Truck crane sales from one extreme to another

By Euan Youdale15 February 2011

A 25 tonne truck crane from Russia’s biggest manufacturer Autokran

A 25 tonne truck crane from Russia’s biggest manufacturer Autokran

There is much to celebrate in the global truck crane market overall but Western manufacturers and markets are still feeling the economic pinch.

Worldwide, the truck crane industry remains the strongest of any crane segment, thanks to the vast markets of China and Russia. The former is widely reported to be entering a golden era for cranes. Looking west, however, the story is less encouraging. The USA, another traditional truck crane market, is still suffering from the effects of recession, as are many other countries around the world.

Rick Curnutte, telescopic boom cranes manager at USA-based Link-Belt, puts it this way, "Currently, the biggest challenge facing manufacturers is the economy. Truck cranes have taken a big hit. The taxi crane business, where the majority of these cranes are used, has been very slow, but we are optimistic for 2011."

As a result customers in Western countries are generally looking for the cheapest and most flexible option. Terex moved in this direction with the launch of the Roadmaster 5300 truck crane in 2010. The 5-axle, 300 tonne-metre machine, is aimed at the European market, which has preferred all terrains for many years.

Arndt Jahns, Terex product marketing manager, says the crane was designed with the economic climate in mind. Overall, Terex claims there is an 80% saving in cost of operation compared to a similar capacity all terrain. This includes 50% less tyre wear and 25% less brake wear. The crane has initially been mounted on a Scania chassis for the European market. It will also be available on a Mercedes carrier when aimed at countries outside Europe with higher axle loadings.

"The request for this crane came from European customers. This shows that there is a market in Europe and the decision was easy to make a model for the European market first. The next step is to adjust the first, as well as following, models to other markets," says Jahns.

Heavier lifting

Demands for increased flexibility and reduced cost are accompanied by requests for higher capacity machines as the loads, typically prefabricated modules, become heavier.

"[Bigger machines are] especially popular in oil applications where customers want bigger cranes and often need to travel large distances. Our TMS9000E, with a US ton 110 capacity, is a popular crane in these applications, and there is an appetite for still larger machines," says Ruben Olivas, Manitowoc Cranes global product director, truck cranes, boom trucks and industrial cranes.

One of the advantages of the TMS9000E, says Olivas, is that it has a complete superstructure from the Manitowoc Grove line of GMK all terrain cranes. "This upper works can give users very precise movements, spreading the weight over the boom to get the most benefit from the load chart. There are also two boom attachments available for it, giving it excellent reach."

It is mounted on a carrier built at the Shady Grove factory in the US and that means we are able to ensure it meets virtually all necessary road regulations in North America, making it a very flexible crane," Olivas continues.

Jay Barth, Terex product marketing manager for truck cranes says the trend for bigger canes stretches beyond the USA. "Terex recognises this trend and will address this in upcoming months," says Barth. "There is a continual drive to increased efficiency in processes that utilise cranes. Often this means fewer lifts of heavier materials, such as building components, so there will be a continued trend to higher capacity cranes. The higher capacities also encounter road transport requirements that can be quite stringent. There are continual efforts to be compliant with road regulations as easily as possible for the crane operator."

Looking ahead

On higher capacity models, Curnutte at Link-Belt, promises "several" announcements at ConExpo 2011. Its most recent truck crane, the 140 US ton (120 tonne) HTC-3140 was introduced at ConExpo in 2008. Even then, at the height of the market, the model was designed as a heavy lift crane with comparatively low operating costs.

"You can expect all the new models introduced at ConExpo 2011 to feature stout capacities, to transport extremely efficiently, meet the most stringent safety requirements and be even easier to service," adds Curnutte.

Safety is another subject that goes hand-in-hand with modern crane design. "We always focus on safety and serviceability on any crane we develop. We were the first in the industry to pre-paint and changed our entire manufacturing process to accomplish this. We also use powder coated tubing, plated hardware and loomed wire harnesses that are chemical and UV resistant. Even little details like staggering hydraulic fittings so you can get a wrench on is a consideration during the development."

The manufacturer has also invested in a new boom fabrication facility, which was opened last year. "We've made the strategic decision here to basically in-source product. We've identified our manufacturing core strengths, which are building and machining structural weldments," says Curnutte. "We now have a state-of-the-art formed boom production facility. We have a new eight-stage boom painting system. We have a new boom assembly bay. We have a new assembly bay for large truck cranes, and we've added a new 5-axis gantry machining centre. We refer to it as the 'big mitz'. All of these improvements involve the addition of about 145,000 square feet of manufacturing floor space."

Blurring lines

As demonstrated by Manitowoc's TMS9000E, there has already been some blurring of the line between truck cranes and all terrains. The same is true with boom trucks, as larger models are introduced that increasingly encroach on the work for lower capacity truck cranes.

"An interesting development is a shift to truck cranes mounted on commercially available chassis, rather than purpose-built single bodied units," comments Olivas, "If you look at the popularity of boom trucks, especially around the 50 tonne capacity range, we are seeing a strong increase in demand. Our own NBT50 and NBT55 cranes from the National Crane brand are both extremely popular."

Olivas continues, "Customers in the USA looking for a 50 tonne lifting solution are looking more towards the boom truck market rather than the traditional truck crane market. In Europe, customers that would previously have purchased a two-axle all-terrain crane are now looking more at truck cranes mounted on a commercial chassis as an alternative."

The popularity of the truck crane in developing markets is helped by its flexibility. For example, Olivas says the National Crane NBT45 will be targeted at new markets, like South America, where it can be mounted on locally sourced carriers.

Barth adds, "This flexibility sees different machines aimed at different world regions. For example, in markets that do not require CE compliance Terex offers the T 340-1, T 340-1 XL, T 560-1, T 780. These models are available with engines that are US EPA 2010 road compliant with ultra low sulphur fuels and engines that are not US EPA complaint and do not require ultra low sulphur fuel."

World markets

With the market in South America on a major growth spurt, particularly Brazil, manufacturers are eager to be involved. For example, Tadano Group has set up a joint venture production, sales and service facility in Brazil with its local sales agent T.D.B. do Brazil Industria e Comercio Ltda. (TDB). "Controls on imports of finished truck cranes have been tightened in recent years, which has led the Tadano Group to seek out new approaches to its Brazilian business to achieve deeper market penetration," says a company spokesman.

The Brazil-based operation will include manufacturing capabilities. The plan is to import semi-finished cranes for full local assembly.

"Energised by its role as host for the World Cup and Olympic Games in 2014 and 2016, respectively, Brazil, in particular, is poised to demonstrate significant growth for construction machinery, primarily in the field of infrastructure," says the spokesman.

Tadano's experience of import duties in South America is shared by fellow overseas manufacturers. The same is true when it comes to other expanding markets, including China and India. Producers like Manitowoc, Terex and Tadano have sought to establish themselves in these markets as domestic manufacturers.

Visitors to the Terex stand at Bauma China in November 2010, will have noticed two new truck cranes aimed at the domestic market. The Toplift 30A and Toplift 100A are built in China under the Terex Changjiang joint venture.

"For Terex Cranes, China is a strategic market offering strong potential for the growth of our company," says Ken Lousberg, President, Terex China operations and business transformation.

New from Manitowoc was the 55 tonne capacity GT55 DongYue truck crane, built at the company's joint venture factory in TaiAn. A 25 tonne capacity model from the joint venture was also shown.

BQ Tadano unveiled a prototype of a new 100 tonne truck crane. The GT-1000E will be on offer in China by the end of 2011. The new model extends the BQ line upwards from the existing 75 tonner. The 100 tonner has a six axle carrier and 48 m main boom in five sections. A 9 to 19 metre telescopic jib is fitted as standard. It uses the upper works from the 100 tonne capacity GA 1000, a Japan-only market all terrain. BQ Tadano designed the carrier and joint venture partner in China, JingCheng Heavy Industry, builds it.

High sales

It is easy to see why these manufacturers are attracted to China when you look at the overall sales figures. David Phillips, managing director at Off Highway Research, reports that the domestic mobile crane market increased by 50% in the first half of 2010. The sales figure of about 20,000 units was higher than the total for the whole of 2008, Phillips says. The total number of units sold in 2010 was more than 30,000 units. "The Chinese market for mobile cranes now accounts for over 70% of global sales."

Phillips forecasts that the market for mobile cranes under 30 tonnes will soon be saturated, which may mean a decline in sales but they will stay at a high level and demand for larger machines will continue to increase.

In terms of market share for mobile cranes the breakdown for truck and all terrain cranes, according to Zeng Guang'an, LiuGong president and vice chairman, is roughly 51% XCMG, 27% Zoomlion, 6% LiuGong, 5% Sany, followed by Changjiang (Terex), Dongyue (Manitowoc) and others.

Sun Jian Zhong at XCMG says that 95% of the truck cranes sold in China are below 70 tonnes capacity. Demand is increasing for larger ones. LiuGong will build truck cranes up to 130 tonnes capacity. "The truck crane is a priority. In 2009 we showed a 60 tonne truck crane. In 2010 we have the 100 tonne. It has more technology."

In 2010 the company built around 3,000 truck cranes. In 2011 Zeng forecasts that figure will rise to 5,000. Again, these machines will share characteristics with other new truck cranes the world over, with increased speed of operation and flexibility. "Most truck crane manufacturers use Rexroth and Kawasaki hydraulic systems but we use one from Bucher. It is more efficient so you can save a lot of energy. This system is especially good for speed and efficiency," adds Zeng.

The company also plans to build its own truck chassis for the international market. "If one was exported to Brazil on a Dong Feng chassis there is no dealer in Brazil. If it is on our carrier then we can provide all the service for it to the customer."

Heavy investment

The world's second biggest producer of truck cranes, Russia, is also looking at the international scene with interest. Like China, most manufacturers in Russia have traditionally aimed their products, reaching thousands of units each year, at the domestic market. This is thanks to plentiful demand and a comparatively low level of technology, meaning their wares are not so attractive in other countries, particularly in the west.

That is, however, changing. Russia's biggest manufacturer Autokran is investing heavily in state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. This will include a new production facility opening in the second quarter of 2011.

"New production techniques allow us to make booms made of fine steel and modern materials. Booms are becoming more progressive. Concerning new 2010 models, we have mastered the production of truck cranes with polygonal shaped booms. The lifting height of these trucks cranes has increased by 20 - 30%, while the load weight increased two-fold at the same time," explains Alexander Khnykin, general manager of Autokran subsidiary Ivanovskaya Marka.

"Before, customers used cranes with lifting capacities up to 32 tonnes. Now, for the same operations, they need 25 tonne cranes. That's because the characteristics of present day 25 tonne Ivanovets cranes are very close to former 32 tonne machines. As a result customers save money," Khnykin says.

Lifting capacities have increased to 80 tonnes - once unheard of in Russia. "We now produce special 5-section booms. Before, there were none of these types of booms in Russian crane design," says Khnykin.

The first 80 tonne capacity truck crane in Russia was the KC-7474, launched in 2010 and mounted on a 4-axle BAZ chassis. It has a 40 m, 5-section boom plus a 15 m jib.

Looking to the future in Russia, Khnykin says there is strong demand for off-road truck cranes with 30 tonnes lifting capacity and more mounted on off-road chassis.

Echoing the sentiments across the world, Khnykin adds, "The basic challenge is to speed up with the market. Every time the market begins to grow we need to manage to satisfy the requirements of the market. Recently the market came up two times. We are growing together with it."

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