Top 100

22 April 2019

The 100t lattice crawler is a traditional crane for most worksites, but newer types of crane have been encroaching on its space. Julian Champkin finds there is life in the crawler yet.

Lattice crawlers are the workhorses of the lifting business. In recent years telecrawlers and rough terrain cranes have eaten away at the smaller capacity end of the market and have been growing in their capabilities.

130t capacities are not uncommon for these types now. Does this mean that the lattice crawler of 100t capacity is doomed, or dead already?

Apparently not. In the 80t to 100t range they are still the default and first choice, and manufacturers are happily introducing new models in these capacities.

One example is Manitowoc. Early last year, after years of selling lattice crawlers through an arrangement with Kobelco, the company launched a new 100-tonner of its own, the MLC 100-1.

Why did Manitowoc choose this as its first post-Kobelco product in the small-to-medium crawler market? “With North America our dominant crawler market, and the 100t class dominating the space we served with Kobelco products, it made sense to position ourselves with the MLC100-1” says Harley Smith, global product director for Manitowoc crawlers.

Liebherr has its recentlyintroduced LR 1110. The SCX1000A-3 is the latest offering in the class from HSC Cranes. It offers a new winch and brake system and 10t more lifting capacity than the SCX900- 2, 100t at 3.8m and 1.7t at its maximum 47.2m.

Dave Rees is operations manager at HSC’s UK dealer NRC. “Traditionally the main business went up to 50t,” he says. “That was the largest market for us. But now 80t and 100t capacities are our bread and butter. The 80t just outsells the 100t, but there is not a lot in it.

One reason for the change is that people are lifting more loads and heavier loads. The 80t-100t lattice crawler is the good general workhorse. Most job sites will need 18-20m radius, which they can easily achieve, but it is not the reach which makes these cranes attractive.

People buy them for their lifting capacity, and because they can tackle almost any job.”

Kobelco brackets the 100t mark with its 90t CKE900G2 and 110t CKE1100G2, which Mark Evans, sales manager of Kobelco Europe, describes as extremely versatile cranes used for a huge variety of purposes. Link-Belt offers the 218 HSL at this capacity.

“They are popular and sell well because they are reliable general construction cranes,” says Scott Knight, product manager for lattice and telescopic crawlers for Link-Belt.

“They are versatile machines, are easy to break down for transport, and they have very strong load charts at radius. It is not uncommon for a general contractor to have several of them working throughout a project. They are ideal for infrastructure projects: bridges, seawall construction, road building, and the like, which means that 100t crawlers can often be on-site for several months.”

“Small infrastructure and oil field work is key to the 100t crawler class in North America,” says Manitowoc’s Smith. “It is certainly a versatile product class.” With which Wolfgang Pfister, head of strategic marketing at Leibherr, agrees: “Cranes in that class are the most versatile of all crawler cranes. That’s why they are often referred to as ‘taxi cranes’: quick mobilisation, ease of assembly and transport, now self-assembly systems and so on all help.”

“Demand for these machines is fairly constant, as they form the backbone of many crane fleets of the major contractors as well as crane rental companies,” says Evans of Kobelco. The others agree: it fluctuates a little with the availability of infrastructure projects, says Link-Belt’s Knight, with plenty of bridge projects included in that mix. “Long-term general construction projects also factor into the high demand for this class. Contractors are making money on these machines with multiple month-long projects.

One particular project right now in Miami has four Link-Belt 100t lattice crawlers, in luffing configuration.”

Manitowoc’s view is similar: “The versatility of the product creates a more consistent demand profile than higher capacity crawler cranes,” says Smith. “The price is comparatively low, which reduces the capital risk for the owners.

During downturns utilisation rates appear to be impacted the least at the smaller capacity classes. “And any and all types of hook-work is expected in this class. As opposed to the larger class of cranes where you see a separation between liftcrane applications and more duty cycle applications, the 100t customer expects to put the machine into a variety of work environments.

Many times he is going to invest in the product class based on future work expectations, and not necessarily on planned projects that are already in his pipeline, so the crane must be able to fill many applications to fill his utilisation expectations.”

One reason they are a staple for the general contractor, says Knight, is their ability to pick-and- carry and to pile-drive.

“Things that separate the lattice crawlers from rough-terrain and all-terrain cranes are ease and speed of bringing it into operation. A lattice crawler does not need ground preparation like an RT or an AT, so they are much quicker and easier when obstructions are encountered, which is often the case in the early phases of construction when you have cleared ground for foundations.”

And it is not so much the allterrains and RT telebooms that are eating into the smaller end of the lattice crawler market, he says: “But the telecrawler does. A lot of below-100t users have switched to telecrawlers. The ability to suck in the boom on a telecrawler to get under obstructions like bridges or overhead cables has somewhat eroded the smaller 50t to 80t class of lattice; but at 100t, the lattice has the edge.”

Transporting 100-Tonners

It is an edge that has been maintained through improvements such as ease of transporting the machine. “The larger machines have got more compact” says HSC’s Rees. “The SCX1000 can be moved on a single trailer, even with its tracks on.”

Link-Belt’s 218 HSL can also be transported on a single semi-trailer with its tracks and boom in place, says Knight. “It can be carried with side frames retracted and boom base section installed. The main unit and the base section of the boom, which would be considered your main transport load, comes in under 100,000lbs, and in most places in North America you can travel with that. If you want maximum attachments with a fixed jib for your job, that would add up to three additional overflow loads, but in most cases you are not going to want the full range of attachments so you might transport with just one or two overflows.”

Others also stress ease of transport and erection. Liebherr’s LR 1110 can be hauled with track and boom foot in place. As with the others, the number of trailers needed for this will depend on local regulations and on the configuration needed at the jobsite.

It is the same with Manitowoc. “Although most models are relatively simple to assemble, any opportunity to improve is important to the customer,” says Smith. “Our focus for the MLC100- 1 is two hours from taking the main load off the trailer to lifting.

“All elements of transportability and set-up are key to how fast the customer can get in and get out of a project. The faster they can move, the more money they can make. The MLC100-1 will generally move with four trucks with the main loading including the tracks and boom butt shipping at around 95,000lbs (43t).

“Different states in the US have different shipping requirements for allowable sized and weight, and that is true internationally as well. Transport requirements can vary significantly from region to region, so there is no single optimal transport configuration that works everywhere. But I believe that the MLC100-1 did a great job of balancing an optimal shipping package with high performance.”

Advanced Engineering

Lattice crawlers seem very traditional in layout. Today’s lattice crawler looks outwardly very similar to those from a decade ago. But that is not to say that they are old technology. Knight describes Link-Belt’s developments: “Designs have evolved over time” he says. “Lattice crawlers have moved from friction rigs with band brakes and progressed to hydraulics and other advances such as quick assembly and disassembly. Quick disconnect cylinders, load moment systems, and electronics and on-board displays have increased operator aids and jobsite observation.

Audio alarms proved greater awareness for these on the ground when a crane is moving.”

Mark Evans points to Kobelco’s K-CROSS system to make the same point more forcibly: “They may look old-fashioned” he says, “but today’s lattice crawler probably outstrips all-terrains and rough-terrains in the degree and sophistication of its electronics.” K-CROSS—standing for Kobelco-Crane Remote Observation Satellite System—collects and stores the crane's data (from a terminal in the crane cab) and location (from GPS) and sends it wirelessly to a server; it allows customers remotely to monitor safety and working information in real time from anywhere in the world.

“There is better engineering in lattice crawlers now,” says Rees.

“The designs have not outwardly changed very much; they are much the same shape and layout as they were twenty years ago. But they are more rounded now, and the technology has things that were just not thought of back then.”

His HSCs have auto-idle, together with other fuel- and emissions-saving technologies.

“Eco-winches are another feature of the SCX1000A-3” he says. “The crane senses if the load it is lifting is a light one, and reduces its power accordingly. It does not reduce the capacity, it just becomes a little bit greener, gives out fewer emissions.

Remote monitoring is a third. Log in, from your office or from anywhere in the world, and the crane will tell you the load it is carrying, the wind speed, the temperature, how long the operator has been on the job that day. An option is a swing restriction unit, which notifies the operator of the swinging range and automatically slows down and stops the slewing automatically to prevent the load from swinging into surrounding objects.

“Something unique to HSC is the ‘snapshot’ system. If the operator has a mechanical problem with the crane, say a blocked fuel filter, he hits a button and a full set of diagnostics gets emailed to the factory, who will analyse it and know what is wrong before the driver does.”

“It is true that small crawler cranes may not seem to have changed much over the last 20 years or so,” says Smith. “But, in the same breath, customers’ need have not changed much either. While the Manotowoc MLC100-1 has a simplistic approach to its overall design, it does bring out some carryover from the larger products in its control system and interface that customers will find of great value. For one thing, it brings the electronic/hydraulic age of operation to the small crawler class. The Crane Control System (CCS) interface and hardware are similar to that of the larger MLC300 and MLC650. It is a further migration of a standardised operating platform focused on ease of use and reliability.”

Pfister points to new features on Liebherr’s LR1110. “There is the optional swinging counterweight.

The variable rear counterweight splits in the centre and is swung backwards hydraulically to a maximum angle of 90 degrees. Up to 32% higher lifting capacities or up to 22% larger radii can be achieved using it. There are new safety features, such as the boom up-and- down aid, which warns when the tipping point of the crane is being approached and stops boom and jib movement before it gets dangerous, then gives guidance to getting them back into a safe position. It also warns when wind speeds are getting too strong. Vertical line finders and horizontal load paths assist tandem lifts and barge operations, making them simpler and safer.”

All-Round Abilities

“There is no dispute that ease of use and reliability are the key criteria to smaller crane costs of ownership,” says Smith.

So are the days of the 100t lattice crawler numbered? Will teleboom cranes all-replace it? Smith explains why there is life in the lattice yet.

“Amongst the mobile product lines of crane, you see the larger units of one product class consuming the work of smaller units of the larger product class. The ATs are expanding in popularity for taxi service, but they are not suitable for some of the pile driving and other infrastructure work that utilises crawlers due to the price difference of the models.

Telecrawlers offer a secondary solution to pick-and-carry, but they also come at a price premium for comparative performance. The free fall hoist application is unique to the crawler crane, and when you marry the line pull, line speed, and lifting performance of the small crawler class at its price, and its rental rateit should sustain a market demand for years to come.”

Evans sums up the same point: “RTs and ATs are not eating into the market because they are simply not robust enough and not strong enough to work on the same jobs. Just look at the charts of a lattice crawler compared with the same size all terrain.

The lattice is usually at least 30-40% better at a given radius.”

Advances in speed of deployment means they are no longer limited to long-duration jobs. “Project durations for small crawlers are all over the map” says Manitowoc’s Smith. “That is part of what makes the class so interesting. You can talk to many customers and they will communicate quite varied views of how the products will work.”

The simplicity of a lattice-boom compares to the engineering complexity of a teleboom; and engineering complexity comes with a price-tag and with limitations.

Almost every job that a teleboom can do can also be done by a lattice-boom; the reverse is not the case. Crane for crane, and lift for lift, the lattice will work out cheaper, both to buy and in terms of its utilisation. A crane hire company could send its lattice to handle the vast majority of the projects it gets offered. If it relied on telebooms it would have to turn some of those jobs down.

Or, as Rees of HSC puts it: “If you are just going to buy one crane, it would be a lattice crawler.”

The Liebherr LR 1110 on the way to its first customer in Manchester.
The same machine at work.
Manitowoc’s MLC 100-1.
The SCX1000A-3 from HSC Cranes.
Four Link-Belts on a Florida project.
A Kobelco working on a Red 7 Marine barge.