Heavy lift crawlers are hitting the headlines but wind energy provides much of the work
By Euan Youdale17 October 2011
New heavy lift crawlers cranes have been hitting the headlines with increasing regularity but, lower down the capacity range, the wind energy industry is where you find much of the work
The rise of the super heavy lift crawler crane over the last couple of years reflects industry requirements to lift and place increasingly heavy pre-fabricated modules and vessels at considerable radius while work continues on site.
Applications are commonly found on petrochemical, coal, gas and nuclear power plants, where downtime can cost millions of dollars.
In 2011 Chinese manufacturer Sany launched its 3,600 tonne capacity SCC86000TM crawler with a load moment rating of 86,000 tonne metres, making it the highest rated crawler crane in the world.
At 45 metres working radius, its rated capacity is up to 1,700 tonnes, with a lifting height of 98 m, says the company. Also in May, Zoomlion launched its 3,200 tonne capacity ZCC3200NP twin lattice boom crawler.
This followed the November 2010 launch of XCMG's 2,000 tonne XGC28000 at the Bauma China exhibition.
From the western manufacturers, Lieberr's 3,000 tonne capacity LR 13000 is undergoing testing with a maximum luffing jib length of 126 m. It is mounted with a 60 m main boom for this exercise.
The 2,500 tonne capacity Manitowoc 31000, is undergoing final testing of the fly jib structure. In 2010 it was erected with 95 m main boom and 114 m luffing jib - a company record.
The first unit will ship to Crane Rental Corp., Florida, USA by the end of the year. A second unit is also due to be delivered by the end of 2011, potentially to a buyer outside the USA, says Mike Wood, Manitowoc product programme manager.
Manufacturers are keen to stress the cost-effectiveness and flexibility of these cranes, despite their size. The LR 13000 is a case in point, claims the company.
"It is the only crawler crane in this size class which can work without derrick ballast," explains Wolfgang Beringer at Liebherr-Werk Ehingen in Germany.
"This is achieved by an extremely powerful slewing ring, developed and manufactured by Liebherr, capable of transferring high torque, by contrast with the solutions from other manufacturers with ringer systems on the crawler travel gear."
Beringer continues, "To achieve the best possible lifting capacities without derrick ballast, the standard slew superstructure ballast is raised from 400 to 750 tonnes.
"This means that the crane can be used universally in the part-load range when the maximum lifting capacities are not called for on a particular site, and it also makes handling a great deal easier."
Production of the 3,200 tonne capacity Terex CC 8800-1 Twin, launched in 2007, is now on to its fourth unit, being built for a lifting contractor based in South East Asia.
"It is going to be used for all kinds of projects: petrochemical, infrastructure and nuclear. Lifting contractors worldwide cannot afford not to look into all applications.
"It is only nuclear industry customers who buy it to put on nuclear power plants, then leave it there for many years," says Rüdiger Zollondz, Terex Cranes product manager.
Nuclear, however, will continue as a major application, despite the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March and its ramifications, say all manufacturers.
"I think what we will see, and what we haven't seen yet, are the remodelling of some of these plants as a result of this disaster in Japan," comments Jerry Maloney, Manitowoc global product director for crawler cranes.
"Except Germany, all nations are moving forward with their nuclear programmes. There are large reaches with heavy equipment and that will require larger cranes."
When it comes to cost of ownership the CC 88000-1 Twin kit, which transforms the single-boomed 1,600 tonne capacity CC 8800 into the dual-boomed giant, is a good example, adds Zollondz.
"If you don't have a job for a Twin, you can use it as an 8800, which is very favourable, especially if the customer has a small fleet of 8800s; they can move the Twin kit from job site to job site.
"The return on investment in this case is higher than just having a regular big crawler crane or ring lift crane."
Another example is the SCC86000TM. "It focuses on global competition by module-base design and standardised components," a Sany spokesman told IC.
Efficient assembly and disassembly, along with standard containerised transportation also help, the spokesman continues.
In Beringer's opinion the practical advantages for conventional crawler cranes end at the LR 13000's capacity range. "For example, the slewing ring has a diameter of 4.5 m, which is a limit for transportation on public roads.
On the low bed trailer it is transported in a diagonal position. Alternative lifting systems like the PTCs can be much heavier and stronger."
Wood at Manitowoc says, "You have to look at the return for that kind of engineering investment. We have found that the 31000 hits the sweet spot in the super crane market place between the 1,000 tonners and 3,000 tonners. It can be utilised on projects better than some of the bigger machines."
Pat Collins, Link-Belt senior product manager, lattice boom cranes, has similar view, "From what I've seen, you're limited only by your imagination and resources. My practical side, however, says that one has to weigh the opportunity for return on investment."
One major market that super crawlers are not suitable for is wind energy; an area that is playing a big role in propping up the crawler industry in the lower capacity ranges.
A number of western manufacturers have introduced attachment kits for their 300 to 750 tonne crawlers, allowing crane owners to tackle increasingly tall towers, heavy nacelles and other components.
Terex, Liebherr, Link-Belt and Manitowoc are three of them. "The aim is to offer the most economical systems for transportation, installation and erection of the cranes and equipment," Say Beringer.
Zollondz explains Terex's Wind kit, "It's a very small additional investment which requires maybe heavier boom sections, a special small jib for wind turbines, and a dedicated hook block.
"The rest of the crane, 90% or more, is a standard crane that can be used for all kinds of lifting processes."
Zollondz adds, "It is better than investing 5 or 6 million [euro/dollars] in a specialized wind turbine crane, because you never know how much money you will be able to make with it.
"Nobody can tell you what the wind turbine industry will look like in three years when it comes to tower height and weight and the distributions between mid, low and large towers."
Manitowoc is working on a different combination. Its wind jib attachment was introduced for its 400 tonne capacity 16000 crawler crane last year. Now the company is working on the Boom Raiser,
"It will enhance the 16000 wind attachment to lift the same nacelles but, being able to reach the 100 m towers," says Jerry Maloney.
It consists of an hydraulic cylinder attached to the underside of the boom towards the bottom end. The cylinder is extended to the ground to add additional boom support.
USA-based Link-Belt already has a 25 foot (7.6 m), 110 US ton (100 tonne) capacity heavy duty, multi-offset boom top section for its 550 US ton (500 tonne) capacity 548 crawler and a 35 US ton (31.75 tonne) heavy auxiliary top section for its 300 US ton (273 tonne) capacity 348 HYLAB 5.
"We also recently introduced offset linkage for the standard top on our 300 US ton (273 tonne) capacity HC-278H II lattice truck which should make for an excellent service crane for the wind sector," adds Collins.
The 300 to 600 tonne capacity range is the busiest area for wind turbine erection. Tellingly, it is the higher end of this range, the 600 tonne capacity LR 1600/2, which provides the most sales for Liebherr in North America and Europe.
This is also the case in more challenging countries like China and Russia.
The narrow track crawler versions of the LR 1600/2-W and LTR 11200 utilise supporting pads carried so close to the ground that they engage immediately when the crawler carrier is lowered, enlarging the crane stand surface area.
The huge wind market in China - the fastest growing in the world - is, unsurprisingly, driving new crane development.
Sany launched its SCC2800WE, designed specifically for 1.5 MW wind turbine erection. It was followed by the SCC5000WE, for 2 MW turbines and the SCC6500WE for 3 MW turbines.
Now Sany has started research and development for a crane aimed at 4 MW turbines, as well as machines for the offshore wind energy sector.
"China's renewable industry developed dramatically after the beginning of the 21st Century," adds the company spokesman.
In a return, Terex Cranes launched the 360 tonne capacity crawler in China for 1.6 MW turbines on 80 m towers. Manitowoc has introduced its 100 tonne capacity MLC100, produced at the Zhangjiagang Potain plant in China.
It is aimed at the Chinese market, based on the manufacturer's agreement with Kobelco.
The next model will be a 150 tonne version, says Maloney, which will be available worldwide. The prototype is in production with the Tier II engine. A Tier IV version for North America and Europe is in planning.
Sennebogen's 7700 is primarily for assembly work in the offshore field, power plant construction, and as an assembly crane for wind power plants up to 1 MW, or as a service crane for larger wind power plants, says Michael Ibarth, Sennebogen marketing director.
While the typical size of wind turbines in Europe is 2 MW, on 80 to 90 m towers, ideally suited to the 400 tonne capacity cranes, says Zollondz, land-based turbines are reaching 7.5 MW. A Terex CC 2400 was recently used with superlift to erect a nacelle on a 114 m high tower.
Zollondz adds that in the near future 600 tonne capacity cranes will become the norm for wind turbine erection in Europe. "But we also see developments that are bigger, that require bigger cranes. We will have plans for that."
For taller towers of 100 to 120 m, Vestas 112 or Enercon 110, larger cranes are required like the CC 6800.
"In the wind turbine business going higher means more efficiency, but that requires more investment in towers, foundation and erection, so the developers are trying to balance that. But turbines are getting bigger and almost always getting taller."
Maloney believes land-based turbines will not reach more than 3.5 MW with 100 m plus tower heights in the USA, particularly due to the difficulties in transporting the components.
"With the nacelles and tower sections getting larger in diameter, so sectional towers are going to have to be produced to transport them to the site - turbine manufacturers have their own share of difficulties in the wind market."
Another obstacle, certainly in the USA, is the underdeveloped grid system to carry the generated electricity. "The next challenge for the wind industry is the grid.
"There is grid work going on in Texas, which, if not complete, is very near to being. But there is recognition that the grid has to be beefed up to get wind power to the places that it is used," adds Maloney.
Economic difficulties in the USA have not stopped Chinese manufacturers moving in to establish themselves as major brands of the future.
Zoomlion extended its partnership with USA-based Global Crane Sales earlier this year to include crawler distribution and, since then, has sold its first 260 tonne capacity QUY260 Crawler Crane into the country.
The unit went to crane service company Axis Crane, which operates in New York state, Oregon and Washington State.
The sale marked the launch of the company's new crawler crane line, available for the first time to the North American market.
Talking about the QUY260, a company spokesman said, "It is the first of many Zoomlion cranes to be ANSI-certified.
"Designed for maximum portability, and with exceptional control and reliability, the QUY260 is ideal for a variety of applications including general construction, construction of windmills, as well as oil rigs and refineries."
In late August Sany opened a 400,000 square foot, US$60 million corporate headquarters for the USA in Peachtree City, Georgia.
"We are looking forward to ramping up production in our manufacturing area," said Jack Tang, Sany America president.
"By the end of this year, we should have our first concrete pump trucks roll off of our assembly line, and then it will only be a short time before we are producing our cranes and hydraulic excavators as well."
Kyle Nape, Sany America vice president of global sales and marketing in the crawler crane division, says this year the US market is focused on products in the 300 tonne capacity range and below.
"Which is right where we are situated with our SCC8100 [110 US ton capacity], SCC8200 [220 US tons] and SCC8300 [330 US tons].
"We have seen the majority of our business with the SCC8100 and the SCC8300. We will continue to focus on expanding the global crawler product offering in 2012."
Nape adds, "As we continue to develop our product line and build our distribution network, we have an opportunity to bring new product to market that will be very competitive with features and pricing.
"We understand that we need to meet the requirements of the demanding North America market with quality, reliability and serviceability and we are counting on our partners to help prove that we are a contender for this market."
Long standing US manufacturers are also expanding their product ranges to meet demands in the region. At Link-Belt, Collins explains, "We introduced the 150 US ton (137 tonne) 238 HSL at ConExpo 2011.
The 238 is a completely new model that joins the other HSLs in our line up. It is designed specifically for the general contractor and will see work in steel erection, road and bridge work, pile driving and more."
The strong global market for 300 tonnes and below for general contract work is reflected in Sany's new 300 tonne capacity SCC8300 lattice boom model. It has a maximum load moment of 1,652 tonne-metres and single unit transport weight of 45 tonnes for the global market.
"It also has a cutting-edge industrial styling cab and outstanding adaptability with multiple configurations. It is the first model ever from Sany to aim at the western high-end market and stay competitive against world-renowned brands like Liebherr, Manitowoc, and so on," said the company spokesman.
Senenbogen's latest in that capacity area is the 300 tonne capacity 7700 Star Lifter. It tops the German manufacturer's Star Lifter range and has a maximum boom length of 148 m (74 m main boom + 74 m fly jib).
The different configurations of main and fly ensure maximum flexibility and versatility, says Michael Ibarth.
Product ranges will continue to be developed not just around lifting technology and the purchase cost but around service life costs and, for example, transportation and erection and dismantling.
"You might invest your engineering resources in other areas to create a higher benefit than just creating capacity," says Zollondz.
"These are areas we are looking into for next generation models - although all of these ideas are in our products already."
Another trend for heavy lifters might be a reduction in global transport due to the expense of sea movements and the difference in road regulations across world highways, adds Zollondz.
"So for that size of crane I think it will be more regional and continental transport."
No matter how the market develops, Zollondz believes crawler cranes will have an increasingly big role. "If you look back, there have been telescopic and crawler cranes erecting wind turbines.
"I expect this will shift more to crawler cranes and move away from the telescopic cranes. Turbines are getting taller, and there have been too many incidents when relocating these telescopic cranes, on wind sites, or where they have too much wind against them."