Chinese cranes get technology focus

14 February 2013


China’s economic rise has given a boost to regional crane manufacturers. In Shanghai, the location famous for skyscrapers and Bauma China expo, they are focused on product development. Cristina Brooks reports

This year will see the ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) crane committee move its secretariat to China.

While moving an ISO secretariat from one nationality to another is not a regular occurrence, when the previous post holder, the British Standards Institute, initiated the move, the Chinese standardardisation body, SAC, jumped at the opportunity.

ISO's Technical Management Board, which includes representatives of the world's major national standards bodies, voted and agreed that SAC could support the task of managing worldwide ISO activity for cranes.

The move will mean that Chinese manufacturers will have more involvement and stronger influence among the international bodies that hash out rules making cranes safe and useable worldwide. It also demonstrates China's desire to be seen as a technological leader, not just a cut-rate manufacturer.

Chinese manufacturer Zoomlion, based in Changsha, Hunan, in the heart of Southeast China, will play host to the ISO secretariat and supply its secretary, Dr Ling Fu. The committee's new chairman, Mr Xijung Zhang, comes from the Beijing Materials Handling Research Institute.

Stephen Kennedy, technical programme manager responsible for the cranes committee at the ISO Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, explains why China is viewed as the right place for this technology-moving organisation.

"[Chinese companies] obviously do an enormous amount of construction. I would hazard a guess that they erect more buildings and use a greater number of cranes than any other country today. They are obviously interested in developing technology and finding the best means to improve the quality of their construction.

"Safety on the job site is also an important part, and the International Standards are also concerned with design for safety of cranes, and components. That's a very big factor."

Developing safety
Perhaps one indication of the technology and safety focus is crane manufacturer XCMG's introduction of crane simulator training.

Hanson Liu, assistant president general manager of XCMG, says it will be available to end-users worldwide. "The distributors can get this kind of training equipment to train their local operators."

Further buoying its customer support for end-users, as well as enhancing the usability of its products, XCMG has implemented simulator training in its global centres, which will help even markets unaccustomed to crane electronics learn to use technology, for example in Asia and Africa.

Mobile monitoring is one example of electronics technology that is now in place on many of XCMG's segments, such as rough terrains and truck cranes, as well as concrete mixers. IT technology is the focus of its new rough terrain R&D centre as it develops this new segment mainly for sale overseas.

Liu says, "We have applied new products to monitor hydraulics, and a black box. XCMG's remote managing uses a backyard platform, with mobile phone and laptop monitoring, and on-call customer support."

By meeting all European standards, XCMG is targeting markets in Europe, the US, Australia and Russia. In China the market is experiencing a slight decline in demand owing to the worldwide economic slowdown.

This won't last for long, says Liu. "The situation with demand is recovery. I think there will be a trend in the next 5-10 years for all the global customers to change their sourcing direction to China."

XCMG is expanding its production capability in Brazil, where it has had assembly plans, and in Thailand, on the back of selling 200 truck cranes in the region.

Chinese manufacturers are increasingly important in export markets worldwide, particularly emerging markets. They produce 76% of all cranes. An estimated 5-10% of these are sold abroad.

Towering higher
Sun Tian is group general manager for tower manufacturer Yongmao. He says the company's 18t STT 293 topless tower crane is its most popular product, but demand for its larger towers has been growing in China. Tian says, "Up until two years ago, demand was for towers under 18t, but in recent years they're going for large cranes, because the government and private industry is using precast for housing." Government and private developers changing to the green and high efficiency construction methods has also pushed demand for larger cranes, he says.

The company has just last year started and new factory and headquarters in Fushun, to accompany its factory in Beijing. Its annual production is estimated at 1000 towers.

Yongmao has a worldwide sales network, built up a few years ago, and says 90% of sales are to 70 export countries, with the addition of a recent distribution arrangement in Caribbean. Ten years ago, Yongmao appointed Belgian firm Jin Long Europe (a subsidiary of the Neremat group of companies) as a dealer in Europe. Jin Long Europe has since appointed subdistributors in other European countries.

"We are the first Chinese tower crane manufacturer to have CE certification," says Tian.

"This year we are focused on Southeast Asia. We have sold 70 cranes in Singapore alone last year, all STT 293 18T." Yongmao is part-owned by multinational, Singapore-headquartered rental firm Tat Hong, which is its main dealer throughout China.

Rough and heavy
On the mobile cranes front, XJCM (Xuzhou Jiufa Construction Machinery), a relatively new player starting in 2002, is specializing in manufacture of rough terrain cranes and pipe laying machinery. Like XCMG it is located in Jiangsu province in the East of China.

XJCM's range consists of 30-160t rough terrains, which it exports to 20 countries. At Bauma China, XJCM showed the prototype of a new rough terrain to top its QRY series, QRY160, that can pick and carry 11t. It also launched a pipelaying machine.

Todd Zhu, the regional sales manager in China for XJCM, says, "The QRY crane is for lighter applications, for example very big structures, or steel frames. Very large construction sites need this kind of crane." XJCM has been China's original rough terrain manufacturer since 2008. Zhu says, "Rough terrains are a new product for Chinese markets, so they cannot accept it so quickly, but step-by-step, customers find it is better than a truck crane. I think maybe in three-to-five years it will be accepted."

The company started producing in the rough terrain segment because it supplies huge state-owned construction companies, Zhu says.

Specialising beyond trucks
Like XJCM, manufacturer Sunward has developed special equipment new to the Chinese market, and is committed to differentiation of products, selling telecrawlers and rough terrains.

Sunward Tianjin's assistant to the general manager, Yao Zhigang, said, "Some companies produce truck cranes, but as supply has far exceeded the market demand, we do not produce the same thing. People will gradually accept of our new products, but this requires a process in the country."

Zhigan mentioned the company's new city crane. "The SWCT250 is widely used in the transformation of the old towns, with crane jobs in the narrow old city streets. Operating without outriggers, it has a lifting capacity of 25t, or 70% capacity. Still, outrigger operation can improve on the nominal capacity of 25t."

It has also launched a 75t telecrawler, the SWTC75, a new segment in the Chinese market. These products are not only available for export, but also aimed at oil field operations in China, especially on remote construction sites.

Sunward's telecrawlers are sold domestically and exported worldwide. International markets where it sells rough terrains include Brazil, Australia, Southeast Asia and Russia.

Redesigning for the world
Also gearing its range for export, FuWa has launched its completely redesigned FWX series of crawler cranes, with capacities ranging from 55t to 225t, designated FWX55 up to FWX225.

Established in 1904 FuWa has so far only focused on crawlers, in contrast to some other Chinese crane manufacturers in the market, and it considers this segment its strength. Its next step is telescopic crawler cranes and potentially rough terrain cranes, says Gao Wei, crawler crane division deputy manager at FuWa. "We are focused on overseas because the domestic market is not as good as in the past," says Wei.

FuWa has many agencies in overseas markets, so the new series of crawler cranes will be provided for export to support overseas markets, says Wei.

The series is for domestic sale and worldwide export, being designed to have hydraulic systems and engines that can use regionally available components according to customer preference. For example, Cummins engines can be requested in the USA.

"Requesting components is common for our customers because we price based on components," says Wei.

The component-flexible design will be available through its export divisions in Middle East Asia, US, Argentina, India, Australasia and New Zealand.

While some FuWa components are sourced internationally, Wei sees potential in the level of technological development of local Chinese components. "I find that there are more local components available at this Bauma China than two years ago."

Keep on trucking
Another Chinese crane manufacturer, Liugong, is launching products to support the market in China, such as a 70t truck crane with applications in facility maintenance, on which is says it has innovated a new counterweight configuration for easy travel.

Hefei Smarter Technology is located in Hefei National Economic Technological development zone, where it has recently established a new technical centre for R&D.

Its newly-launched SMQ1000A tops its range of telecrawler cranes with lifting capacities ranging from 12-100t. It has a tilting cab for improved visibility, optional power steering, and applications including factory, port, and petrochemical work.

In an Asian market dominated by lattice boom crawlers, Hefei Smarter Technology's telecrawler brings advantages such as shorter assembly time. Guo Fuqiang, marketing manager for Hefei Smarter Technology reckons few Chinese companies build telecrawlers.

As of November's Bauma China, the company was negotiating a new distribution contract in Russia.

Tower manufacturer Guangxi Construction Engineering Group (NTP, Niutoupai) innovated a design at Bauma China, a 'goose neck' tower crane, QTZ63. It says the new tower has a construction function combining the operation of a topless and a mobile crane. The 40m version lifts 2100kg at a radius of 28m. The key advantage of the new design is that it may be erected in narrow spaces between buildings. Its export markets include Thailand and Malaysia.

Western companies vie for a share
The landscape for companies importing into China is quite competitive. Manitowoc's strategy in China with truck crane and tower production is to emphasise quality while producing cranes suited to local need, using locally sourced components, a concept it also uses in India and Brazil.

Keeping pace with its new Brazilian Passo Fundo factory for rough terrains, Manitowoc has Indian production in Kolkata for rough terrains through a licensed producer of Grove for India, TIL. TIL is also the Grove and Manitowoc dealer for India. In addition, Manitowoc has a tower crane facility in Pune, India.

In China, Manitowoc's Potain tower crane subsidiary has produced cranes for almost two decades, and has launched a new topless tower crane, the MCT 385, at its Zhangjiagang production facility. "Flat tops are suited to China because they're easy to assemble. They're fashionable in Shanghai, where they're seen as better for crowded sites than hammerheads," says Jean-Noël Daguin, executive vice president for Manitowoc Cranes, China.

He says the company in 2005 sold the MD3600 used on the Nanjing bridge, the largest Potain crane ever built. Manitowoc's global reputation is a key selling point for many hire firms: "The residual value of tower cranes is critical for rental companies and Potain cranes have excellent resale values," says Daguin. While towers are made in China, exported towers go to many locations in Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

While Manitowoc's strategy is to be one of the top three players in all markets, the intense competition and the scale of domestic producers imakes it difficult for the company to achieve that ambition in China. Despite this, Manitowoc wants to expand its presence in China and has in recent years moved into local truck crane production with Chinese Dongyue at its TaiAn Factory, which allows the company to compete in the vibrant Chinese truck crane market.

At Bauma China, Manitowoc launched the new 20t GT20II truck crane, extending its GT truck crane series. It will continue developing the range from 25-100t. It also showed the 20t flat top MCT 385, designed and produced at its Zhangjiagang factory.

At Bauma China, Terex was launching its 55t Powerlift 1000 crawler and 36t Toplift 0366 truck crane, both produced in China at different plants in collaboration with its new partner Sinomech. The crawler is designed from a blank slate and produced by Sinomach. The Sinomech partnership started six months ago, a successor to a previous partnership, and will allow increased joint investment.

The 0366 is Terex's third Toplift truck crane in the new China-built range, adding Terex's designs to Sinomech's LT range, it is intended for sale in China and export to other emerging markets.

Agustin Dominguez, associate director of global marketing, Terex Cranes, says, "It's a taxi crane which can do general construction, like a small all terrain. It's the only one that can go through the highway toll booths in China."

Safety is increasingly a priority for the market in China, Dominguez says. "Chinese customers more and more conscientious about safety; they're understanding the purchase price is an investment."

Liebherr puts the emphasis on safety in the market in China: its sales strategy emphasises products with latest technology, quality, high uptime and selling for applications where safety is a priority.

Christoph Kleiner, managing director of Liebherr Werk Ehingen, Liebherr's mobile crane production facility, says China has always been a niche market for its all terrain and crawler cranes, and this will not change. "All Liebherr's all terrain cranes are available in China, ranging from 90t-1200t, and crawlers from 350t-3000t, as clients looking for smaller tonnage cranes are mainly looking for truck or rough terrain cranes."

Liebherr's mobile crane division has been in Shanghai for years, offering direct sales and services to China. It also has sister companies throughout Asia, specifically in Japan, Korea, and Singapore. Liebherr's production site at Dalian, China produces earthmoving equipment; cranes sold in China are strictly imported and are identical to those sold in Europe. Kleiner says Liebherr is seeing continued demand for import sales in China both in terms of values and numbers at the moment. "We don't intend to start local mobile crane production," says Kleiner.

Yongmao’s 100t new luffer, STL 1800C, is for domestic and international markets. Typical applications for the luffer include power generation construction and skyscrapers. Like the rest of the range, it is provided with a hydraulic/electric anddiesel engines option so the luffer can work in remote areas. The company has already sold two for work on Tongling Bridge in China’s Anhui province.
Terex China launched the Toplift 036G, a 36t class crane designed for Chinese markets. It features a five-section, 38m boom and 51 m maximum tip height. Its 14m jib manually swings into position.
The Bauma China Expo show grounds.
XCMG’s new global all terrain, with 1600t capacity, XCA5000.