Picking the pieces

18 March 2008

In some cases, replications of the type plates were even attempted, albeit with incorrect data,”Liebherr adds.

Where there was doubt, proof could only be gained by carrying out destructive testing on the counterfeit materials, weld joints and the fatigue limit of the corner posts and corner post linkages.

During testing it became apparent that the steel was of a lower quality, failing to meet the industry's minimum static strength requirements and making it unsuitable for use in cold conditions, when it can become brittle.

“For the majority of tower section counterfeits analysed, steel had been used, which, at low temperatures meets only a fraction of our standards. Consequently, there is a much higher risk of material breakages, resulting in a higher risk of the crane overturning and posing great danger to persons and machinery.”

Cracks in the fakes

Liebherr adds that the counterfeit tower sections were susceptible to cracking at temperatures just below zero centigrade or when the crane was not in operation, due to the massive strain placed on it by counterweights, other loads and weather conditions.

Welded joints on the counterfeit sections were also proved to be substandard, particularly those on the transverse connections.

“The workmanship is so bad that in some cases only 50% of the transfer cross-section is present. When the crane is in operation, the crane torque therefore causes inadmissible levels of stress, leading to cracks in the weld joints.

“Were this to go unnoticed for too long, it could result in the complete destruction of the transverse connections.”

Pulsator tests were carried out on the corner posts and corner post linkages, some of which cracked under a third of the loadings usually applied to an original Liebherr tower section.

“Cracks could, therefore, occur after a relatively short time in operation, causing the crane to overturn. Great demands are placed on corner posts and corner linkages, hence their high quality and the use of suitable materials are particularly important.”

Liebherr warns that tower cranes fitted with counterfeit components are not covered by the Liebheer CE declaration of conformity. “According to European law, any person who fits counterfeit parts to a crane or has counterfeit parts and original Liebherr components assembled, puts a new crane in circulation and must, therefore, assume responsibility for its compliance with European regulations and certify its conformity.”

“The same principle applies in relation to other national or international regulations.”

Liebherr adds that without knowing the properties of the crane or the counterfeit parts, a user may have to go to great lengths to prove the safety of their crane.

Manitowoc Crane Group has also voiced its concern, launching an internal task force to raise the awareness of potential dangers of counterfeit parts and components. The company also promises to lead initiatives in trade associations in Europe and worldwide to tackle the offending producers.

“With this counterfeit issue, people's safety is at stake and safety is the primary value of Manitowoc Crane Group. Consequently, we are determined to undertake any action that can help our customers and crane users to protect themselves and that can lead to the shut down of the counterfeit operations,”says Frans Vanwinkel, vice president of sales and marketing for the EMEA region.

Vanwinkel adds that Asian companies, building counterfeit components such as mast or jib sections, are passing them off as Potain components, complete with fake designation and identification plates. “As yet, none have been identified on cranes working in Europe, although there were some parts shown during the Bauma fair [in Germany in April]. We believe the industry needs to raise its awareness.

“However, the danger is that the suppliers are now looking at Europe and customers will be tempted by the lower purchase cost without realizing the potential risks involved.

“Our engineers have looked at a number of these machines using counterfeit components and continue to watch the market closely. We have grave concerns about the manufacturing quality of a number of the counterfeits we have seen.”

RaycoWylie Systems supplies and maintains rated capacity indicators to crane manufacturers worldwide. Gary Kennedy, RaycoWylie UK sales office manager, said that some customers have attempted to source parts for the company's safety-critical capacity indicators from elsewhere.

“We can vouch for the dangerous situations that can – all too easily – arise from this activity. Many of the parts used in our systems need to be high-specification units and replacing them with generic parts will have a significant impact on the accuracy and reliability of the overall system.

Worse than none

“An inaccurate rated capacity indicator can be worse than none at all, as the operator believes that he is being informed of the machine's various parameters correctly when this may not, in fact, be the case.”

Kennedy added that any market hampered by supply shortages would be tempted by alternatives offering the vital components needed to keep an expensive investment in working order.

This can force users to empt to acquire third rty parts, and indeed ese can be perfectly ceptable if they are urced from reputable nufacturers and, ideally, proved by the original pment manufacturers.

However, as these s are sometimes built or pted to fulfil an urgent d by an opportunistic nufacturer, the quality of struction is often the first g to be overlooked, if it ven a consideration in first place.”

The urgent need for mponents is partly caused by the well documented acceleration in the world's construction industry, causing an ever increasing demand for cranes and their components.

With lead times for new cranes reaching two years or more in some cases, the component manufacturers are also finding it difficult to keep up with their customers' demands.

According to Christain Schorr, Terex Demag marketing director for Europe, the lack of components has resulted in significantly fewer sales in the all terrain market than would otherwise be achieved. “AT sales are 10% more compared to last year, it could be 20%, but that 10% is due to a lack of supplies. We talk about a supply of 2,800 AT cranes for 2007, it could be 10% more but that is not possible because suppliers cannot deliver.”

Schorr adds that crane manufacturers get caught out when component suppliers announce they cannot deliver at the last minute. He cites a shortage of steel as a major contribution to the problem. “We are using very special steel. There are not that many manufacturers producing it and it is not their main business, so quantities are not that high. This shortage is slowing us down.”

While the lack of steel is ongoing, Schorr says most crane components, ranging from axles, gearboxes and hydraulics to wire rope, tyres and electronics, all become unavailable from time-to-time.

Adding to the uncertainty, he said, the situation changes day-by-day with components becoming unavailable without warning. “Things pop up that you do not expect. Our supplier has problems with his supplier and it affects the whole chain. This jeopardises production. One thing influences the entire business,”Schorr explains.

As a result component manufacturers are addressing the issue by working directly with suppliers and aligning their production timetables with the needs of the crane companies, such as Terex Demag.

“We really depend on those suppliers. They are vital for the success of our companies and we have established frequent meetings with them to help them if they have problems with their suppliers.”

While Terex Demag produces some 90% of its own slewing rings, along with steel structures, there are no plans to increase its capabilities to include other components. “We are welding more and more steel structures in house. But that is very different from gearboxes or axle parts and that would be a much longer term project. I think in the future we will have much more alignment with other Terex manufacturers. We are now changing our suppliers and perhaps we will have a more international supplier base.

“There will be a concentration of suppliers. There will be a movement to larger manufacturers. You will have fewer of them but they will develop components with you, right from the beginning.”

Fewer shortages

Schorr adds that improvements in the supply chain have already been made and he forecasts that the shortages will end in 2008. This, he says, is partly because the crane industry cannot sustain the current growth of 20% a year, meaning production levels will eventually fall as a result.

Liebherr has been manufacturing its own components at its facility in Biberach Germany for many years. Hans-Martin Frech says this is particularly true in tower cranes, for which nearly all components, including the hoist gear, slewing gear, trolley travel gear, electric motors and gear units, are manufactured in house.

“For years now we have sought a high production depth in order to guarantee the customer uniform quality in accordance with our own requirements and industry standards. We even manufacture slewing connections for our tower cranes here in Biberach. We are thus able to perfectly gear the production of our components to practical requirements. This also means that the problem of long component delivery times is a rare one at Liebherr in Biberach,”Frech adds.

Duffy Burgower, spare parts manager at Liebherr Nenzing Crane Co in Texas, US, says his company continues to expand its warehouse facilities as the demand for spare parts is increasing. Burgower says the company has doubled its investment in parts it stocks in the US and that the service centre in Houston has twice had to expand its parts department. The company is assessing the need to build an additional warehouse to better service customers, Burgower says.

Liebherr continually analyses parts needs to assure it has on hand the parts and components in the highest demand. “We carry a large supply of service items, filters, pumps, motors, electrical components, all the way down to small fittings,”Burgower says.

Also, in the US, it is a similar story at Link-Belt. “We are all at the mercy of our component manufacturers and a tight labour market,”explains a company spokesperson, who adds that the company has made moves to help meet market demands. The company has announced a $25 million, 90,000 square foot factory expansion at its Lexington, KY facility (see News, this issue).

Texas-based Universal Cranes sells parts for Liebherr, Terex Demag and Grove cranes. Andreas Hoffzimmer, company president, says the manufacturers tell him that there are only backlogs on certain parts. He believes the manufacturers cannot do much more than they already have to increase production to reduce the backlog; the industry just needs to wait it out.

Right now, he says, electronic parts and components are in high demand. Hoffzimmer explains that high tensile structural steel can be up to a 30-day wait because the steel comes from Europe.

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