Under 300t, under pressure

29 September 2017


Global demand for lattice boom crawler cranes has been under pressure for several years now. Stuart Anderson, president of Chortsey Barr Associates, assesses the ‘mainstream’ market ranging from 50-300t.

While what, in retrospect, appear as ‘astronomical’ numbers of crawler cranes sold back in the heyday of the North American and subsequently the Japanese markets, the most recent peaks in demand were achieved when China emerged and became the world’s largest domestic market as well as a major exporter during the 2007- 2011 period. The steep growth in demand during that period encouraged crane manufacturers in China (and elsewhere) to embark on highly-ambitious factory-building programmes that resulted in China having the capacity to build possibly 5,000 crawler cranes. Today that would supply all the world’s crawler crane needs – twice over – with something to spare.

Since the 2010 ‘peak’ when over 3,500 lattice crawler cranes were sold worldwide, demand has consistently declined, reaching a level of around 2,100 last year. Things had started to look up in 2015, when demand experienced a minor up-tick. However, that proved short-lived as 2016 saw a steep decline by over 17%.

Fortunately, the decline in unit demand has not been exactly reflected in declining revenues, since a bright spot has been sales of larger-sized cranes in the 500-1,000t classes, driven primarily by continued strength in the wind-turbine sector. It is at the smaller-end of the market that the reduction in demand has been most intensively felt.

Several competitive factors have played their parts in this changing picture but the most significant has been the steady growth in demand for tele boom crawler cranes. While telecrawlers have not (yet) broken through in most emerging markets, they have become a major force in West Europe and North America – particularly in the 40-100t size classes. It will surprise many that annual sales of new lattice boom cranes of up to 55t (60USt) capacity in North America and Europe can now be counted on the fingers of one hand. In these markets, telecrawlers now outsell lattice cranes of similar capacity by a ratio of as much as 10:1. That’s not to say that telecrawlers can undertake all the duties of a heavy-duty lattice, but the numbers don’t lie.

Robert Law, managing director of AGD (Sennebogen’s UK distributor as well as operator of one of the country’s largest crawler crane rental fleets), says,“The cost of mobilising a 70t tele is typically 40% that of a lattice—£1,000 versus £2,500 on every job—and then there’s the fact that the tele is pretty much ready to work upon arrival at the site and needs far fewer resources in terms of people and trucks. We’re seeing some of the most experienced and established crane hirers switching. BPH has just taken a second batch of three 50 and 70-tonners from us. Up until a year ago their fleet was 100% lattice.”

Such sentiments were reflected by Kobelco’s European sales manager Mark Evans during my recent visit to their European headquarters. “Our sales of crawlers now effectively start at 80 and 90-tonners. The smaller-end of the market has switched almost entirely to teles. Our 90/100t CKE 900G-2 has really hit the spot. Delden

Cranes of Nottingham recently ordered another four, adding to the four they bought in 2015. Late last year Galway, Ireland-based civil engineering contractor Ward & Burke Construction ordered four 900G-2s. Their package of six cranes also included two 150t CKE 1350G-2s which has established itself over the past ten-years as our best-seller.

Most recently, the Bouygues TP/ Laing O’Rourke (BYLOR) joint-venture chose three CKE 800G-2s and a CKE 900G-2. Upon their arrival, they will be deployed to the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station project where the J-V is the main civils contractor.”

But the UK is a bright-spot in an otherwise depressed European market for mainstream lattice crawlers. The market has been transformed by telecrawlers with over twenty of Liebherr’s 60t LTR 1060s dominating the pre-fab building construction market in Belgium and the 100t LTR 1100 filling a similar role in Germany. While on road-widening projects across the UK, Weldex’s large fleet of LTR 1060s is ubiquitous, Europe’s largest crawler crane hirer also added 80t lattices with the purchase of six Hitachi-Sumitomo SCX 800A-3 from dealer NRC.

Meanwhile, despite Law’s sentiments regarding the growth in sales of teleboom crawler cranes, last year AGD acquired a fleet of nine Sennebogen lattice crawlers: five 50-tonners, two 80-tonners and two 100-tonners. “We’ve been thinning our lattice fleet for some time now, disposing ageing units. Frankly hire rates are terrible but obviously there are jobs for which lattice are best-suited and we have many customers whose needs we must continue to support. This deal allowed us to move our entire crane fleet to modern Sennebogen cranes with rational operational and servicing features and allows us to offer consistently better support to our customers,” says Law.

While telecrawlers from Link- Belt, Tadano-Mantis and Grove (Sennebogen) continue to grow support in North America, in the rest of the world small-to-medium sized lattices continue to dominate. This remains the case in Japan despite the fact that Kobelco, Hitachi- Sumitomo and IHI have been making telecrawlers for close-on 30 years. Much to the frustration of their international dealers and customers, the Japanese manufacturers continue to limit themselves to short-boom heavy-duty teles while steadfastly avoiding the development of the long-boom liftcrane type telecrawlers demanded by most international markets. Like Europe, the Japanese lattice crawler crane market gravitates to cranes over 70t, and particularly 90t cranes. However, while 250- 300t crawler cranes dominate the medium-heavy crawler sector in many markets, for most Japanese users, 200-tonners represent the top-end of their fleets. Here the Kobelco 7200G-2 and Hitachi- Sumitomo SCX 2000-3 are the dominant models.

For the first time in a decade, last year domestic crawler crane demand in Japan exceeded that of China. Gone are the heady days when the Chinese market consumed close-on 2,000 units per year. It’s now around 25% of that 2010 peak. All of China’s manufacturers have had to down-size their output and trim their lofty ambitions.

For non-indigenous manufacturers, tougher Chinese market conditions have precipitated drastic action. On January 10th, just months after bringing its new China-built 300t LC 300 crawler to Zweibrucken for evaluation, Steve Filipov announced that the Terex crawler crane plant in Jinan would close and that plans to show the new crane at ConExpo were off. Such reversals of fortune for Western manufacturers in China have become all-too common. It was only in March 2011 that former Terex Chairman & CEO, Ron DeFeo visited the Shandong Topower Heavy Machinery operation in which his company had acquired a 65% stake the previous August, increasing to 98% in November 2014. Terex Topower crawler cranes of 70–360t never did establish a toe-hold in China, and only won minimal export sales.

Far more difficult circumstances have befallen Kobelco in China. In February 2016, the company announced extraordinary losses for its Chinese excavator manufacturing and sales business of no less than ¥39.8bn ($340m). The company subsequently announced it would re-merge its crane and construction machinery businesses and then, at the end of the year Kobelco announced it would cease crawler crane production in the joint venture plant it had established in 2010. This new business represented an initial investment of ¥2bn ($23.3m) and at the time Kobelco said its planned output of 80 cranes/ year would account for just 7% of Chinese market demand. The company forecast that by 2015 the plant would achieve annual revenues of ¥10bn ($116m).

The plant, adjacent to Kobelco’s well-established excavator plant in Chengdu, produced its first 260t CKL 2600 in March 2012 with the 180t CKL 1800 and 900t CKL 900 and BML 900 subsequently joining the line. This closure leaves Hitachi- Sumitomo as China’s only ‘foreign’ crawler crane maker. The company has been successfully making its 55 and 70t models in Hefei for many years now.

While Kobelco remains Japan’s largest manufacturer of crawler cranes, its successes are founded on strong international sales and the spectacularly-successful 250t series, which for 15-years has dominated global demand for cranes of this class. However, last year Kobelco reported reduced unit sales which it blamed particularly on lower sales in South East Asia. Domestically, it’s very even between Kobelco and Hitachi-Sumitomo. Last year HSC increased its domestic sales by an impressive 17% to ¥32,978m ($295m). Discussing the domestic results, HSC said that although public works construction was on a downward trend, demand created by government investments and private sector work including demand for replacing older cranes. Extraordinarily, for HSC, domestic sales in fiscal 2016 represented almost 79% of its total sales of ¥41,829m ($373m). Overseas sales plummeted by 44% to just ¥8,851m ($79m). At the recent Vertikal Days trade show, Link-Belt SVP Bill Stramer lamented another decline in the North American crawler cranes market (5% year-on-year). However, while total crawler crane demand was around 350 units, particularly challenging for Link-Belt was the almost 30% decline in domestic demand for cranes in the 80-to- 250USt (73 to 227t) class, where Link-Belt’s popular HSL Series has long-dominated demand.

Most recently Link-Belt introduced the new 130USt (117t) 228 HSL available with a choice of tubular booms to 72m (235ft) or, for duty cycle work, angle booms to 47m (155ft). In addition, the 298 HSL Series-2 was introduced to succeed the original 298HSL introduced in 2007. Features include capacity increased to 250USt (227t) and a new boom tip design that allows the working combination boom tip to remain in place when transitioning from conventional mode to luffer. Maximum combination is 180ft (54.8m) luffing boom and 195ft (59.4m) luffing jib. Pinnacle Cranes of Charlotte, North Carolina recently employed a new 298HSLseries 2 working in tandem with a 298HSL handling concrete bridge beams.

Recent months have also seen ownership changes in Japan’s crane industry. In December, there was a positive development involving HSC and Link-Belt.

Since its establishment in 2002, Hitachi-Sumitomo Heavy Industries Construction Crane (HSC) has been owned 50:50 by Hitachi Construction Machinery (HCM) and Sumitomo Heavy Industries (SHI) but at the end of the year it was announced that HCM had agreed to sell 12,800 of its 40,000 shares to SHI to give the latter 52,800 shares or 66% of the total equity. SHI said that it “intends to accelerate enhancements to the global competitiveness of it crawler crane business” and that this share purchase enables them to make HSC a consolidated subsidiary. No doubt these developments were in part influenced by Kobelco’s establishment over a year-ago of a product development group based in Frankfurt to help drive its move into larger-sized crawlers.

Potentially bad news for Link- Belt, Manitowoc and Terex is the announcement that All Erection & Crane Rental has been appointed the Kobelco Cranes dealer for Ohio, West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania including Pittsburg. Dawes Rigging & Crane Rental, an All Company, continues to represent Link-Belt in Wisconsin and parts of Michigan as it has done since 1995, while All has also been a full line Terex Cranes dealer for many years. These days it’s not unusual for the larger US crane rental companies to act as dealers for several competing manufacturers. Strict territorial guidelines, are not so strictlyadhered to as was once the case.

Money talks as the saying goes. Fact is that the ALL family of companies operates the largest rental fleets of Link-Belt, Manitowoc and probably Terex’s HC series in North America. The latter line has its roots in Terex’s acquisition of American Crane, while the CC cranes made in Germany have their roots in the acquisition of Demag.

Over more than 20 years, All became a dominant force in the 80–110USt crawler crane rental sector, forging a special relationship with Link-Belt. Indeed, not so long ago, Dawes’ retail sales manager Steve Challoner said: “We believe in the high-quality of Link-Belt lifting equipment or we wouldn’t buy so many for our own fleet.” Over the past five or six years alone, All has taken delivery of some 50 Link-Belt lattice crawler cranes in the 80–200USt capacity classes. Link-Belt crawler cranes have given great service to All and its clients with many remaining in the rental fleet for up to 18 years. Additionally, over recent years, the company has acquired over 20 Link-Belt telecrawler cranes of 75 and 110USt capacity, which obviously have often performed work formerly the domain of lattice cranes.

To date Kobelco has not had much of a sniff at All’s business, at least not with cranes sold under its own name. Over the past 13 years All Erection has purchased various Manitowoc crawlers in the 80–120USt classes that are manufactured by Kobelco under their OEM supply agreement. Recently, All’s crawler crane purchases have included only limited quantities of cranes in these size-classes with the latest being Terex-American 80USt HC 80 ‘Bridge Builder Specials’ and 110USt HC 110-1s.

In late October 2016, IHI Corporation transferred all its shares in IHI Construction Machinery to a newly-reawakened Kato Works. This resulted in a change of name for IHI which is now known as Kato HICON (Kato Heavy Industries Construction Machinery). With this acquisition Kato has announced that by 2018 it plans to become a ¥100bn ($900m) company. Strategically this looks like a very good move for Kato, broadening their crane line to include crawlers as well as adding IHI’s mini excavators, track loaders and crawler carriers to complement Kato’s full-size excavators. Since the announcement it has been confirmed that the successful OEM supply agreement between Terex American and IHI will continue. As users around the world acknowledge, IHI has always manufactured ‘bullet-proof’ cranes but has not had the resources to match its domestic rivals in new product development. Maybe this will now change.

It’s a fact that the specifications and quality of Chinese crawler cranes have continued to improve, as witnessed at last year’s Bauma China. Over recent years, the ‘big three’ have all invested in new series of crawler cranes in a continuing effort to out-do each other. For XCMG, it’s the XGC Series; for Sany, the latest ‘E’ Generation; and for Zoomlion, the ZCC Series.

While domestic Chinese crawler crane demand has declined to around 500 units per year, running counter to the international downward trend, Chinese crawler crane exports increased by over 10% in 2016 to well over 700 units. This means that in total, some 50% of the world’s crawler cranes are now manufactured in China.

Crawlers in the 50-to-100t class now account for more than 70% of domestic Chinese market demand, and that pattern is mirrored in China’s international sales to the emerging markets that account for the vast majority of the country’s exports. While XCMG remains the domestic market leader, Sany, the number two player, enjoyed increased export sales, accounting for 33% of total industry exports. Sany’s 55t SCC 500E and 75t SCC 750E remain their best-selling models. Sany won significant crawler crane orders thanks to its close relationship with China’s giant SEPCO III Electric Power Construction. Amongst numerous SEPCO power plant projects currently employing Sany crawler cranes are Pakistan’s Haveli gas-fired combinedcycle power plant (SCC 500Es, SCC 1500Ds and SCC 2600As) and Oman’s Salalah IPP project (SCC 500Es, SCC 1500Ds, SCC 2600As and a 400t SCC 4000A). The Iran Masu chemical fertilizer plant project, won by China National Engineering No.14 Construction yielded orders for 55t and 90t Sany crawler cranes. Such projects serve to illustrate the very important role played by Chinese international contractors and plant builders in sales of Chinese crawler cranes.

Zoomlion is also highly active internationally. China Construction Sixth Engineering Division recently purchased eight each 130t QUY 130 and 180t QUY 180 crawler cranes with plans to use ten of these in the construction of the Temburong Cross-sea Bridge in Brunei. Spanning the Brunei Bay, the bridge will have a total length of 30km (19 miles) including an 11km (7 mile) viaduct with precast structures spanning wetlands. Zoomlion has provided service techs stationed on the job site to support the cranes throughout the project which is expected to be completed by 2019.

XCMG had a very strong first quarter with total machinery sales up 70% mainly due to strong excavator sales, but also increased sales of truck and crawler cranes. At the recent ASEAN 2017 Summit, XCMG’s Asia-Pacific president Hu Xiangyang said: “South East Asia is a major market – for us 40% of our overseas sales go to South East Asia.” He noted that China is building the Jakarta Bandung High-Speed Railway; the expansion of Thailand’s Don Muang international airport and the Philippines president Rodrigo R. Duterte’s massive infrastructure plan. In 2016, XCMG’s sales to the Philippines totalled $30m and could reach $40m this year.

XCMG also recently supplied nine crawler cranes of 85, 100, and 150t capacity for a deep-water port project in Southern Africa. XCMG is forecasting a 13% rise in 2017 revenues to over RMB 19b. On the product front, for both XCMG and Zoomlion the focus has been on up-grading their 260t model offerings. Zoomlion’s latest is the ZCC 260 launched at Bauma China, features an up-graded safety monitoring system, higher operating speeds with a transport module weighing 36.5t and 3m wide. XCMG’s XGC 260 has a slightly lighter transport module weighing just 35.7t. This model is available with a combination of 93m (305ft) luffing boom and 66m (216ft) jib. In addition, XCMG has announced its first true heavy-duty crawler crane – the XGC 100HD. The 100-tonner features controllable power free fall winches and quick-release flexible brakes.

In addition to ‘pure’ lift cranes, recent years have seen significant sales of ‘dynamic compaction’ machines which are manufactured by all of China’s crawler crane manufacturers – not least by Yutong Heavy Industries. While there are numerous domestic applications for these machines, last year saw Sany supply several of its SQH 350 compactors for use at Indonesia’s massive nickel mining operations in Sulawesi. XCMG has been concentrating on so-called ‘shimmy reduction’ on its dynamic compaction models XGH 350, 460 and 600. This arduous application can be very damaging to a crane’s hydraulics and electrics following the un-hooking of the ‘pounder’. XCMG claim that their latest developments reduce the amplitude range by over 35%. The manufacturer says that their testing program has involved some 10,000 cycles.

Despite the limited levels of European demand for small lattice crawlers, Sennebogen has reinforced its traditional strength in this sector with the introduction at Bauma of the latest versions of its 30t and 40t duty cycle cranes as well as a new 50t capacity crawler lift crane. Both the 630E and 640E share the same undercarriage and 186kW Cat powerpack but are differentiated by their levels of counterweighting as well as in their winch options – the 30t 630E being offered with a choice of 9t or 12t free fall winches while the 640E comes as standard with a pair of 12t free-fall winches with 16-tonners available as an optional extra.

Meanwhile Sennebogen’s new 50t 1100E rounds-out the manufacturers line of crawler lift cranes of up to 300t capacity. The manufacturer’s newly-appointed distributor Van den Heuvel Cranes & Service of Werkendam just delivered the first 1100E to Dutch civil engineering contractor De Boer & De Grout based in Harlingen. The new crane is powered by a 129kW Cummins diesel, has booms up to 52.3m available and comes with 120kN winches offering maximum single line hoist speeds to 125m/min.

For over a decade, Liebherr Werk Nenzing has been established as Europe’s leading manufacturer of crawler cranes. This, despite the company being ‘limited’ (by Liebherr) to manufacturing crawler cranes to 300t maximum capacity. This ‘limitation’ is the result of decisions made some twentyyears ago when Nenzing was just moving from building pure duty cycle crawlers to making lift cranes. At the time Liebherr Werk Ehingen was introducing its new 400t capacity LR 1400/1 and presumably it was Ehingen that defined the ‘barrier’. Back in 1998, a 300 or 400t crane was still considered a pretty large crane. But times have changed, and now 600-750-tonners are commonplace. First with the introduction of the 280t LR 1280 in 2003 and then the 300t LR 1300 in 2008, Liebherr Werk Nenzing established itself as the class leader but presently cannot do what any other manufacturer would be doing: expanding upwards. I would argue that the time is long since passed that Liebherr’s internal ‘bar’ be moved up – at least to 400t.

Since its launch at Bauma 2016, Liebherr’s LR 1100 has completed testing and evaluations resulting in changes that have resulted in a re-rating to 110t and renaming as the LR 1110. During my recent visit to Nenzing we had the opportunity of discussing the new crane in-depth with Wolfgang Pfister, head of strategic marketing & communications. He told me, “At the heart of the LR 1110 is a newly-designed steel fabrication resembling a tubular structure that allows optimum force transmission over short distances resulting in outstanding lifting capacities. As we demonstrated at the Bauma, the crane’s unique swinging counterweight further increases capacities by up to 20%.

“The beauty of this counterweight system is that the slew range is stepless from 0 to 90°. Each position is automatically calculated via the Liebherr Online Load Moment calculator. There are no pre-stored load charts. Literally any crane configuration can be realized. The crane is extraordinarily versatile thanks to a number of operating modes. These include the “Barge Operation Mode” where the operator preselects the barge operating mode, inclination, and wind. There’s also ‘Grab (Clamshell) operation mode’, ‘Man ride mode’ and ‘Driving with load mode’ (Pick-and-carry mode). In addition, there’s a ‘Wind Reduction Mode’ allowing the preselection of wind operating mode with corresponding wind speeds.”

The LR 1110 has a new cab design with 50% reduced noise levels, new air conditioning, automatic climate control and orthopedic operator’s seat heated and ventilated. Two new assist systems have been developed in-house – the ‘Vertical line finder’ and the ‘Horizontal load path’. In addition, the automatic engine stop control reduces fuel consumption and emissions while extending the working life of the crane. Another important feature, especially in urban environments, is the new Eco Silent Mode that allows the operator to keep the engine speed at a predetermined level.

As for lifting performance, while nominally rated at 110t capacity the chart carries a 115.5t maximum at 3m radius. The main boom extends from 14m to 71m (46ft to 233ft) while the maximum combination consists of a 38m (124.6ft) main boom plus 66.8m (219ft) luffing jib for 104.8m (344ft) maximum. Maximum swinging counterweight is 34t paired with 17,5t of carbody counterweight. With boomfoot, two 12t winches and crawlers but less counterweight the crane ships at 57t or it can be stripped down to 37.5t. The first crane has been delivered to Weldex.

A Sennebogen 6113 E at
Link-Belt’s HSL series has been a dominant player in its class. Here, a 238 HSL is shown at work on the Little Bay Bridge for R S Audley in New Hampshire
Two of the three CKE 800G-2s purchased by the Bouygues TP/Laing O’Rourke (BYLOR) joint venture for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.
Max Bögl assembles a Liebherr LTR 1220 telecrawler inside a water basin, which will be used for energy storage as part of an innovative wind turbine system in Baden-Württemberg
Kraemer North America is using an MLC300 to help replace an 84-year-old truss bridge, the 2,482 ft-long Savanna-Sabula Bridge near Savanna, Illinois.
NRC Plant is putting its new Hitachi Sumitomo SCX1500A-3 to work for GPS Marine Contractors, in Northfleet, Kent, where it will be used for fender repairs.
One of nine Toebe Construction Terex HC series cranes at work on a road project for Michigan Department of Transportation