knuckle boom crane business from Terex two years ago, and is now chairman, says he has turned the company around. "We were losing about 10%, now we are making 10%. We are lucky to be in a part of the industry where the problems have not been economically affecting us; we are not in Spain or Italy or Greece."
Revenue was some €200 million last year, with 50% of sales being in Germany and 35% across the rest of the Eurozone, meaning there few exchange rate issues, Filipov adds. Some 40% of the business is cranes-related, with the rest coming from excavator sales.
According to Filipov the turnaround was three-stranded, one of them being the economic situation, as described. "One third came through personnel savings because I reduced the people, and another third came from materials. We reduced a lot of cost through buying; better quantity buying and different suppliers. From a product point of view the effect has been to maintain and increase the business and to get market share in the area that we participate." This area is construction, which means the product range is limited to that area.
"We really are a very small business. Our competition is stronger, we are not strong over 25-30 tonne-metres. We try to be good at what we have. Growth is not the most important thing for us because we do not have any debt so, number one, we try to be profitable."
Filipov has no plans for Atlas to expand outside of its core markets. "We have the strongest dealer network probably in the industry, and we are in parts of the world where stability is better than other parts."
Overall, Atlas sells 2,500 to 3,000 units a year and has a healthy backlog of six to eight months, Filipov says. He describes the current range as a continuation of the previous line, "We are not reinventing the world but concentrating on improving electrics, safety issues that we had before on the outriggers, and improving reliability problems on a couple of the models."
At Italian manufacturer PM, sales director Giovanni Tacconi is less positive about the wider European market, although he says regions outside the continent are improving. "Europe is slow and there is a problem with the banking system approving leases. If you can provide credit then you can sell lots of machines but, otherwise, it is impossible to sell."
In Europe, there has been a general shift away from the high capacity loaders being launched some 18 months ago. Now a trend is emerging at the middle to lower end of the capacity range, with market demand for more hydraulic features and add-ons such as remote controls.
Palfinger has added two new loader cranes to its SH control system range. Both offer six boom extensions and a maximum hydraulic outreach of 17 metres. The PK 14502 SH has a lifting moment of 13.8 tonne-metres, while the PK 18502-SH is rated at 17.6 tonne-metres.
Palfinger has also just launched a series of High Performance T-cranes in the 14 to 19 tonne metre class for special applications. The four models on offer, PK 13500T, PK 15500T-EH, PK 17500T and PK 19500T-EH stand out by virtue of their maintenance-free extension boom system, functional design and new tiltable stabilisers, says the company.
At the lowest end of the capacity range, UK-based Penny Hydraulics' new FV995 was introduced to enable customers to specify "near-1,000kg" load handling without the complications of EN12999. "Many operators want good performance from their cranes but rarely need to handle loads over 1,000 kg. In the past the only option was to specify a crane with 1,200kg, 1,500kg or 2,000kg maximum working load in case larger loads were encountered," says a company spokesman.
Demonstrating how other manufacturers are finding new niches, Eurocargo received an order for 100 off road electricity pylon transport and erection vehicles, each fitted with a Fassi articulated loader crane. The 100 four wheel drive ML150E28WRS models are part of a larger order for 640 pylon erection vehicles for EDF. It includes a separate motor that is attached at the boom tip of the Fassi F165XP boom which powers the pylon hole drilling equipment. The loader crane then drives the pylons into their pre-prepared holes.
The 15 tonne ML150E28WRS comes fully equipped with a pylon-carrying frame, a teleflow tyre pump system and hydraulic winch. There is also an 11 tonne version.
Staying with Italian manufacturers, Effer has launched a 46 tonne-metre rated articulated loader crane. The Effer 525 sits between the existing 575 and 470 models and features a boom of high strength (Weldox 1300) steel and Weldox 1100 is used in the column.
PM launched a mid-range articulated loader crane specifically for the French market at April's Intermat 2012 exhibition in Paris. The 12.5 tonne-metre rated 12.5 BP is designed for grab applications, as well as lifting. Often loader cranes with grab attachments are used on French worksites rather than small excavators, says Tacconi. With a 3.1 m boom length and two extensions the model is considered to be a heavy duty machine, for high lifting cycles.
On an international level, the manufacturer launched a complete new range at the end of last year in the 16 to 23 tonne-metre class, incorporating its interlock control system to comply with the EN12999:2009 European standard. The range also offers seven boom extensions, making them the longest in the market, says Tacconi.
According to Tacconi, however, pushing the capacity limits much beyond the company's own rang-topping 100 tonne-metre machine is pointless. "Beyond a certain point - 150 tonne-metres - there is no sense. Other equipment is more efficient."
PM's biggest sales areas are now Russia and North America. The manufacturer has a distributor in Russia, as well as an office in Moscow. "Following the crises, the market [in the USA] is changing into a more efficient product market. The knuckle boom is more efficient than the boom truck because the trailer can be used for general purposes. The crisis has been very good for the knuckle boom in America."
USA Fassi distributor Fascan International is experiencing the changing scene first hand. "Our traditional markets in the construction sectors have, to the surprise of no one, been fairly slow over the last several years, but we've been seeing increased activities in some new markets, most notably the utilities markets, the oil, gas and propane sectors and the equipment rental markets," says Bernie Faloney, president and chief executive officer.
John Field, product manager of material handling at USA-based Iowa Mold Tooling (IMT) has seen a trend to larger articulated loaders in country in recent years, including its 80 tonne metre model. "They have proven especially valuable in the rejuvenated mining and energy industries. For example, mining operations are utilising the cranes to provide shovel maintenance and repair, as well as to efficiently lift and transport large mining tyres. Oil companies are using our cranes to lift large pieces of equipment onto and off of trailers."
Functional and safety devices have become one of biggest drivers of product development. On the Palfinger PK 14502 SH and PK 18502-SH models is the standard SH package, incorporating S-HPLS, PAL 150, Danfoss control valve and radio remote control with LCD display. The large graphic display screen provides information about operating conditions, including capacity usage, active systems, service intervals or allowable movements.
With the manufacturer's Power Link Plus, constant lifting power is available over the entire working range, says the company. The reverse linkage knuckle boom can be angled upwards by 15 degrees, enabling crane work even in the tightest spaces, added the company.
The use of sliding elements made from synthetic material combined with KTL cathodic dip paint means that the operator no longer needs to service the boom system, explains the company.
IMT provides another example. Its mid-range and larger capacity cranes are available with the RCL 5300. The RCL system monitors the crane's load moment, operation and function. In an overload situation, the system warns the operator and interrupts the distribution of oil for crane functions, while allowing functions that reduce load moment to remain operational.
At Penny Hydraulics, Richard Short says radio remote controls are becoming more popular. "These are especially useful from a safety point of view because they reduce the need for operators to climb on their vehicles. Instead users stand well away from the vehicle and load when handling is in progress."