Understanding customer needs is vital in crane refurbishment and repair

By Euan Youdale06 March 2012

Avezaat manoeuvres a lattice boom section in its yard

Avezaat manoeuvres a lattice boom section in its yard

Keeping abreast of customer needs is a vital element in the refurbishment and repair sector. Euan Youdale reports

Winning the customer over with a flexible approach is one of the ways third party refurbishment and repair houses can gain ground.

Wheco Corporation in the USA sees many lattice, hydraulic boom and jib repairs through its workshops, with structural repairs being its speciality. "Increasingly though, customers are coming to understand that we can repair even the most heavily damaged components, including outrigger boxes and beams, as well as superstructures and frames," says Jay Shiffler, Wheco vice president.

"These are very expensive to replace and deliveries are frequently tied to long lead times. Having a safe, compliant, time and cost effective repair option with Wheco continues to broaden our business."

The company also sees a fair amount of smaller components like gantries and masts coming through its doors. "The price and availability of cabs also make them a good repair consideration," adds Shiffler.

Avezaat Cranes in the Netherlands has carried out a range of projects this year. This includes the refurbishment of a LTM 1400 Liebherr under carriage and the repair of a damaged Liebherr LTM 1400 telescopic boom, including the telescopic cylinder, among many others. "We renewed two sections and parts of three other sections. The tube and piston of the telescopic cylinder where renewed and the boom was painted completely and assembled. We also arranged the transport to China."

Another example at Avezaat is a new boom head section built from S 960 high yield strength steel for a 1,600 tonne crawler crane. "This head section was designed by Euro Rigging and built by us. The total weight of the boom head section was approximately 24 tonnes." The company also carries out repair works on site around the world, including Brazil, Australia, India, China, Scandinavia and the Middle East region.

Making the customer understand the possibilities represents half the battle won, says Shiffler. "You would be amazed at how many good and repairable parts and components are disposed of because customers are uninformed, misinformed or worse. So the challenge is less in the repair as it is being able to convey to a customer that they have options," explains Shiffler.

Wheco has devised a precise method allowing it to accurately survey a crane and provide a detailed scope of work. "Again, this allows our customers to make good decisions about extending the service life of their equipment. Our processes and methods now help customers think beyond just traditional crawler crane restoration and we are now seeing more all terrain, truck and rough terrain cranes," adds Shiffler.

At Parts Supply in the Netherlands a range of components, including slewing rings, gearboxes, engines and boom sections, have been refurbished. "It is always a challenge to find new types of these items to expand our stock and delivery programme. We stock used and reconditioned parts for Terex, Liebherr, Manitowoc and XCMG," says Guido Buijs, at the company.

According to Avezaat, the most challenging part of the work is meeting all international standards and keeping delivery times as short as possible. "This is not always easy because our kind of work is difficult to plan because you never know how many and when the cranes get damaged." Avezaat adds, "We keep almost the whole process in our own hands because we have four workshops. In combination with our own steel cutting company we can keep all needed plate, up to S 1100, and tube materials, up to S 890, in stock. This makes it possible to control the whole process so we can guarantee the shortest possible delivery time and quality control."

Shiffler says there is no off-the-shelf tooling available that will adequately serve complex structural repairs. Most of its equipment is designed and fabricated in-house. "We do have standard machine tools and equipment that allow us to manufacture piece parts and components and do routine tasks. It is the large presses and indexing tables that we custom build. Our most recent machine tool purchase was a lathe that allows us to turn a 13 inch [0.3 m] bore."

Parts Supply, being a worldwide dealer and trading company of crane parts, outsources its refurbishment to specialized manufacturers. "For every kind of component there's a different specialism, for example, to refurbish a slewing ring you need different equipment and knowledge than to refurbish a gearbox," adds Buijs.

In recent years Avezaat invested in new Messer cutting equipment in its steel cutting facility. In its crane facility it invested in new tube cutting equipment and welding machines and is increasing its material stock. "We recently bought a gantry crane to control our tube stock more efficiently and we are also investing in increasing our heating system so we can control the temperature even better." High tension materials are very sensitive when it comes to the welding process, adds Avezaat. "For the offshore-related customers we have Germanischer Lloyd approval for our workshop and our welders to meet the required standards."

In Shiffler's opinion the market will grow as more crane owners are introduced to the truth about structural repairs and the merits of restoration. "Despite the fact that we recently signed an agreement with Manitowoc as an approved provider of structural repair and restoration services, there is still a lot of resistance from the manufacturers."

Buijs says Parts Supply is increasingly using original manufacturers to refurbish components. "They have the specific knowledge, tools and quality parts to refurbish their product 100%. In the last few years they are also working more competitively. But mostly they do not keep stock of the older generation refurbished products."

The economic situation does mean that applications for cranes, typically new building projects, are much less prevalent. "Some projects are delayed or pushed forward and some of the projects were cancelled. We hope that this will increase again by end of this year or next year," says Avezaat.

Refurbishment work, however, has increased, adds Avezaat, "Because most of our clients, mainly in Western Europe, are working longer with their machines because they invest less in new equipment and the value of the used equipment dropped by serious amount."

Shiffler says Wheco is seeing many more larger tonnage cranes and crane components. "It is very expensive to replace the larger booms, both lattice and hydraulic. Our unique ability to repair large frames and superstructures eliminates the expensive and long lead time option that only the manufacturers can provide."

Buijs agrees, "Yes, the crane population is changing so the demand for refurbished parts is also changing. For older types of cranes we can sell out from our stock. We see an increase in crane capacities that require refurbished exchange parts."

There are also a notable number of Chinese cranes now in Europe, explains Avezaat. "We have repaired more boom sections of Chinese brands for Western European clients" but, he adds, "There was a period in which customers where buying and importing these cranes but, as far as we can see, this has decreased in the last few years.

"We have also seen that we are working more and more for the offshore related companies. This is a market which is still growing and where a lot of investments are coming. For this reason we have Germanischer Lloyd approval for our workshop and our people."

When it comes to competition from manufacturers Shiffler says most continue to resist repairing structural components. "As for refurbishments the manufacturers would prefer to rely on their distributors for those services. But both structural repairs and restoration services require a lot of dedicated resources, including knowledgeable personnel, tooling and equipment and facility space."

Wheco recently signed an agreement as an authorised structural repair and restoration services provider for all Manitowoc and Grove equipment. "It is through these types of relationships that you can work to bring product support excellence to your customers. Our agreement with Manitowoc is not exclusive and our door is always open."

From Avezaat's point of view, competition with manufacturers has always existed but the relationship with them is improving because companies like Avezaat sometimes buy components from them. "We try to work according to the most cost-efficient and fastest solution for our client and sometimes this means that with some crane parts, mainly during revision works, it is faster and not more expensive to get these parts from the manufacturer."

So, how do third party companies see the future of their segment of the industry? "There are obvious barriers to entry," says Shiffler, "In addition to the hard cost of facilities and equipment you must have a staff and culture that truly understand the anatomy of a structural repair and the process of a service life extension project. There are no second chances when it comes to structural repairs. They must be done correctly the first time. And restoration projects need to roll off the line on time and on budget."

Buijs feels the sector has an assured future thanks to increasing competitiveness between crane owners, "Refurbishment of valuable components will give the opportunity to reduce cost."

Avezaat adds, "If everybody has to go to the manufacturers it would be very cost-increasing and most of our clients realise this. We see that more and more companies all around the world know to find us and come back after we worked for them. I am positive about the future for our company."

Shiffler believes escalating prices for new equipment will continue to make repair and restoration projects more feasible. "The soft economy has done a lot to bring rental rates down but not purchase prices. As a result, extending the service life of equipment will continue to make more sense," Shiffler adds, "Of course, when the economy recovers new sales will increase but we believe there may even be a more robust improvement in the restoration market as new equipment will become more scarce and people will need to get their aging fleet active again."

Buijs adds that, "We can see that more and more people are asking for used and reconditioned components."

In all sectors safety has the last word, and should be the first priority of every company, concludes Shiffler. "Recent OHSA legislation and B30.5 standards were written to address and help advance a culture of safety. I believe the crane industry is setting an example as a leader in safety practices."

A view from a manufacturer

USA-based Link-Belt offers an extensive dealership network that offers repair and refurbishment. The manufacturer has distribution and service reps embedded across the country. The manufacturer offers support for all, particularly when it comes to welding and structural elements.

One area for serious debate is whether or not to refurbish an older crane with a new Tier 4 engine. Pat Collins explains, "In the past you would overhaul the engine and overhaul the crane and put it back on line, and you would be ready to rent for another 10 or 15 years. But today you have to take in to consideration the engine and the EPA mandates that are in place."

The choice faced by the crane owner is, "Am I going to refurbish it and leave the original engine, which may limit it its market or do I need a Tier 4 engine to work in my market? Is this viable for an older crane or is now the time to trade it in with a new one with all the latest and greatest features, codes and standards?"

Some end users do not have a choice, "They are very regional and stuck in how they operate and function. In California there are very strict mandates about fleet percentages and scoring to stay compliant. So, that end user can be more restricted than say a national crane rental house that can move equipment around, and maybe allow for some older engines that are not so strictly regulated.

"Then, you have to consider, can I make this later tier engine work in an older crane. Is the wiring compatible, am I going to be able to get the same performance?"

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