Energy-related applications continue to boost the fortunes of the crane industry
By Euan Youdale27 May 2010
Energy-related applications continue to boost the fortunes of the crane industry overall, while other sectors are still flagging. Euan Youdale reports on an optimistic future
It is a significant fact that may of the most interesting and, indeed, largest capacity new cranes are aimed at the energy sector. While the downturn in the general construction industry has brought about widespread gloom, the sense of optimism surrounding wind energy, other power generation and petrochemical applications has never really abated.
With this in market in mind, April's Bauma exhibition in Germany threw up a range of appropriate products. One of them was the new 600 tonne capacity narrow track Liebherr LR 1600/2-W crawler crane designed for erecting wind turbines up to 3MW on 100 m towers without needing a derrick system.
The machine expands on the theme of the LR 1400/2-W launched six years ago, says Ulrich Hamme, managing director at Liebherr-Werk Ehingen. "The efficiency of bigger wind energy plants is becoming higher. As a result higher capacity windmills are being designed, so we have to design cranes with increased capabilities."
Hamme says a major feature of the LR 1600/2-W is an additional hydraulic cylinder in the crawler girders. It pushes the superstructure up to take pressure off the crawler tracks. This means the machine can steer more easily because the pressure over the relatively large track area is reduced. The LR 1600/2-W has one slewing ring, compared to the two used on the LR 1400/2-W.
Also on show at Bauma was Kobelco's variant of the 550 tonne capacity SL6000. The version shown had an 18 m long heavy fixed jib designed for wind turbine erection.
Visitors to the Terex stand could see the new 1,000 tonne capacity AC 1000 all terrain crane for the first time. Terex claims it is the world's most powerful all terrain that can travel with the boom. It offers a 50 or 100 boom and the maximum boom and jib combination gives a tip height of 163.3 m.
A range of new super-heavy lift fixed-base cranes are also emerging thanks to the strong demand from the energy sector. One of them is Sarens' 3,200 tonne capacity SGC 120 ring type crane, designed in conjunction with US-based subsidiary Rigging International and set for launch in early 2011. The company says it is designed for refinery, petrochemical, offshore platform and third-generation components for advanced pressurized water reactor (APWR) and boiling water reactor (ABWR) nuclear power plants. The company said the crane is designed for low-cost transportation.
The latest innovations from Mammoet are the PTC 120 DS and PTC 160 DS, which says Jan Kleijn, Mammoet USA chief operating officer, is an improvement on the company's existing platform twin ring containerized crane (PTC).
"It is a new very large capacity crane designed for our future projects. Also included in Mammoet's extensive toolbox are some very innovative jacking and skidding systems."
Kleijn confirms that the downturn has not affected the company a great deal. "Right now we are doing a lot of refinery expansions in the petrochemical industry. There are four big refineries that are currently in expansion and we are working on three of them.
"To do such large projects, we must have a long lead time for engineering and planning. Most of the projects we are involved in now, the decisions were made three years ago. We are still working on many projects, major investment projects, which were started three years ago."
Work in the USA mainly comes from the Gulf coast region, although projects are nationwide. "In addition to barge load out activities for the offshore market, we often perform barge offload services for all of our various types of projects," adds Kleijn.
While a new generation of cranes unleash their metal on the industry, established favourites remain popular with operators. For example, Eurogruas in Spain recently took delivery of a Liebherr LR 11350, for use in energy and petrochemical, and a Terex CC 2800 NT crawler crane, aimed specifically at wind farms. According to Manuel Mateo Guisado at Eurogruas its LR 11350 carried out Spain's heaviest lift to date - a 1,304 tonne reactor. A 500 tonne tailing frame on SPMT was used on the job.
Guisado confirms that developments in heavy lifting are the way forward in the energy sector. While some of the main considerations come from a requirement for optimised power generation in more environmentally friendly plants, says Guisado. To this end refinery conversions are a common source of work as is green energy, particularly wind farms.
It is easy to get carried away, however, with range-topping machines and overlook the importance of machines at a lower capacity level. An example is Mammoet's recent order of five 250 tonne capacity Kobelco CKE2500-2 crawler cranes, specifically for oil and energy-related projects worldwide.
They will be supplied with main booms up to 91.4 m, together with 61 m luffing boom and 61 m luffing jib configurations, as well as tilt cabs. Between them, they are destined for Brazil, the Middle East and the eastern Russian island of Sakhalin, which has one of the world's largest reserves of oil and natural gas, says Kobelco.
The 250 tonner, upgraded in 2005 from the original 200, is suited to extreme conditions, and has good transportability and ease of maintenance, which is ideal for remote locations where energy resources are often found, adds the company.
So far, Kobelco has delivered 800 CKE2500 and related models worldwide, making it one of the manufacturer's best-selling units and the 250 tonne-class world market leader, the manufacturer claims.
Manitex International in the USA has secured a group of orders worth US$8 million for its boom trucks and military forklifts. "The new crane orders are split among three of the top growth areas that we've been pursuing, namely international distribution, independent rental fleets, and the energy support sector," says Scott Rolston, senior vice president, sales and marketing. Darwish Bin Ahmed & Sons, a new Manitex dealer in the UAE, placed orders for a number of boom trucks while trailer-mounted cranes will be supplied to a major oilfield services company.
This renewed focus is also benefiting Sparrows, an Aberdeen, Scotland-based offshore lifting and handling specialist. In January 2010 it signed contracts valued at more than UK£36 million ($55.5 million).
The contracts will create upwards of 100 jobs and range from three-month projects to four-year contracts with options for further extensions. The deals have been signed with Shell, Nexen, Total, Technip, Transocean and Helix Well Ops, among others. Projects range from the overhaul and installation of replacement cranes to long-term operation, maintenance and engineering services supporting entire fleets of cranes on offshore installations.
"This is an excellent start to the new year, reflecting returning confidence in the offshore sector now that oil and gas prices have stabilised at more sustainable levels," said Doug Sedge, Sparrows chief executive officer.
These contracts come as Sparrows announced the four-pronged group: Sparrows Offshore, Energy Cranes, Aberdeen Hydraulics and Baricon Systems, has rebranded as Sparrows, (see news) and established six business lines to accommodate its range of services.
Such optimism is shared worldwide. Tiong Woon says its heavy lift division is now showing signs of growth, despite a difficult 2009, for the group as whole. "We are starting to see signs and indicators that our markets are beginning to pick up. Coupled with strong fundamentals and positive growth drivers in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries, we remain optimistic about the long term prospects of our business," says Ang Kah Hong, TWC group chairman and managing director.
As mentioned, the wind energy sector is thriving and the necessary equipment to erect the turbines is developing apace.
According to a report by World Wind Energy Association (WWEA), published this year, 2009 brought new records for wind energy utilisation around the world. In spite of the global economic crisis, investment in new wind turbines exceeded by far all previous years, says the WWEA report.
By the end of 2009, wind capacity worldwide reached 159,213 MW, compared to 120,903 MW in 2008 and 93,930 MW in 2007. "Again, it can be seen that the installed wind capacity is more than doubling every third year," says the report, (see more statistics from WWEA in linked articles).
Apart from the promise of entirely new machines, manufacturers are also looking at ways to upgrade existing equipment, especially when finance is not as easily available for new cranes. The new attachment for Manitowoc's Model 16000 crawler crane is an example. It will boost the machine's lifting capacity and is designed to enable it to erect the latest wind turbines.
Mike Wood, Manitowoc crawler cranes global product director, explains that 85% of 16000s on the market are being used for wind power applications. According to the manufacturer, wind turbines with a 1.5 MW generating capability have been common in recent years. More recently, there is a shift to 2.5 MW and larger turbines as wind farm operators maximise productivity of their land. Positioning these larger turbines requires cranes with greater capacity and reach.
Joining wind energy as a major source of work worldwide in the years to come is nuclear energy. As mentioned earlier, Sarens' SGC 120 is very much a contender in this market, as are ALE's and Mammoet's latest offerings in the ring system sector. "We are looking carefully to marketing our company to this developing industry. New plants are in the engineering and permitting phases of development now, and we are targeting the market for future projects," adds Kleijn at Mammoet USA.