A year of slow improvement

18 December 2017

It's the time of year when I look back over previous copies of Cranes Today to see what the industry has achieved. I think it's fair to say that 2017 has not been a great year—few sales records have been set, the big trade show had few big surprises—but it has not been a bad year.

I think the most significant progress has been made by training organisations on both sides of the Atlantic. At the start of the year, the US industry faced the very real possibility of a complete shutdown, as the deadline for implementation of OSHA's flawed cranes and derricks rule loomed, meaning that certificates that 135,000 operators had achieved in recent years might not be valid. Thankfully, OSHA listened to the industry, and delayed implementation of the rule until next year. So, not good news—that would've been a rule everyone agreed on being implemented—but not terrible news.

In Europe, the news was more clearly positive. ECOL, the body set up by ESTA to develop a European Crane Operators' Licence, was established as a proper independent foundation. Currently, the first pilot schemes are being put into place for the licence.

There have been some exciting innovations in component materials. The use of high performance fibre ropes across the mobile crane sector has increased. Currently, Samson, who first partnered with Manitowoc on their K100 rope, and are now offering it for other cranes, are leading the way. Teufelberger is working closely with Liebherr on their new SoLite product, which has a range of built in monitoring tools. And other rope manufacturers are looking closely at building synthetic ropes.

More importantly, the rope manufacturers have worked with the FEM to develop a new guidance document on the safe use of synthetic ropes, including details of how discard criteria can be developed for specific rope designs. This is a significant step in the acceptance of these innovative rope designs into the industry.

At ConExpo, I was intrigued to see Manitowoc's new CFRP jib extension. It was by no means the star of the show for the company, which was keen to show off a range of new cranes and to discuss the new 'Manitowoc Way'. But I think this short tube marked a definite milestone: for the first time, one of the major structural components of a big mobile crane was being built with a material other than steel.

Innovation wasn't lacking across the Las Vegas show, even if there weren't so many of the really eye-catching products as we saw three or four shows ago.

Notably, the show marked the first public showing of Liebherr's new rough terrain cranes. We're expecting these to enter the market properly next year. Liebherr will definitely be keeping an eye on demand from the US energy sector, and on oil prices.

Link-Belt had a markedly novel innovation of their own, a new 250USt telecrawler. This marks a major step up in the size of cranes in this class: to the best of my recollection, the next biggest model of this crane type is over 100USt smaller; Liebherr has a bigger, 600t, machine but this is more of a custom product for specific windfarm applications. It will be interesting to see how much demand there is for a telecrawler of this size, and if Link-Belt find many customers for it beyond the heaviest end of the US tilt-up market (which may, of course, be enough of a market on its own).

Over the last year, the tower crane sector has performed well on both sides of the market. One of the most important areas of competition in high value markets is in high capacity luffing cranes. While this sector has been dominated in many markets by diesel luffers, there is new demand for electric luffers. At ConExpo, Linden Comansa entered the fray in this class with the new LCL700, their biggest luffer yet.

Next year, there will be no big show like this for all of the world's manufacturers to hang their launch schedule on. We've seen some 'early' launches in recent months, most notably from Terex as they focus on the strengths of their Demag brand. It will be interesting to see what follows as 2018 gets underway.

Will North, editor