The truck crane's fortunes outside China are mixed

21 February 2012

Canadian oilfield trucking and hauling company Trans Carrier’s unique National Crane NBT55 boom truc

Canadian oilfield trucking and hauling company Trans Carrier’s unique National Crane NBT55 boom truck. The 55 US ton (50 tonne) capacity unit is mounted on a custom-designed, over-the-road Kenworth tr

The truck crane may be the biggest selling crane type in the world but its fortunes outside China are mixed. Euan Youdale reports on the changing face of the market

The economy, combined with road regulations and demands for increased flexibility is shaping what is on offer in the truck crane sector. At both ends of the capacity range there are hybrid designs and there is a grey area of crossover between boom trucks and truck cranes. There may come a time when the terms truck crane, truck mounted crane and boom truck are dropped entirely in favour of a more descriptive name and numbering on a model-by-model basis.

A good example of truck crane and boom truck blending comes in the combination of upper structures and chassis. Jay Barth, Terex truck crane product manager, explains its approach, "The main difference between truck mounted cranes is the use of a commercial chassis as a transport carrier. The Terex Crossover 6000 and Crossover 4500 truck mounted cranes are configured with a commercial chassis fitted with a specialized subframe and the upper structure from a truck crane, T 560-1 for the Crossover 6000 and T 340-1 XL for the 4500."

The outcome is a cost-effective machine with performance that typically equals and, sometimes surpasses, a truck crane with comparable capacity, says Barth.

At the other end of the spectrum, truck cranes are encroaching on all terrain territory. "For example, the truck mounted crane Roadmaster 5300 shares the same upper structure with the AC 100/4L, but mounted on a commercial chassis," adds Barth.

Furthermore, there is now a tendency, Barth explains, to utilise the same upper cab, driver cab, controls and ergonomics, when using a purpose-built chassis, across the whole Terex road-based mobile crane range.

At Tadano, Thomas Schramm, general manager sales and marketing, sees a trend to upgrade all product segments, which has blurred the parameters for truck crane and booms trucks, "For example, boom trucks used to have no closed cabin, keeping them relatively simple. However, increasing demand for operator comfort and the safe execution of jobs has led to a closed cabin."

It is in some of the mature markets that this shift from the traditional purpose-built truck to commercially-sourced truck-mounted models is found, says Ruben Olivas, Manitowoc Cranes global product director for truck cranes, boom trucks and industrial cranes. In line with this trend Manitowoc has developed new products, including the imperial-denoted NBT45 and NBT55; and the metric GBT35 and TMC540.

"The biggest single advantage is the flexibility for customers to choose a preferred brand of truck. Many customers have a favoured brand, based on customer support, reliability, heritage, etcetera," explains Olivas.

"This fits with preferences for left- or right-hand drive, or Tier III or Tier IV engine requirements. Also, commercial carriers for a particular market will already have the required number of axles and axle spacing needed, plus the ability to conform to weight or dimension restrictions," adds Olivas.

For Olivas, boom trucks over 55 tonnes are generally not attractive as the cost of the truck is higher and special permits are often required. "However, this might change, as it did in the past when the 40 US ton boom truck was uneconomical, yet today is a popular option."

Up in capacity

Turning to the category of truck cranes above 50 tonnes capacity, Tadano will launch its HK 65 model in 2012. Its gross weight is under 32 tonnes, says the manufacturer, with a 41 m boom and a capacity of 5.5 tonnes at a 20 m radius. Accessories can be legally transported with the crane. If legislation for registration is less restricted the HK series can transport the full counterweight.

"The series provides the possibility to adapt the superstructure of the HK series to the preferred model of each company. This may further enhance fleet and service management in the individual fleet of the customer," explains Schramm.

HK crane carrier cabins can also be specified as sleeper cabs, "This allows the drivers to have a comfortable rest from a hard day's work and provides the opportunity of a completely new routing concept," says Schramm, "Instead of returning back to depots after finishing the job, cranes can go to the next job. This reduces mileage and allows efficient use of the equipment during busy times."

Rick Curnutte, USA-based Link-Belt product manager, telescopic boom cranes, says he is constantly in touch with dealers and customers in a bid to understand the fine line between higher capacity truck and all terrain cranes. "The small all terrain cranes have intricate, multi-axle steering that adds complexity, and has higher maintenance costs. This makes it difficult for a small all terrain to be cost effective."

The 20.5 x 25 tyres typically found on such all terrains are also far more expensive to replace than the typical truck crane tyre.

"It is when you get into the higher tonnages that all terrain cranes provide a good balance between transport, operating costs, manoeuvrability, and lift capability. At these higher capacities, complexity can still be an issue," Curnutte adds, "We strongly believe that technology should be designed into a crane only when it yields a true benefit."

Segment preference

Increasingly, says Schramm, it is the suitability of the equipment to the rental fleet, rather than its name that is important. "Sometimes the wording of truck cranes versus all terrain cranes, for example, is overvalued. There are surely segments of an application where truck cranes are preferable to the all terrain."

Again this comes mainly in the lower capacities where all terrains have a much higher lifetime operating cost, adds Schramm, which is influential on the economic success of such an investment.

In the mid-range, from 60 to 100 tonnes capacity, the preference varies by region, adds Olivas. In the USA, for example, four axle all terrains are very difficult to road in many states, while in Europe they remain popular because customers like compact dimensions and small turning circles. "And then in Latin America the market is different again. Customers are split between either wanting the lower cost of truck cranes or higher technology from all terrain cranes," says Olivas.

"In Europe the truck crane market is considerably smaller. However, cost pressure on rental companies that want to utilise the economic benefits of the HK system leads to an increasing number of HK cranes in the European roads," says Schramm.

Barth has a similar experience in Western Europe with lower capacity all terrains being replaced by truck mounted cranes - a reversal of the 1980s situation when all terrains started taking a foothold in the continent.

As Europe's boundaries change, however, so do the requirements for cranes, Schramm adds, "The opening of east borders boosted development of truck cranes too, as many companies needed cranes for which they can get driving permits easily and which were able to run high at mileage throughout Europe."

Despite these shifting trends, Curnutte says the truck crane market is extremely weak in Europe, although there is steady, yet slow growth in Link-Belt's home market of North America. "Our new HTC-3140 models are selling well as is our HTC-86100. That growth, especially with the larger 3140, is due in large part to the energy sector, including natural gas production.

On the road

Roadability is a fundamental issue. In response Terex launched the Roadmaster 9000, which is configurable for road transport in all 50 US states. Capable of lifts of up to 90 US tons (81 tonnes) and equipped with a 164.5 foot (50 m) boom for a maximum system length of 242.8 feet (74 m). "We're also seeing strong growth in South America driven by general construction and a wide variety of applications," adds Curnutte at Link-Belt.

All manufacturers are taking South America seriously. Tadano, for example, is launching a new truck crane: the 70 US ton capacity GS-770XL, aimed at Brazil. The manufacturer is also launching the GT-600EX for Australia to meet the county's bridge regulations with counter weight. (See News for more about these cranes.)

Another great landmass holding huge potential is Russia. Curnutte explains, "The Russian market has a strong energy sector and is seeing significant growth in general construction, including roads and bridges."

Olivas also points to Russia's great promise but is wary of the domestic truck crane market. "Russia is very important in terms of volumes. However, there are many local manufacturers producing cheaper products in-country and they continue to occupy most of the market. Imports are subject to high duties, making it difficult to compete."

In response Manitowoc has introduced the GBT35 for the Russian market. The locally-assembled truck crane has a 35 tonne capacity and 39 m five section full-power boom which is 3 m longer than its nearest competitor and 8 m longer than most cranes in this class, says the manufacturer.

China is still the largest single market for truck cranes in the world. "However, in the past year demand has slowed," adds Olivas, as the government has sought to reign in the booming economy to reduce the risk of a western-style financial bubble. "This makes the market even more competitive. Local manufacturers with huge manufacturing plants and staff are becoming more aggressive and also focusing more on export markets."

From a capacity perspective, the 25 tonne truck crane is still the leading capacity in China, confirms Barth. In 2011 Terex launched its 25 tonne capacity Toplift 025G truck crane through its Terex Chang Jiang joint venture. "Built specifically for China's largest crane market segment, the 025G features a new transmission that boosts maximum travel speeds by approximately 4% over previous class offerings to reduce transport time to jobsites," says Barth.

The joint venture also launched the 55 tonne capacity 055G truck crane on a four axle carrier. It has a 42 m five-section decagonal section boom. Both cranes offer many of the same technological innovations found throughout the Terex range, says the manufacturer.

While the 25 tonne truck crane has the highest sales figures worldwide, particularly in countries like China, Russia and India, there are significant variations, Olivas explains, "Worldwide, the most exported truck crane in the world is the 50 tonne crane. Inside North America the most popular truck cranes are in the 75 tonne-plus classes."

Barth agrees, "There is no one-size-fits-all crane choice between countries. (See Figure 1). In general there is a shift to cranes with higher capacity, but even this generalisation does not always hold true."

Designed to regulations

A major factor affecting truck crane design and capacities is road regulations. "The regulations are diverse, complex, getting stricter, being enforced more, and might even differ within a country, i.e. the USA," says Barth. "A crane can comply with the regulations but not always carry all the elements needed to complete the lift."

Lighter carriers is one of the answers, says Schramm, "With ever more challenging road permit limitations the lighter weight of the [Tadano] HKs can better comply with such regulation, whereas all terrain cranes are often designed just for a 12 tonne per axle driving condition."

Exhaust emission regulations continue to become more stringent with the introduction of Tier 4i/Stage IIIB legislation brought in at the beginning of 2012 and Stage IV/Tier 4 final requirements coming into force in 2014. "New Tier IV engines are bigger and require additional tanks and tubing. In some cases our carriers didn't have enough space for these new engines and frames, wiring, software etcetera, so quite a lot of redesign work was needed," says Olivas.

Barth confirms, "Compliance with local emission regulations is crucial and should be not be overlooked, especially if the crane could potentially operate in different continents and countries."

At Link-Belt the 140 US ton (120 tonne) HTC-3140 and HTC-3140 LB (long boom) have a host of new features and the latest emissions technology for 2012. The 3140 now has Cummins engines both in the upper and lower. The upper uses the Tier 4i/Stage IIIB QSB 6.7 engine and the lower uses Cummins' 2010 EPA emissions-compliant ISX15 with a diesel particulate filter (DPF) and selective catalyst reduction (SCR). Despite the new emissions technology and other added features, though, the 3140 has gained no weight, says Curnutte.

Summing up the turning tides of the market, Barth says the "substitution effect" between truck mounted and truck cranes are key, particularly in North America, "When high capacities are needed, the purpose built chassis of a truck crane is preferred. And when lower capacities are needed, the operating cost of a commercial chassis is preferred. An example of this is the Terex Crossover line, one can find lifting capacities available on commercial chassis which before were available only in purpose built truck cranes."

View from China

China is the world's biggest truck crane market, reports Alex Dahm. Sales in China grew at 20% a year from 2005 to 2010, before a brief "lull" or, even a small drop, last year. In 2011 the total was around 35,000 units, about the same as in 2010. The forecast is to get back to an increase - to 38,000 units - for 2012. Li Yuning, vice president at Liugong, which makes truck cranes to 70 tonnes, among a large amount of other equipment, forecasts 3% annual growth in truck crane demand to 40,800 units in 2015.

In value terms, 2010 sales of new mobile cranes in China exceeded RMB 30 billion (or USD 4.75 billion), says Li. That figure for cranes is 10% of the whole Chinese construction equipment market, Li says. Truck cranes account for between 75 and 80% of the total.

The truck crane market in China is experiencing a trend towards higher capacity and there has been a strong shift in the last five years. Machines below 20 tonnes capacity used to account for 58% of all truck crane sales but that has fallen to 28%. Taking up the slack is the 20 to 25 tonne capacity sector, which has grown from 33% to 64%. Above 30 tonnes capacity it has remained stable. Sany, for example, doesn't produce 8 and 10 tonne capacity truck cranes and is focusing higher up the capacity scale.

Several manufacturers continue to enter or expand in the truck crane sector. Chinese manufacturer XJCM has launched its first truck crane, a 25 tonne capacity model aimed at the domestic market. The QY25J5 has a 40 metre, five section boom and 7.3 m jib. It uses a four axle European style JAC (Jianghuai Automobile Co) truck carrier. Kerb weight is 31,780 kg. Overall length is 13.2 m. In development at XJCM are 8 and 12 tonne capacity truck cranes. These will be launched around April or May 2012, according to export manager Jack Zhu.

Luigong says it will launch a 90 tonne capacity model this year to top the range above its current highest capacity 70 tonne model.

Also new in the crane sector is Chinese manufacturer Sunward. Its 50 tonne capacity SWQY50 has a five section, 42.5 m boom. Maximum lifting height with both sections of jib is 59.1 m. It is mounted on a four axle FAW carrier.

New Sany truck crane models are 90 and 100 tonners. The four axle 90 tonner has a five section boom and cross type outriggers. The 100 tonner has a six-section boom and five axle carrier, which is more compact than competitors' models, which are on six axle carriers, Sany says. Deliveries start in April.

Part of Sany's strategy is the company's 75 tonne capacity truck crane. It fits between competitors' 70 and 80 tonne models with the idea that only one model is needed to compete with both from competitors. The STC75 has a five section, 45 m boom and jib options are 9.2 or 16 m. The Sany four axle carrier is just over 12 m long and overall length for road travel, with the boom overhang is 14.1 m. Total weight is 46 tonnes, split 20 tonnes on the front axle and 26 on the rear.

All Chinese manufacturers are focusing strongly on developing their export business. Key markets are the Middle East, South East and mid-Asia, and Latin America. Sany says that around 500 of its mobile cranes were exported in 2010. The major markets are Brazil, Saudi and UAE, followed by India. A recent major export order for Sany was for 132 truck cranes (102 x 75 tonners and 30 x 100 tonners) to Al Areedh in the Middle East, worth RMB 260 million (US$ 40 million).

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