Exploring all new terrain

20 October 2011

As some manufacturers progressively modernise their all terrain product portfolios, filling every niche of the application spectrum from the lower capacities up, the scarcity of upper mid-range cranes is looking inviting to others. Kevin Walsh reports

Over the last two years, some manufacturers have simultaneously been concentrating their efforts on shoring up their lower capacity class product offerings alongside mid-range crane development. Having seen some of the fruits of their labour last year—for instance at various events in 2010 Terex unveiled their 100t AC 100/4, the 60t Challenger 3160 and the 350t AC 350/6— this year another crowd of mid-range all terrains have been released.

With the North American all terrain market far weaker now than in previous years, the launch of manufacturer Link- Belt’s first modern all terrain cranes to be built entirely in-house, the ATC-3275 and the ATC-3250, comes in austere times.

These two all terrain cranes were released a few months after Link-Belt ended its partnership with Tadano Faun at the start of the year, which previously saw Tadano building the ATs and supplying them to the US and Caribbean markets.

However, with a sure focus on the needs of the US all terrain market Link- Belt is confident its new products will be strong contenders for market dominance.

Speaking at the launch of the 275USt ATC-3275, which is the first US-built all terrain crane with a lifting capacity above 10t, product manager Rick Curnutte commented: “One of the biggest things in the design was the wheel base, making it more North American friendly. “We talk about it as North American, but we’ve also looked at what the rest of the world wants. The counterweight and fly have all been grouped into loadouts under 22.5USt. North America is one of the toughest places in the world to move cranes. In Europe you can go on the road with axle weights of up to 14t. The minimum counterweight of German machines often takes up to six trucks here. This machine can do it in four trucks, as none of the counterweights weigh more than 11USt. The crane has been configured to get the best loadout.”

While not deserting the US market entirely, as shown by the introduction of its ATF 220G-5 to the US around the same time as Link-Belt’s new all terrain line, Tadano Faun’s biggest development this year so far has been the unveiling of the ATF 400G-6 in May.

Developed from the Tadano ATF 360 designed for the Asian market, the 400- tonner has targeted the reduction of axle loads to below 12t for ease of use across Europe, the Americas and other parts of Asia, where the firm says it is seeing increasing demand for cranes of this capacity.

Seeing this burgeoning demand, one can say Tadano’s move is a timely one. A key element of reducing the ATF 400G-6’s weight highlighted at the crane’s launch was the absence of a guying or suspension system on the 60m boom, which Tadano says still boasts a lift capacity 15% stronger than its closest competitor.

Having launched the 350t AC 350/6 last year, Terex’s all terrains product manager Arndt Jahns has also noted global crane market trends, but highlights that Terex are paying more attention to easy rigging and the issues involving roadability than to trumping rivals’ maximum capacity limits with its mid-range products.

He says: “The AC 350, for example is just one year on the market and at this time is still a competitive machine. There will be some improvements, but we will concentrate not in the direction of capacity, but more on making it roadable in different countries worldwide.

“This is more the trend today, to make it easier to operate, easier to rig. You see that already on the AC 350. We have a system to easy-rig the luffing jib and we have also implemented that for the larger cranes as well, where a luffing jib is available. Of course we also work this way on the range below as well as the range above the AC 350. For our smallest new crane, [the 60t three-axle Challenger 3160] we can offer automatically deriggable counterweights so the balance of the crane is okay and users can easily get permits in all states in the US, where there is a difficult market even for the small cranes.

“Things like working at height, easy access, this is more in the focus for new developments because, from the performance side, the cranes are absolutely competitive.”

US manufacturer Manitowoc has also this year released two mid-range cranes the GMK 6300L and GMK 6400 all terrain cranes. Although of similar capabilities, the 300t and 400t cranes were designed with clear desire to accurately suit the needs of distinct end-user applications.

Former global product manager for Manitowoc Cranes, Neil Hollingshead, now sales and marketing manager for the firm’s Australian operations, commented on the launch of the cranes, saying: “In recent years, we’ve followed a careful strategy to offer optimal products in the all-terrain segments. Our philosophy with our six-axle cranes is the same — we focus on applications and offering the right crane for the job. We decided to develop two individual cranes instead of a single model that covers two segments, which would have been a compromise solution.”

Fitted with a 80m long main boom with a 37m luffing jib also available, the GMK6300L is suited for supporting work on tall buildings such as jobs involving chimneys, tower crane erection and wind farm maintenance support. Careful attention has also been paid to axle spacings for ease of transport in the US.

Targeting capacity, Manitowoc claims the 400-tonner is the strongest six-axle all terrain crane, suited for heavier duty work on power stations, refineries and other infrastructure projects. When used with the Mega Wing Lift attachment, the setup time for which is significantly reduced thanks to the crane’s self-rigging ability, it provides an important capacity boost.

Explaining the development rationale behind the new GMKs, Manitowoc senior all terrains product manager, Michael Preikschas, says, “Our designs and product offerings are based not only on application but also on permits and regulations, which of course vary from country to country, and even region to region in some markets. In the 300t to 400t class customers are always going to require additional transport to stay within local regulations.”

He adds: “The tensioning system is an important customer benefit, and our customers say they expect to use Mega- Wing-Lift on around half their jobs with the main boom, and virtually all jobs when working with the luffing jib. Mega-Wing- Lift gives greater stiffness against a side deflection in the boom, which is particularly useful in windy conditions, so having Mega-Wing-Lift is something our customers want. Travelling with a 400t crane will always require more vehicles, regardless of what accessories you take, so the Mega-Wing-Lift is another part of the package. Rigging takes only 20 minutes, which is nothing when you think that assembling the crane at the project always takes a few hours, as there is counterweight and often a luffing jib to add.

“However it does offer a huge improvement in the load charts. For example with 48m of main boom and 73m of luffing jib, the ATF400G-6 will lift 4t, while the Grove GMK 6400 rigged with the same boom and jib and with Mega- Wing-Lift will lift 10t.”

Beyond 500t, manufacturers are starting to eye the opportunity presented by the absence of new all terrains in the range up to 1,000t.

Some attention is focused on Liebherr Ehingen, which is expected to produce a nine-axle 750t all terrain in 2012. Similarly there has been speculation over Manitowoc announcing development of their own 750t mobile crane to fill the void between the 500t and 1,000t capacity classes. Although making no direct comment on mooted plans for a Manitowoc all terrain in this capacity range, Preikschas says: “We will see more focus on larger AT cranes for two reasons. First, applications are changing. For example in the erection of wind turbines, 500t capacity AT cranes are no longer strong enough. With 2.5 MW or 3 MW wind turbines, larger cranes are needed.

This will drive demand.
“Second, there is the new EN 13000 regulations which are requiring design changes, such as the placement of override switches outside the operator’s cab and the inclusion of data loggers.

This changing of mentality, to restrict the overriding of LMI systems on cranes, will lead customers to buy larger cranes.”

But not everybody feels that targeting the 500t to 1,000t chasm is necessarily the right move. Terex’s Arndt Jahns says that there are alternatives to a mid-upper range all terrain.

“The reason not to have too many models [in that range] I think is that you can use the really large cranes instead, you just do not configure the crane fully as you would a smaller crane. If you have 1,000-tonner and use it as a 600t or 700t, but not fully rigged with counterweight and fully attached with whatever they can buy it makes no sense for a customer to have a 500t, a 600t, an 800t and a 1,000t.”

Saying this, Jahns acknowledges that prior to the AC 1000’s development as the largest crane in their fleet, that crown was held by the 700t AC 700 all terrain. However it seems, at least in the short term, that Terex will not be looking to vie with Liebherr or Manitowoc over dominance of this territory.

At Terex the anticipated AC 1000, first unveiled to the public at Bauma 2010, is finally approaching the last stages of product verification. In March 2011 Terex said that they expected sales of the AC 1000 this year to be roughly 30% lower than they had initially planned due to unforeseen issues during the latter stages of testing. Having now implemented the design fix for the AC 1000 Jahns comments: “We are in the last phase of verification to ensure the crane is everything that the customer really wants. We’ve had very positive feedback from the customers we already talked to when we presented the final concept and final performance specification, and we are now really looking forward to being able to come out with this.