Make it mini

23 February 2012

Contractors are sizing up minicranes for saving time and money. Flexible, small fold-up lifters get inside buildings, up lifts, inside crannies, and helicopter to remote places to provide up to 6t of lifting power. Cristina Brooks reports.

EU and US markets have discovered minicranes can be collapsed and stowed in a closet, then quickly unpacked to assist when bigger cranes are busy, or to lift glass and paneling indoors when fly-ins are not possible.

“The subcontractor will bring their own minicrane so they can work independently of other tradesmen and contractors and that’s often the case where there are tower cranes and certain contractors are using them. This way they don’t have to rely on the tower crane because it’s busy and expensive,” says Tony Inman, president at minicrane multinational Maeda’s dealer in North and South America, Maeda USA.

Training time also collapses, so trained operators can be selected onsite instead of hired. “Units are extremely operator friendly and easy to learn. In many countries you only need a very short instruction on the cranes and in some other a couple of days training before operating them compared to the longer training period for mobile cranes,” says Christer Dijnér, managing director for Kranlyft, Maeda’s European distributor.

Firms can rent minicranes at lower rates than mobile cranes for the same work. “When long booms are needed to lift over objects, a small crane can get close in and behind and do the job instead,” says Dijnér.

Minicranes such as those made by Maeda and Unic are traditionally defined as cranes under 5t capacity with less than 1,600mm width. Mini crawlers can navigate in the mud of a site and turn in compact spaces better than wheeled vehicles. They usually provide lift in place on outriggers but Maeda offers some larger cabbed and uncabbed versions that can slowly pick-and-carry up to 2t.

Unic’s largest capacity compact crane with outriggers, the URW-706 provides 6t of lift at radius of 3m. It offers a hook height of 19.5m, while its 1,600mm width is still narrow enough to pass through a standard double doorway.

Maeda’s familiar green range includes the MC 405, which offers 3.83t of lifting capacity at a radius of 2.7m and has a max a hook height of 16.8m, and with fly jib reaches to 20.7m. It can also function as a pick and carry crane with a load of up to 0.5t while fitting through a door a width of 1,380mm.

Maeda offers a range of three yellow 2t pick and carry crawlers that come with a driver cab and don’t require outriggers. Of these the LC1385M-8B can lift 6t at 2.6m.

“In real terms the cabbed versions are really smaller versions than the green versions since they operate without the outriggers,” says Christer Dijnér, who rose from junior accountant to CEO within Kranlyft in six years.

Minicrane distributor Kranlyft in Sweden began renting mobile cranes and excavators in 1963, later moving into boomlifts and briefly owning its own UK-based lorrylifter manufacturer, before opening an equipment rental branch in the UK in 1975.

Diverse companies in Sweden, including component group Componenta and Finnish mining equipment manufacturer Metso, have since owned Kranlyft. Metso came close to closing it down, but Kranlyft’s directors bought out the business on two separate occasions after realizing being part of a big group meant less emphasis on minicranes. Today it sells exclusively minicranes.

Kranlyft was the first company to bring minicranes to continental Europe in 1998, and they became the main business in 2002, Dijnér says. At the time, Maeda minicranes were the most popular make in Japan, where construction has traditionally used them for architectural reasons.

Dijnér says that discussions began with Maeda in 1995 after a market investigation. “We interviewed customers in Japan about Maeda’s dominant market share (always in the area of 70–75%) in the Japanese domestic market and it all came down to superb quality.”

The European market was not initially welcoming to minicranes. “The first contact with Maeda was made in 1995, but in those days we could not see the product they were having to be a European product, mainly due to lack of safety in the cranes,” said Dijnér.

Kranlyft began distributing minicranes to European market after design improvements were made. Dijnér says, “In 1998 a new contact were taken and then jointly we decided to CE-mark the cranes and to fit them with safe load indicators amongst other things.”

European customers needed explanations of minicrane use and advice on the right model to buy. “In established products the customer has from the beginning a firm idea about what he needs, but when testing new products it must be the right model. Otherwise there is a risk that he does not get the profitability of the product that was expected,” says Dijnér.

Maeda was successful in Europe: today it has distributors in almost every European country. “We started out from Sweden and UK and carefully expanded our dealer network in what used to be called Western Europe. Then gradually we moved east and started to cover former East Europe. After that, it was time to move towards the Middle East and Russia and former CIS-states,” said Dijnér.

In 2010 the company appointed MiniCrane Co, as exclusive distributor for Maeda cranes in Russia. “Our objective was to develop the Maeada business in the EU and also in Russia because we would see the potential for the future,” says Dijnér.

“Largest single fleet you can find is with Heli in Belgium, Hertz in Denmark, and Cramo in Sweden, Instant Access in Abu Dhabi, just to mention a few. Largest number of minicranes per country you find in UK and Germany. Per capita you have large fleets in Finland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, UAE and Qatar.”

Maeda is targeting the Middle East where its cranes are popular. It has already appointed distributors in Kuwait, Turkey, UAE, Qatar, and it is seeking distributors elsewhere in the Middle East.

Dijnér says, “Our MC285's primary use has been on the installation of aluminum, glass and general curtain walling on many of the UAE's most prestigious sites over the last two-and-a-half years, particularly the development of Abu Dhabi's Sowwah Island. Many different contractors have used Maeda Minicranes there.

“We currently have an MC104 on floor 100 of Dubai's Princess Tower, installing the last of the glass on the world's tallest 'purely residential' tower. A superb job,” Dijnér continues.

John Corrie, equipment operations manager for Instant Access in Abu Dhabi, explains the work on the Princess Tower. “There were four units working inside on 24-hour shifts, setting all the glass.”

UK-based GGR Group represents the Japanese brand, Unic Furukawa, as well as supplying other restricted access lifting equipment such as vacuum lifters and pick and carry cranes. Graeme Riley, GGR’s CEO says, “We’ve worked with Unic since 1994 as a dealer, bringing their mini spider cranes to the European market.”

Riley points out international differences in compact crane demand, “The smaller mini cranes such as the Unic URW-094, the smallest in the world, are by far the most popular in Asia, but we have found that the larger models in the range, such as the URW-706, are more frequently used for construction projects in Europe.”

“We have also more recently started working in the Middle East, successfully partnering up with a rental company over there. We have a growing hire fleet based there which we hope we can continue expanding after exhibiting at shows such as The Big 5 in Dubai.”

As with mobile cranes, mini crane sales have yet to rebound from the 2008 financial crisis. Riley says, “Crane sales are quite slow, 50% lower than they have been in the past, but on the positive side, in our experience the hire market is still strong.”

The crisis has impacted on some of the sectors to which GGR supplies lifting equipment, but the outlook is still good, “We are a larger hire company with 150 cranes in our fleet and fortunately have the capacity to work on projects in a wide variety of sectors with a versatile piece of machinery like the mini spider crane.”

Maeda USA, distributor of Maeda minicranes to North and South America, had the unfortunate chance of opening in the year of the financial crisis.

While US and UK crane markets recover, Maeda USA’s Tony Inman reports a booming market in Brazil, where the petrol industry has discovered new applications for minicranes.

“We’ve got into an application where LC models are being used in remote areas and being transported by helicopters. A lot of this has to do with petrol exploration. The machines are disassembled into smaller pieces using ‘quick disconnect’ features, flown by helicopter, reassembled, and put to work. This is becoming more popular in remote areas of Brazil and other remote petrol exploration areas.”

Expect bigger and better things from minicranes, says Instant Access’s John Corrie, as the design is young and the market has just started.

“The changes will be in longer jibs and longer wire ropes in order to lift down deeper and ‘touch up’ existing ranges.” Corrie explains that the cranes need to be more widely used to create a demand for these new features.

GGR uses Unic Cranes to work indoors on an Aston Martin display and to build a ride in a mall GGR uses Unic Cranes to work indoors on an Aston Martin display and to build a ride in a mall
A Maeda crane on a construction site works alongside tower cranes. A Maeda crane on a construction site works alongside tower cranes.