Between 2009 – 2012 in excess of 2,000 new mobile cranes, plus large numbers of used cranes, have been sold throughout eastern Central Asia. Over 90% of the new cranes were small telescopic truck cranes supplied by Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian and Chinese manufacturers. The vast majority of these were of 25t capacity and smaller. Larger capacity cranes were fairly evenly divided between lattice boom crawlers and all terrains.

Until quite recently rough terrain cranes were little known throughout the former Soviet nations, but in recent years their merit has been recognized in oil and gas projects and in Kazakhstan’s open pit mining projects. Kazakhstan is far and away the largest regional crane market, accounting for some twothirds of regional demand, while Turkmenistan is responsible for less than 5% and Uzbekistan, by far the most populace country, is the smallest market responsible for only 3% of new crane demand.

Turkmenistan is the largest regional natural gas producer, and has the world’s fifth largest reserves. It outputs approximately 70bn cubic metres of gas a year, supplying two-thirds of its output to Russian gas company Gazprom. In recent years the country has been trying to reduce its dependence on Russia by building pipelines with China and Iran.

The economy is also being fuelled by massive foreign direct inward investment. This September will see production start at Galkynsh, the world’s second largest natural gas deposit, allowing the country to further expand exports to China, which has already overtaken Russia as the main importer of Turkmen natural gas.

Due to open this year is the $20bn 1,883km pipeline from Turkmenistan to China’s Xinjiang Province, via Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. It will deliver 40 bcm/yr of natural gas to China but a deal between China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and KazSrtroy Service will allow Kazakhstan to keep 10 bcm/yr.

At the same time, Turkmenistan is pushing ahead with plans for the TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan- Pakistan-India) gas pipeline project, backed by the Asian Development Bank. The plan was laid out in a framework between the four countries back in 2008 and, after some disputes over transit fees, a deal was made this July to form a company by this September to execute the project. Preliminary estimates for the cost of the 1,735km project are $7.6bn. The 1.42m diameter pipeline will be able to deliver 27 bcm/yr.

The leading French contractor Bouygues has a long-term presence in Turkmenistan; its Ashgabat branch is the largest in the firm’s global network, with 10,000 local employees and 700 pieces of construction machinery and cranes. As well as numerous other Turkmen government buildings, Bouygues built the new $250m Presidential Palace in the Ashgabat, inaugurated in 2011.

Further major projects in the works are a new $2bn Ashgabat International Airport, the contract for which was awarded in January to Turkey’s Polimex Construction. Other Turkish contractors such as Tekfen are deeply involved in Turkmenistan, having won several gas pipeline contracts.

The scale of oil and gas projects in the Caspian is massive. There are 91 exploration blocks in the Caspian, with 33 held by Kazakhstan and 31 by Turkmenistan. Total oil and gas production in the region has increased at a compound annual rate of 3%, from 2001’s 8,338m barrels of oil equivalent (MMboe) to 11,597.2 MMboe at the end of 2012. Amongst the five littoral states of the Caspian region, Russia recorded the highest production of oil and gas in 2012 with 7,783.2 MMboe or 67.1% of total.

Following over a decade of exploration and planning and investments of over $30 billion, start-up of production at the Kashagan Project in the Northern Caspian finally seems imminent. Located in the Kazakh sector of the Northern Caspian Sea, the Kashagan project is the largest oil field discovered in the last 30 years. In June the North Caspian Operating Company (NCOC) announced the completion of the Kashagan project facilities. Until quite recently Kashagan was expected to start pumping crude in October 2013, but a combination of bad weather and political wrangling have delayed start-up until 2014. Reserves of this field are variously estimated at between 4.8bn and 6.0bn tonnes (38bn barrels) of oil, plus over one trillion cubic metres of gas.

A consortium led by ENI Agip manages the on-and off-shore elements of the vast project. Conoco Phillips with an 8.4% share is planning to sell its Kashagan and other Kazakhstan assets in order to invest further in North American projects. China, which already owns 25% of all of the country’s oil and gas assets, is favourite to outbid rivals such as India for the Conoco Phillips share.

As always work in the offshore hydrocarbon business is technologically complex, highly dangerous, and environmentally challenging.

In such circumstances contractors cannot take a chance on the equipment they select. With all of the challenges of climate, environment, technology and politics as well as the huge investments involved, contractors seek to control as many factors as possible. Selection of equipment of the highest performance and quality is a prerequisite.

Liebherr-MCCtec GmbH, Nenzing, has long been a major player in the Caspian, with its explosion-protected offshore cranes operating on several projects including the Agip KCO-Kashagan Project. Over the course of the past five years a fleet of three of Liebherr’s largest ram-luffing BOS 4200-50 EX Litronic offshore cranes, rated 50t capacity at 38m radius and seven Sunderland-built rope-luffing RL 2650-20Ex Litronic offshore cranes rated 20t at 40m have worked in the harsh conditions.

These cranes and other models of Liebherr offshore crane have, for over 25 years, employed explosionprotected products and systems manufactured by R Stahl including electrical switchgear, control and automation technology. Lifting hooks that bronze-coated to prevent ignitable sparks, in compliance with European explosion proofing standard. The control joysticks (or master switches) are supplied by W Gessmann. Given the extreme summer and winter temperatures, the larger-sized operator’s cabs of these cranes are equipped with HVAC systems and with hydrogen sulphide filter elements to protect the operator from sulphur gas, which can be a by-product of oil and gas production.

Liebherr MCCTec’s Strategic Marketing specialist Tobias Froehlich said that these cranes are expected to operate in the Caspian for "at least another ten years." He added, "in the Russian sector of the Northern Caspian, Lukoil is currently operating a Liebherr RL 650 and two Liebherr RL 2650-60 offshore cranes. The Lukoil RL 650 is rated 12.5t capacity with 26m maximum radius while the RL 2650-60s are rated 60t capacity with 40m main hoist and 45m auxiliary hoist.

"Within the next couple of months we will be delivering a further three 60t capacity RL 2650- 60 and two RL 650s for work on oil and gas projects in the Caspian."

The RL 650 series is the smallest in Liebherr’s RL (Rope Luffing) line, available with maximum capacities of up to 25t and maximum working radius of 33m.

On July 1, the UK’s leading design, engineering and project management group, Atkins Global signed a one-year extendable contract with the Samruk-Kazyna sovereign wealth fund to assist in the design and implementation of major infrastructure projects around the Kazakhstan capital Astana and in Aktau, the biggest seaport. Samruk-Kazyna is responsible for no less than $78bn of the country’s assets in energy, transportation and telecommunications.

Almaty, the commercial centre and former capital of Kazakhstan is home to most of the local crane representatives including Sany Central Asia, IV Marka/NAMEX (Avtokran), Kudesnik LLC (Galichanin and Klintsy), HCCK (Tadano mobile cranes), NKB Group Spectehnika LLC (Tadano truck loader cranes), DAK Kazakhstan Ltd (Drogobych), and Bauer.

For the past seven-to-eight years, XCMG and the other Chinese crane manufacturers have presented the traditional Russian suppliers with stiff competition in the large market for 25t truck cranes.

With a population of 17m people in a huge land-locked country of 2.7m sq km, Kazakhstan is the largest regional oil producer with current output averaging approximately 2m barrels per day (mbpd) of oil and natural gas equivalent. In addition to oil and gas, Kazakhstan’s mineral resources are the envy of most of the world.

With a market capitalisation of $6.6bn, Kazakhmys is Kazakhstan’s leading copper producer. It has two massive green-field operations currently under development. Together the $1.9bn Bozshakol project in northern Khazakstan and the $2.0bn Aktogay in the far east of the country are expected to increase Kazakhmy’s copper output by 60% by 2016.

Turkish EPC construction contractor Alsim Alarko Sanayi Tesisleri ve Ticaret AS is operating at the heart of both projects. A fleet of Terex cranes serve the massive infrastructure needs of the projects. In 2012, Terex Cranes’ Istanbul-based distributor DAS Otomotive supplied eight Italianbuilt rough terrains of 60t and 100t capacity, as well as Zweibrückenbuilt Terex AC 200s and AC 350/6 all terrains for work at Bokshakol. A further 15 60-100t rough terrains and 200-350t all terrains went to the Aktogay project.

Beyond the Russian Federation, truck crane manufacturing has long been established in Belarus and the Ukraine. During Soviet days the products of these two neighbouring satellites were supplied in extraordinarily large numbers throughout the USSR. Drogobych (generally now known as DAK) of Lviv, Ukraine alone supplied some 140,000 truck cranes. For decades the trucks and crane carriers of Ukraine’s AvtoKraz as well as those of MAZ of Minsk, Belarus were sold throughout the former Soviet Union – providing a large and broad market presence for these now foreign-owned manufacturers.

While the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian manufacturers of cranes and trucks have a tremendous advantage over importers, foreign suppliers are making vigorous efforts to win a greater market share. Of the Western firms, Liebherr and Palfinger, already with strong market positions, are not resting on their laurels. Following negotiations last December between Liebherr chairman Willi Liebherr and KamAZ General Director Sergey Kogogin, a further top-level Liebherr delegation visited KamAZ headquarters in Naberezhnye Chelny in May of this year. This delegation was led by Liebherr managing director Jan Liebherr, oldest grandson of founder Hans Liebherr, with the purpose of negotiating long-term cooperation agreements between the two companies.

In March, Palfinger CEO Herbert Ortner signed a cooperation agreement with KamAZ for the two enterprises to jointly develop production and distribution. Palfinger already has a strong presence in the Russian and former Soviet markets through Kraft Invest Group, which has represented it since 1996 and with whom Palfinger has had a 49:51 jointventure since 2009 that marked the beginning of increased emphasis on the Russian market. Growing demand for articulated boom loaders and other truckmounted handling machinery persuaded Palfinger to acquire Russia’s Inman knuckle boom loader manufacturer in July 2011. At the time of the deal, Inman had sales of €20m.

The new agreement with KamAz will see the truck manufacturer’s dealer network intensify their promotion of Palfinger cranes and Palfinger-Epsilon forestry products. The PK 15500 is at the forefront of this push, with already over 1,500 in service in Russia and around the region.

Other major players in the regional truck loader market include Tadano, Furukawa-Unic, Amco Veba and Fassi SpA. A year ago Fassi established a cooperation with the leading Belarus heavy duty truck manufacturer MAZ (Minsk Automotive Zavod).

Uzbekneftgaz, the Usbek state gas company, is one of the nation’s most important enterprises. Hydrocarbon, and especially natural gas, exports are responsible for approximately 40% of foreign exchange earnings. In 2011 Trans Asia Gas Pipeline (TAGP), a jointventure between Uzbekneftgaz and China National Petroleum Co. (CNPC), agreed upon the third (Uzbekistan) section of the $20bn 1,883km (1,177 mile) Turkmenistan- China natural gas pipeline.

Until recently Uzbekistan was dependent on imports for almost all its machinery needs. Recent years have seen increasing influence and penetration by the Chinese. While at a government level, Uzbekistan is wary of Chinese influence, one large Chinese construction machinery and mobile crane manufacturer, Guanxi Liugong, has established a significant presence in Uzbekistan. In 2010, Quanxi Liugong won a large contract for the supply of a further 178 pieces of construction machinery valued at $14m and this led to the signing of a joint-venture agreement with Uzagromashservis for Guanxi Liugong to locally-assemble up to 200 excavators per year.

Since late 2011, Ukraine’s leading truck crane manufacturer – Drogobych Crane Plant (DAK) has a successful joint-venture with MAN Auto-Uzbekistan LLC. Established in 2009, the MAN Auto-Uzbekistan joint venture locally-assembles the MAN 26.280 6×4 trucks powered by 280hp (206kW) MAN diesels that provide the base for DAK 18, 20 and 25t capacity truck mounted telescopic cranes. MAN Uzbekistan has proven a good partner, employing its substantial domestic sales team to promote its truck cranes and other construction and utility products mounted on the MAN vehicles.

Crane manufacturers with local representation in Uzbekistan include Liebherr Service AG with a branch in Tashkent and Promoconsult, the Tashkent-based Drogobych distributor. JVM Equipment, the Russian distribtuor of Terex, Sennebogen, and JCB, has a regional office in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Before switching from Grove to Terex, JVM sold a Grove 220t GMK 5220 five-axle all terrain to Uzbekneftgaz.