1 March 1998

Some people like to think that size doesn’t matter. Well, it does in the crane industry, and if the manufacturers don’t make them big enough, then the owner-operators set about upgrading them

Developments in crane technology have revolutionised the construction industry. Ever bigger components can now be prefabricated and lifted into place. For example, roofing or wall cladding sheets can now be lifted into place in huge strips.

Take this example: there exists, apparently, a world record for 75m sections of cladding installed on a building in Canada. But it was pushed close at the back end of 1997 when 65m-long roofing sheets were fitted onto a new warehouse for Matthew Clarke in Avonmouth, England. For this, which was a European record according to Ainscough Crane Hire, the lifting company concerned, a relatively modest 250t Demag all-terrain crane was used, with 65m of luffing fly jib.

Though the lifted sections were long, in terms of heavy-lifting such a project does not even begin to register on the scale. The biggest all-terrain cranes, in standard production configuration, can lift up to 800t (see table). The biggest standard production crawlers can lift up to twice that.

With some clever engineering and reconfiguration, who knows where the limit lies? One thing is for sure: it has certainly yet to be reached.

Crane rental companies are clambering over each other to get the biggest crane they can find. And if the manufacturers are not building them big enough, they will take what they can get and make it bigger themselves.

Witness Van Seumeren’s Twin Ring LD and Platform Twin Ring HD, which are souped-up Demags. The former sees the Demag CC 4800’s standard configuration maximum rated capacity of 800t boosted to 1,450t at 16m radius and 325t at 54m. The latter is a rather more radical overhaul with a rated capacity of 2,000t at 22m and 500t at 56m.

Not everyone takes such extreme measures to show their muscles but, it seems, there are many who are pushing the cranes that they own to new limits by adding extra jibs, ropes and counterweights.

One such company is Singapore-based Walter Wright Mammoet, one of South East Asia’s really big operators. It has recently completed an upgrade of a Manitowoc M-1200 Max-Ringer.

“The upgrade consists of a new ultra-heavy 1,000t fly jib capacity and an additional 385t of suspended counterweight,” the company says. These two additions increase the crane’s basic capacity of 1,300t by about 50% and it doubles the radius at which it can lift and position loads.

In spite of the increased capacity, the footprint is still kept at only 18m, which is about 20% smaller than rival machines of such competitors as Van Seumeren, according to Walter Wright Mammoet president and chief executive officer Hans van den Bovenkamp.

The upgraded crane has already been put through its paces in tests and is ready to perform its first lift with the new fly jib at Port Dickson power station in Malaysia where a 755t reactor with a 1.5m diameter will be lifted. Firstly, the cargo has to be collected from Japan, shipped to Malaysia and driven to the job site, which is where the lifting company’s sister-divisions with transportation expertise come in..

Walter Wright Mammoet has quite a number of Manitowocs in its heavy-lift fleet, while Van Seumeren, on the other hand, seems to prefer Demags (as well as the aforementioned machines, it also part-owns a CC 12600 which in standard production mode picks 1,600t and has a maximum load moment of 35,200tm). Walter Wright Mammoet has its share of big Demags too, but van den Bovenkamp explains that, for him, the attraction of Manitowoc machines lies in their ease of maintenance and repair: “We work in the middle of nowhere a lot, so American desire for simplicity wins over German technology.” Van den Bovenkamp says that total lifting capacity of the crane market in South East Asia has grown exponentially in the 1990s. “It has turned from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market,” he says. Walter Wright Mammoet has been forced to bring its prices down but is still making “healthy margins” and in 1997 enjoyed a utilisation rate of approaching 75%, having previously had a good six years on the Chek Lap Kok international airport project in Hong Kong.

With Sarens Sparrow’s PC 9600 temporarily in Saudi Arabia on refinery work, Baldwins has had six weeks or so during which time it has been able to claim the largest crawler crane in the UK having taken delivery at the start of the year of a Liebherr LR 1800.

The maximum rated capacity of the standard production model LR 1800 is 800t, with a maximum load moment of 12,100tm. But the heavy-lift derrick mast configuration, as used by Baldwins, gives it a 1,200t maximum lifting capacity.

Even this is a long way short of Sarens Sparrow’s 2,000t-capacity PC 9600, which was the key attraction for Sarens of Belgium buying Grayston White & Sparrow’s four-crane Contracts Europe division last year. Though it keeps getting upgraded, it seems, the latest load chart of the PC 9600 shows it lifting 1,000t at 20m radius and 535t at 50m. And it has yet to be upgraded to its limit, it is said. Sarens Sparrow says that this machine will soon be back in the UK.

Baldwins LR 1800 spent January in Dublin working for Irish Cement, lifting 300t kiln sections at 38m radius and travelling with them. This month sees it on a bridge construction site on Yorkshire Link’s A1-M1 motorway link project. Working to steel contractor Kværner Cleveland Bridge, the LR 1800 is rigged for this job with 84m of main boom and 42m of derrick back-mast, with 400t of crane counterweight and 450t of derrick counterweight on a floating tray. It will be lifting 150t beam sections, each about 60m long, at a radius of 64m.

The advantage of the LR 1800 over the similar capacity Gottwald AK 912, which is Baldwins’ second mega-lifter and can also pick 1,200t, is that the Gottwald cannot lift and move, being a truck-based crane sitting on outriggers.

In February, Baldwins’ AK 912 completed an eight-week assignment on site for British Steel in Scunthorpe rebuilding the Queen Bess blast furnace, where its heaviest lift was 350t. In mid-February it moved up to BP Grangemouth in Scotland, working on a refinery shutdown, lifting 250t at 50m radius.

The Full Monty

Joining the ranks of Europe’s heavy lifters is Ainscough, which takes delivery in May of a 1,000t capacity Liebherr all-terrain crane, complete with both telescopic and strut booms.

The basic eight-axle machine with main boom is the 800t-capacity LTM 1800. Rival UK rental company Hewden Stuart also has one in its fleet, as do others across Europe.

Indeed, Australia is about to get its first LTM 1800, which will be the biggest crane on the roads there. Australian distributor GM Baden celebrates its 10th birthday on 20 March with a celebration of live German music, German food and German beer – and the important business of the official handover of an LTM 1800 to Brambles Cranes.

Configured with derrick counterweight, the LTM 1800 becomes a 1,000t crane. There are only two of these cranes in the world. Baldwins has one, and calls it an LTM 11000D. The other belongs to Nostokonepalvelu of Turku in Finland, which calls its crane an “LTM 1800 with derrick attachment”.

The strut boom version of the LTM 1800 is called the LG 1550.

According to Liebherr, there are three companies in Germany that operate a combined LTM 1800/LG 1550 telescopic/lattice boom crane. They are Riga Mainz in Main, Schmidbauer in Gräfeling and Buller in Greven.

But none of these companies has the machine in both strut boom LG1550 and derrick counterweight telescopic boom LTM 11000 versions, so Ainscough can claim a genuine first here. It has given the telescopic version the nomenclature LTM 11000DS, signifying 1,000t capacity, D for derrick and S for strut boom option.

Ainscough, which has a fondness for giving nicknames to its big machines (it has a 500t Demag that it calls “The Boss”), is dubbing its LTM 11000DS/LG 1550 “The Full Monty”.

The maximum lifting capacity of the strut boom version may be “only” 550t, but its chart is very impressive. It can lift 15t across a radius of 116m and over heights of 160m.

Though it needs a second crane to assemble it, Ainscough describes the the strut boom as “state of the art”, with all pendant bars rather than wires. The company says that it can be assembled in about two thirds the time it takes to rig most other strut booms.

The telescopic boom allows the crane to be used, in and out, in a single day. Ainscough said it chose this machine because it was “compact, tried and tested”.

Ainscough has also bought its second LTM 1400 as part of the same order, and is still shopping around for a couple of 200t to 250t machines.