Talking cranes in booming Asia

20 October 2011

The Asian crane industry is booming in ‘turbulent times’ said international crane expert Stuart Anderson at the Cranes Asia conference held on 7–8 September by Cranes Today Magazine.

Attendees heard experts speak on crane hire in Asia, including representatives from Zoomlion and Terex. International crane rental firms Tat Hong, Sarens, ALE and Mammoet, as well as manufacturers Palfinger and Kobelco, were in attendance.

Regional markets booming
Anderson noted that expanding Asian rental firms have boosted the market for cranes. “The fleet size has been growing, in my estimation, at 15% and the maximum size of crane has increased at a dramatic rate,” Anderson said.

Asian crane manufacturers meet market demands by contributing more than two thirds of the world’s crane production in segments such as telescopic and tower cranes. They have increased crane diversity and capacities in the last five years to such an extent that they are now on par with American and European counterparts, Anderson said, such as Liebherr’s 3000t capacity LR13000.

“Even excluding Japan's historically broad product offering, Asia is close to capability of complete self sourcing of almost all product types and sizes,” he said, noting that Sany in China had recently released a 3600t crawler crane.

International manufacturers such as Terex, Manitowoc and Kobelco are responding to this by forming partnerships in China to link to its manufacturing sector, taking advantage of low production costs and improved component quality. Both international and Asian manufacturers, according to Anderson, such as Sany, XCMG, and Kobelco have expanded with new facilities in India to serve the burgeoning Asian market.

Secondhand crane use remains widespread in Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines, owing to high import duties and registration laws governing the import of new cranes. But this trend is beginning to wane as increasingly advanced Chinese cranes represent better value for money over used cranes.

Anderson said: “Asia was the automatic dumping ground for second hand Japanese machines. That has changed and [rental] companies have become more balanced between used and new.”

India, an increasingly common destination for construction equipment, is rapidly expanding its pick-and-carry market, Anderson said. “Pick and carry cranes offer limited capacities at a low price while a truck or a rough terrain crane is not usually viable. India is an extremely price sensitive market.”

Safety a regional challenge
The lack of regional safety regulations in Asia is a growing problem as the markets there rely on second-hand cranes prone to failure. One safety expert observed thaton this issue, “There is no regional consensus.”

The safety discussion focused on the Singaporean government as a regional standard leader. While practices in Singapore are still developing, they lead industry in the region on safety.

Singapore’s Workplace Safety and Health Council worked with the crane hire industry this year to improve upon the 2001 code of practice, said keynote speaker Er Mohd Ismadi, deputy director within the operator health and safety division.

Ismadi said the taskforce set up operator programs to increase use of lifting plans and mandate operator licensing. It also extended regulatory coverage from just factories to all lifting situations.

The changes came into effect last month with, the aim of reducing Singapore’s cranerelated fatality rate from 4% to 1.8% of all fatalities in the workplace.

Ismadi showed a video of a crane load failure in Singapore and acknowledged, “I’m not trying to sugarcoat it. We have a lot of work to do.”

Training relies on leaders
Asian firms continue to experience training challenges occasioned by multi-lingual crews, underlining the importance of leader-guided, hands-on training.

D M Vaidya, speaking on compliance and inspection, emphasised having a good attitude in India, a multi-lingual region where there is no operator licence. “In India, it depends upon the attitude of the persons,” he said. “The problem is that there are not less than 125 languages and the literacy level is very low.”

Even so, a hands-on assessment is necessary. “Training without assessment is like a kiss without a squeeze, meaningless,” said Michael George Hoyle, a crane consultant working in Singapore with ExxonMobil.

He recommended better communication with multi-lingual crews. He said: “Typically lifting crews here in Singapore have an Indian lifting supervisor and a Singaporean-Chinese crane operator, the challenge is to keep the lifting supervisor in charge. Once management is not on the scene the hierarchy is prone to change with the crane operator taking charge.”

Leadership qualities such as respectfulness go a long way in Asia when training the crew. “If you shout or use angry words here in Asia, people will close their ears to your words and only hear your anger,” said Hoyle.

Recession is an additional safety challenge, said Brian Cronie, regional training director for Mammoet Singapore, as in an economic slump there is more pressure on managers to perform jobs with less hired hands, and operators are more inclined to take on jobs beyond their training.

Cronie said: “We’re in a lean and mean industry; we do not have crane operators sitting on a shelf waiting. So why is a boss reluctant to dismiss offenders who have contributed to an accident?

“One of the reasons may well be that they do not have readily available replacement operators.”

Cronie recommended having manpower on hand for suspensions and dismissals, as well as using a competence chart to show which operators have been trained on which cranes. He said employees should be told they have the right to refuse to work in unsafe situations.

Manufacturers ban overloading
Vincent Stenger, product safety manager at Terex explained the dangers of overload testing. Terex jointly owns a crawler manufacturing facility with Topower in Zhangqiu.

“The only way to make a good assessment of the safety level of the crane is the thorough examination,” Stenger said. Such an examination increases mechanical and operator safety, ultimately decreasing costs for end users.

As a member of the European Federation of Materials Handling (FEM) working group on cranes, Stenger presented the group’s position paper against overload testing introduced earlier this month.

Overloading is used for controlled calculation of load charts by manufacturers, and to release stresses within the material, but it cannot be used to completely verify crane safety, and can even create mechanical problems, he explained.

Stenger said: “Each overload test will reduce the lifetime of the crane.

Compared to tower or harbor cranes, mobile cranes have a defined lifetime and are designed in a fully different way to provide maximum capacity with a minimum deadweight.”

An examination to check for cracks can be used instead of overloading by testers, and Terex’s latest crane manuals give a visual reference for this. Examinations in manuals can be used when deciding whether to replace or repair parts.

Stenger said: “The manual shows typical areas to be tested and inspected on the steel structure. The steel structure is made of many welds and areas that are more sensitive to fatigue than other areas.”

More offshore planning needed
Mike Priestly, a principal engineer for ONA Engineering, called for better regulation and guidelines for bargemounted crawlers in the Australasian region. “There’s a lot of construction but contractors don’t understand the technical implications or crane’s ability. The guidance and codes are very good offshore, but when you get near the shore this is when things become a little bit grey, except the expectations for contractors are great.”

Priestly explained that a rigid connection is important for securing crawler cranes on barges.

Continuing the discussion Continuing the discussion
Brian Cronie: Brian Cronie: "We're in a lean and mean industry"
Mick Hoyle explains how to communicate safety to multinational lifting crews Mick Hoyle explains how to communicate safety to multinational lifting crews