Testing times for the truck crane

By Laura Hatton05 March 2013

The CLG TC500 is a new 50 tonne capacity truck crane from LiuGong in China

The CLG TC500 is a new 50 tonne capacity truck crane from LiuGong in China

Thanks to its versatility in lifting and its travel ability, the truck crane is one of the biggest selling crane types in the world. In Asia its popularity continues to grow. As we move into an era of tougher exhaust emission laws and strict road regulations, however, the practicality of the truck crane comes under increasing pressure.

It is an issue affecting everyone from manufactures to end users, and even rental companies. As Frank Bardonaro, president of US crane rental giant, Maxim Crane Works, explains, “Department of Transportation (DOT) rules have a lot to do with the type and size cranes we select for various regions.

“The fact is that on a global basis there is no uniformity [of road regulations] and it is a constant work in progress to ensure that our industry remains compliant. We work closely with the states and townships, and with manufactures and industry groups to help improve these issues, but they are always changing and it requires extreme diligence to remain compliant.”

The problem is that road regulations vary widely around the world. In, for example, the UK, road regulations allow wheeled mobile cranes up to 16.5 tonnes per axle, with certain restrictions, whereas most European countries have a limit of 12 tonnes per axle. European road regulation also involves legislation on axle separation, which again varies accordingly. As many end users will verify, however, road regulations prove to be an even bigger issue in the USA, where laws can vary from state to state.

Agustin Dominguez, speaking from Terex, put the issue into perspective, “In one US state the limit could be 10 tons per axle, with complex regulations on axle separation but, in the same state you could have further confusion due to certain roads that have their own unique regulations. It is an issue that we always have in mind when we are developing new cranes.”

Product development
Rather than deterring truck crane manufacturers, increasing regulation has come with an influx of new truck cranes, all of which aim to be compliant with the varying road laws. Italian crane manufacturer Ormig’s 804AC, which has a total gross vehicle weight of just under 32 tonnes, allowing it free road and motorway travel without needing any special permits, the company said. Another feature making it transport-friendly is reduced overall dimensions, which helps meet customer demand for manoeuvrability on site. The 804AC offers an 80 tonne lifting capacity and a 36 metre telescopic boom in six sections. “It also has versatility and is particularly useful in heavy works, with the advantage of a quick travel,” says Gian Paolo Aschero, Ormig spokesperson.

In a similar vein, Manitowoc’s TMS series of Grove truck cranes is designed to meet some of the most demanding road regulations in the world. “Requirements for the movement of truck cranes in North America are notoriously strict,” the manufacturer explains, “and, to complicate matters, they vary from state to state. Customers in North America want truck cranes that conform to this wide variety of regulations.”

As a result, Manitowoc’s TMS 700, TMS 800 and TMS 9000 are each designed with “ease of roadability” factors, while still retaining important qualities, such as fast set-up and strong load charts, the company says. “Our TMS series meets some of the most demanding road regulations in the world... [they can] travel with as much on-board equipment as possible, in terms of jib, counterweight, ancillary equipment etc.”

Also from the USA is Link-belt’s HTC-86100, another truck crane that meets such demands. According to the company, the HTC-86100 can be configured to meet some of the toughest transportation laws. The 100 US ton (85 tonne) capacity hydraulic truck crane has a 38 to 140 foot (11.6 to 42.7 m) five section boom and a 237 foot (72 m) maximum tip height. As expressed by Jim Gregory and Jim Gregory, Jr, president and vice president, respectively, at Hagerstown, Maryland-based crane rental company Digging & Rigging, “Link-belt’s HTC-86100 offers versatility and excellent transportability.”

A similar issue of transport occurs in Australia, where truck cranes need permits to travel on roads and bridges. This legality has driven a new wave of truck cranes into the Australian market. The Grove GBT35 is one such example, “The GBT35 is lighter than comparable truck cranes, making it easier to gain permits to travel on roads or over bridges, for example, that other cranes would have to avoid,” Manitowoc explains. “In addition, in Australia, the GBT35 avoids the need for an Intelligent Access Program (IAP) tracking system that can hinder crane movements, adding time to projects.” Without conflicting with its manoeuvrability features, the GBT35 has a 39 m full power boom and can lift 900 kg at a 30 m radius with the boom fully extended.

Cost effective
Truck cranes have always been considered cost effective but, as Bardonaro suggests, customer demands are pushing truck cranes into a competitive market, “Most customers want to reach as high as they can with as much as they can and set [the crane] as far away as they can for the lowest price. This means that basically every segment is in a very competitive market.”

It does, however, encourage collaborative partnerships between providers and end users, as Bardonaro explains, “We work with industry groups to provide [customers] with the most cost effective and safe equipment for their specific needs.

“The goal is to design and operate a machine that provides maximum production without sacrificing safety and operator comfort,” Bardonaro continued, “As a union contractor, one of the key issues revolves around various labour requirements with different locals. We work closely to ensure that the labour unions are able to identify the needs of local competition without jeopardizing safety. ”

Dominguez was further able to elaborate on the topic, “Versatility (the ability to take multiple types of jobs) and transportability (cost effective transportation) are influencing factors in truck crane design,” but customers look for a profitable crane and “a profitable crane is a safe crane.”

So with safety in mind, how can a truck crane be both versatile, transportable and yet cost effective? Robert Carden, director of TRT, Manitowoc distributor in New Zealand, put it in perspective, “Although there are cranes out there with good lifting performance, they are hindered by being paired with poor quality trucks, which has negatively impacted their reputation. These other cranes make long journeys tiresome and repairs are regularly needed.”

To meet these demands, Manitowoc has introduced the Grove GBT35. Fitted to a European truck that allows travel up to 90 km/h, it also has air bags for driver safety and air suspension for a more comfortable ride. “This makes a huge difference” Carden said, “it means operators can travel farther to complete more jobs.”

Looking ahead
With a relentless stream of regulations and customer demands, manufacturers the world over will introduce a number of modern truck cranes in 2013. At the time of writing in late January, Manitowoc has announced the impending launch of four truck cranes from its Chinese joint venture with Shantui, the Shantui Manitowoc Crane Company Ltd.

“Initially, four truck cranes will be available from this joint venture. These will be the GT8, GT10, GT20 and GT25, 8 to 25 tonnes capacity,” Eric Etchart, Manitowoc Cranes president, told IC. Three of them are from the existing 2008 joint venture with Tai’An Dongyue Heavy Machinery. The largest, the 25 tonner, will be new and will be followed by a new 55 tonne capacity model. Built for the domestic and export markets, they will be available from May 2013 and further models in the 70 to 100 tonne capacity range will follow.

Terex has also launched two new truck cranes, the Roadmaster 9000 and the Toplift 036G. The Roadmaster 9000 has a lifting capacity of 80 tons (72.5 tonnes), a boom length of 50 m and a maximum tip height of 74 m with boom extension. It includes a touch panel control system, automatic counterweight rigging and a 5 section pin lock telescopic boom with reduced weight.

The Toplift 036G has a 36 tonnes capacity and a lightweight five-section boom with a 38 m fully extended boom length and 51 m maximum tip height. Its 14 m jib offers 1- to 30-degree offset positions. The new cab design includes the removal of the B-pillar to improve operator visibility.

Further to these new releases, all the Chinese manufacturers continue to be prolific in expanding their truck crane series. For more on the latest products from China, see IC January 2013, page 15. As one example, Chinese manufacturing giant XCMG has introduced several new truck crane series. First is the BY series for the Southeast Asian market. It is for right-hand drive operation. Main applications are to assist in the construction of houses, bridges and roads. In addition, there is the KN series, engineered for the Brazilian market. For Europe, XCMG will launch the XCT-2 series truck cranes, which is mainly for the construction of houses, bridges, roads, etc, the company says. Further information will follow as it becomes available.

From Italy, Ormig presents its model 104AC and the model 804AC (mentioned previously). The 104AC has a 100 tonne lifting capacity and a 46 m telescopic boom in eight sections. Both models can have a “tilting head” with an attachment to reduce the headroom requirement.

“Optional equipment includes fly jibs of various lengths, driving control from the upper-structure cab, an electric motor drive for working indoors, auxiliary counterweight and different fittings according to operator requirements,” Gian Paolo Aschero added and “the reduced overall dimensions compared with remarkable capacity, offer an important versatility, particularly useful in heavy works, with the advantage of a quick travel.”

Market trends
In the last 12 months both Manitowoc and Maxim Crane say that they have seen customers favouring the 90 ton (82 tonne) capacity class truck crane. Manitowoc has also seen the TMS 9000 and the 35 ton (32 tonne) NBT 45 (which is sold as the GBT35 in markets outside North America) being a popular choice. Frank Bardonaro suggests that these market trends are due to the transportation benefits and smaller vehicle size that are associated with the truck crane.

When it comes to the busiest markets, however, more than 90 % of the world truck crane sales are in China. The busiest sector is from 25 to 50 tonnes capacity and, according to Terex, “25 tonne truck cranes are considered to be for the emerging markets, particularly throughout China where they are ubiquitous.” With the bulk of the world’s truck cranes built and sold in China, even where sales having fallen there in the last year by more than 40%, manufacturers are increasing their export focus, especially to developing countries. “We believe there is a good opportunity for a China-built truck crane with good quality and performance attributes in emerging markets. Manitowoc plans to play an important role in that.”

Outside China, North America is a busy market, followed by areas in Latin America and the Middle East.

Design parameters
Issues surrounding cost, safety, versatility and transportability are major drivers in shaping what the truck crane industry has to offer. It is forecast that because of lower operating costs and less DOT issues compared to all terrain cranes, the demand for the truck crane will continue to increase, with the next generation of truck crane products reflecting industry needs in terms of application, speed and other legislative factors.

“In the end, a crane will earn money if it can perform the job but it can only perform the job if it can get there,” said Agustin Dominguez. “It’s among our top priorities to create a crane that is profitable. And that involves being compliant and transport efficient.”

Finally, Jason Pearce, national sales manager at Manitowoc in Australia, said that where truck cranes are becoming ever more popular, its versatility and performance will make it a favourite for contractors and rental companies alike.

Crossing boundaries
As manufacturers of truck cranes, boom trucks and all terrains continue to evolve to meet customer requirements, the boundaries between the crane types have begun to blur. Issues are mainly around weight, chassis and cost.

When you move into the 45/50/60 tonne capacity boom truck range, the loading capability has been sacrificed to have more capacity, and you are into truck crane territory. Chinese manufacturers offer several hydraulic truck cranes up to 160 tonnes capacity and even slightly higher (Zoomlion and XCMG have exhibited 220 tonne models) – an area generally considered to be the domain of the all terrain.

“There is always discussion over the top end of the capacity class for truck cranes, and when it is economical to run, say, a 150 tonne truck crane versus an all terrain crane of the same capacity. We’re constantly evaluating the market in this regard but, at present, our feeling is that above 120 tonnes capacity the market is stacked in favour of all terrains. While we could develop larger truck cranes, the anticipated sales volumes, combined with development costs would make it uneconomic,” Manitowoc says.

On the crossover between truck cranes and boom trucks, Jim Glazer, Elliott Equipment Company president, points out that, “Currently the dividing line in the boom truck and truck crane market is in the 40 to 50 ton [36 to 45 tonne] range. Like most things in the crane market, boom trucks continue to get longer and stronger and, as a result, the dividing line between these classes of product will likely continue to move to higher tonnages in the years to come.

“Boom trucks have several advantages over truck cranes. These advantages include weight (boom trucks weigh less so use less fuel and cost less to operate); chassis (boom trucks use commercial truck chassis, while truck cranes use custom chassis); and ownership cost (boom trucks cost significantly less than truck cranes in comparable capacities, both upfront and over the life of the product),” Glazer continues.

Customers demand the highest lifting capacity for the lowest cost. To achieve this hybrid designs are emerging in the mobile crane market. For example, Terex’s Crossover series of high capacity boom trucks has the upper structure of a truck crane mounted on a commercial carrier, arguably constituting a hybrid between a boom truck and a truck crane.

Of course, with all terrains the capacity and capability that a truck crane can offer is there, with the added bonus of off road capabilities and all-axle steering for manoeuvrability. In addition, with all terrains typically being custom-built, end users can influence the final design and, most importantly, be in control of its performance and limits. With such freedom on design, however, what would the end product really be? A truck crane, a boom truck or an all terrain? Let’s see how this develops.

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