Asia rising

30 January 2010

The first Cranes Today Cranes Asia conference drew together leading names from across the Asian and Australasian crane and lifting industries to discuss the latest and best products and practices in the region. David Pittman reports from Singapore

Cranes Asia 2009 was born out of the success of the Middle East Cranes conference, which has been held annually in Dubai since 2007. Cranes Asia allowed customers, manufacturers and end users operating in the region to meet and discuss their latest products and business practices. Delegates from India to Japan and from China to Australia were presented with the latest information on how governments in the area are working to get a grip on crane safety; unique lifting systems available and working in the region; and the challenges and opportunities arising from establishing operations in Asian and Australasian markets.

Chan Yew Kwong, deputy director (construction and equipment safety), OSH specialists department, OSH division, Singapore Ministry of Manpower (MOM), opened his presentation by saying he believed it is, “the right time to have this conference”.

Members of the panel discussion, held at the end of day one, agreed, with an overall belief that Asian markets are set to perform well in 2010. The panel, featuring Kwong; Stephen Lazenby, Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA) director; Bryan Cronie, S&H director at Al Jaber Heavy Lift; Thomas Veith, sales director for China and Asia, Terex Cranes; Minna Vilkuna, director of Cargotec China’s greater China industrial business; and Gilles Martin, Manitowoc Cranes’ executive vice president for Asia- acific, openly described the positives they have experienced across the region while the rest of the global economy has faltered.

“Western Australia didn’t go into recession, while stimulus packages motivated the eastern part of the country,” said Lazenby. “Western Australia has also benefited from the rebound as there has been demand for minerals, particularly iron ore. This has been very positive, and created demand or all types of crane.”

“We haven’t been hit much in China,” said Cargotec’s Vilkuna. “The truckmounted crane market grew 15-20% in 2009. We’ve been able to sell to segments where stimulus packages have hit nicely. For example, railway investments are huge in China, and we’re also selling to the fire sector. Hong Kong has got big investment projects as well.”

Terex’s Thomas Veith said: “The area has not really been hit in 2009 and next year looks good also.

“We do expect growth in the market. China is carrying other countries, so there will be growth. There has been significant growth for bigger cranes, as wind power and other green industries grow.

“I’m very happy and looking very positively into the future.”

Bryan Cronie issued a warning that the hire market might get hit hard in the future, but said there is work in the pipeline and project work is still available. Manitowoc’s Gilles Martin added private construction levels in the area are starting to pick up and various countries in the region are starting to catch up with the likes of China thanks to their own stimulus packages.

Emerging markets
Veith, Vilkuna and keynote speaker Alan Dunn spoke of the difficulties in establishing business operations in undeveloped and culturally diverse markets as seen in many Asian countries.

Dunn, managing director of Al Jaber Heavy Lift’s Singapore operations, said operating with a multinational workforce can pose problems, with different religions, cultures and languages making it hard to handle the flow of information to workers. Language barriers can make it particularly hard to deliver relevant and important workplace information to the workforce, Dunn said, and to make sure details are understood by the entire staff.

He added that, “lifting is a high risk business”, and that, “we can never do enough to mitigate accidents”. To that end, he highlighted the importance of management taking responsibility for worker safety. He said management units are the number one reason for accidents in Singapore, according to MOM research; as detailed by Chan Yew Kwong in a later presentation.

These failings in inspection and supervision by the management unit are often brought about by attempts to cut costs, resulting in rule breaking. “This is a vicious circle,”Dunn said, “as you can lose business, leading to more cost cuts to get work.”

Vilkuna said there are many operational challenges to overcome when setting up in undeveloped markets. Using Hiab’s experience in China, where the market for its cranes has been built from the ground up over the last decade, she spoke of the time and resources needed to educate customers and introduce new lifting systems to replace existing techniques.

For instance, stiff boom cranes remain popular with many customers, as they see them as cheaper and simpler to operate over knucklebooms. Hiab sold its first private knuckleboom into Shanghai in 1999, Vilkuna said, and, “to this day you still don’t see many truckmounted loader cranes in Shanghai”.

Local legislation can make for difficulties in establishing operations, Vilkuna said. For instance, type approval is required, and cranes have to be installed by licensed companies in China, which are restricted to Chinese companies or joint ventures 50% owned by Chinese firms. It can take months to gain approval, and cost thousands of yen. On top of that, industry and segment specific rules, such as those governing the environment or waste handling, can make operating even more difficult.

Other issues she highlighted include staffing, pricing, material sourcing, customers funding purchases, providing adequate service and support, and educating the market on safety.

“A strong product knowledge and technical support from us [the manufacturer] is needed, as the market must be educated for safety,”Vilkuna said.

Thomas Veith said the Chinese market is still growing rapidly and performing well, with investments in infrastructure leading the way. “People keep telling me that growth will be less next year,” he said, “but this hasn’t happened yet.”

For Western manufacturers this has provided a growing market for cranes, particularly all terrains and crawlers, with demand for larger cranes on the rise.

This is being driven by the quality and resale value of Western cranes, easier rigging and better after sales service. Sales of Asian manufactured cranes are also important to the market, he said, but many buyers are more cautious.

State-owned businesses are good customers as they are looking to purchase, “the best of the best”, Veith said, but the market is moving towards private companies, who are also looking to invest.

However, there are many problems still remaining in the Chinese market that need addressing. The common practice of overloading, lack of ground preparation and the availability of counterfeits are key amongst these, Veith said. “There is still room for improvement and the Chinese market still has much to learn.”

Raman Joshi, managing director of Manitowoc Cranes in India, also spoke of the issues of safety in a developing market. India, he said, along with China, is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and is moving from a service based economy to an industrial growth based economy, driven by infrastructure, roads, railways airports and urban infrastructure developments.

But this growth is coming at a price. The penetration of counterfeits is a major concern, as there are many risks associated with them and the risks are getting greater as companies look to cut more costs and copies get better. Human fallibility, lack of procedures, quality and standards are other issues for the Indian market, he said.

In India, numerous training programmes are now in the pipeline to address these, Joshi said, including slinging, risk management and working at height. “We must work together,” Joshi said. “These are the challenges in emerging markets and it’s our responsibility to address these.”

Established markets
More established markets can also pose problems. Mike Maruo, marketing director at Kobelco, described the current Japanese market as “horrible”.

Mountains, volcanoes, numerous islands and poor infrastructure are physical limitations he said that make the Japanese market difficult. Commercially, there has been a big drop in the volume of work available, with construction investment declining and government no longer able to support private investments as it had been.

Maintenance applications and new public work opportunities may open up in the future, but these will be on a minor scale as infrastructure projects mature. A lack of natural resources will also limit manufacturing opportunities in Japan, and a fall in demand for steel is seeing mills downsize.

So where is the work for cranes? Maruo said the migration of people into cities and the need to rebuild properties to withstand strong earthquakes and other natural disasters is a potential avenue for work, as well as disaster recovery operations.

Regulation in the region is taking steps forward. For instance, CICA’s Lazenby presented findings from Australia’s CraneSafe programme, which has been developed to identify existing inspection programme issues and create an inspection service for cranes working in the country.

Results from the findings include an average crane age of eight, and nearly half of those assessed were less than five years old. A nominal amount is more than 25 years old, with the oldest 45.

“The programme provides crane owners, suppliers and users in Australia with a common industry wide system for third-party assessment of the safety aspects of their cranes,” Lazenby said.

“It is also a single method by which crane operators, owners, manufacturers, suppliers, designers and importers may fulfil their relevant duty of care obligations under the Australian state’s Occupational Health and Safety Acts.”

Dr Samuel Lim, from Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSHC), and Chan Yew Kwong detailed examples of positive work in Singapore.

Kwong said Singapore has cranes of all types working in the country and that in order to ensure safety, it has adopted a life cycle approach to crane safety, from sale, use, and maintenance to dismantling. As such, he said, it is vital for issues to be eliminated at the source, be it at the design stage or during erection, requiring greater industry ownership of the issues and solutions.

He outlined the various legal requirements for cranes in Singapore, including numerous Workplace Safety and Health regulations, approved Codes of Practice for operating lifting equipment and a permit-to-work system.

Kwong also introduced the National Crane Safety Taskforce, which is intended to provide industry leadership and work with theWSHC to make recommendations to improve the safety of crane operations; and provide industry input when recommendations and regulations are being developed.

Lim presented the Crane Safety Analysis and Recommendation Report, which identified the major contributing factors for the collapse of cranes by studying 40 cases between 2003 and 2007. The report splits the causes of accidents into five areas, machine, management, mission, man and medium, with the majority of causes directly attributable to management issues. However, Lim said, management units also affect the man, machine and medium causes through poor handling of situations, preparation and supervision.

Lim said Singapore’s National Crane Safety Taskforce,WSHC and MOM are now working together to enhance training, with the focus on increasing competencies; enhance outreach efforts throughout the supply chain, from manufacturers, to operators and toplevel management; explore new technologies; and review Codes of Practice relating to the safe use of cranes.

Safety was also an important topic for discussion across Cranes Asia. Both Bryan Cronie, a recognised face at Cranes Today events, and Mick Hoyle, a cranes, rigging and lifting consultant working in the region, delivered impassioned presentations to delegates.

Cronie used the floor to challenge delegates attending Cranes Asia not to leave the event and forget about safety, but to act upon the ideas and plans put forward.

Cost cutting is a worry to Cronie, as safety practices are the first thing to be cut when costs need to be brought down. This, he said, then makes unsafe working practices the norm as companies look to keep costs low. “Safety has to be paid for, it’s not free.”

Global standardisation remains a bone of contention for Cronie. “We are no further forward with standardization than when I spoke on the subject in 2006,” he said. “No global standardisation is happening. For instance, there are 27 EU countries and their standards are far apart, while they vary from state-to-state in the US and Australia.

“You even get different standards at an organisational level, and even down to a project level, which is very worrying.” Consultant Mick Hoyle reiterated that the industry as a whole has a duty of care relating to safety. Addressing safe access and egress on cranes while working at height, he said unsafe access is no longer acceptable and that a safe system of work is important.

Crane design should be tailored for the safety of workers as well as load picking, he said, with safety systems included as standard. However, safety hardware, such as cages, yoyo points, lifelines, handrails and walkways, are being removed as collective protection is being overlooked for PPE.

Hoyle said collective protection is vital for safe access and egress of cranes as it does not require actions by individuals but will automatically protect all workers and minimize the consequences of a fall.

“Why are we willing to purchase cranes that do not have fall protection systems fitted as standard? You wouldn’t buy a car without safety belts fitted as standard, would you?

“If crane manufacturers built cranes with fall protection fitted as standard it would make our lives easier,”Hoyle said. “More importantly it will make working with cranes a lot safer for our personnel.”

He highlighted a system from US firm Standfast International, the Total Restraint Access Module (TRAM), a family of fall safety system products that securely fastens workers to the operating unit, and can prevent serious injury or death from suspension trauma or hitting obstacles while falling.

Both Cronie and Hoyle put people at the centre of their argument to take safety seriously. Cronie said the greatest cost of a safety failure is the victim and their family. “You don’t want to be the person telling someone that there husband isn’t coming home tonight.”

“We’ve all got to work together,”Hoyle said. “The main thing is keeping people safe. It’s not acceptable anymore to injure people; it’s not acceptable anymore to kill people.”

Lifting applications
Cranes Asia also included details of three distinct lifting systems available in the region. Ronald Hoefmans, global technical director at ALE Heavylift, detailed his company’s SK.90 and SK.120 slew ring-based lifting machines, which have been designed to reduce construction schedules and costs to the end user.

The SK.120 is the strongest landbased crane, Hoefmans said, with a load moment of 143,000tm from the boom foot. The slew ring of the crane can be assembled around the ballast, and normally, only 90° of slew ring is assembled as this is the optimum slewing distance, although it can be built into a full 360° ring.

These specifications provide many operational benefits, Hoefmans said, as site work can continue around the erected crane and loads can be lifted over existing plant.

“In the right application, it can save many millions and cut months off the work schedule, ”Hoefmans said.

Niels Haakman, director, Taisun division, Yantai Raffles Shipyard, also spoke of his company’s work to build an ultra-heavy lifting system, the 20,000t capacity Taisun. Taisun is used for the construction of offshore rigs, a process traditionally done at sea by sinking the hull and then floating the deckbox over the top.

Haakman pointed out the dangers of doing this, and said another company had tried to develop an onshore lifting solution, but this required a customized frame to be built for each lift. Taisun uses a standardised frame for lifts, meaning time and costs are reduced, as well as improving safety by completely eliminating working at height. The flexibility of Taisun allows Yantai Raffles to tackle different projects and designs, as demonstrated by its first three commercial lifts, said Haakman. These applications have been much larger than first thought, Haakman added, but there is the possibility of upgrading the crane to lift even heavier loads, as it has been built on a design intended to lift 30,000t Fagioli’s COO, Paolo Cremonini, gave a run down of a system his company used to replace a complete blast furnace in Shanghai, China, using an elevator system, strand jacks, SPMTs and skidding shoes.

Bryan Cronie takes to the floor during his presentation Bryan Cronie takes to the floor during his presentation
Delegates listen to Niels Haakman detailing Yantai Raffles' 20,000t gantry crane, Taisun Delegates listen to Niels Haakman detailing Yantai Raffles' 20,000t gantry crane, Taisun
The panel disucssion line-up included faces from Singapore's Ministry of Manpower, The Crane Industry Council of Australia, Al Jaber Heavy Lift, Terex, Cargotec and The panel disucssion line-up included faces from Singapore's Ministry of Manpower, The Crane Industry Council of Australia, Al Jaber Heavy Lift, Terex, Cargotec and
Mike Maruo, marketing director at Kobelco, spoke of Japan's Mike Maruo, marketing director at Kobelco, spoke of Japan's "horrible" market
Delegates discuss topics raised at Cranes Asia over lunch Delegates discuss topics raised at Cranes Asia over lunch
Richard Howes, Cranes Today editor, opens the inaugural Cranes Asia conference Richard Howes, Cranes Today editor, opens the inaugural Cranes Asia conference
Thierry Valle, product manager at AGS, shows off his company's products and services to delegates during one of the hospitality breaks Thierry Valle, product manager at AGS, shows off his company's products and services to delegates during one of the hospitality breaks