In the boom period of the last two years, the world’s biggest international crane builders have been expanding their plants and increasing their workforce to meet demand. As demand has slackened in recent months, some of these capacity increases have been reversed, with temporary workers laid off, extended holiday leave for some permanent staff, and redundancies at plants around the world. The challenge for the companies will be to keep margins up during the tough times, while still being ready to meet demand when the economy recovers.

Falling demand hasn’t just hit the crane industry. The US Bureau of Labour Statistics says that the country has lost more than 2.55 million jobs to the economic slowdown, and unemployment in the country has reached 7.2%.

Caterpillar, one of the world’s biggest general plant manufacturers, has announced it will cut 20,000, saying that sales may be down by as much as 25%, and that it may report a loss in its next set of quarterly figures. In the UK, excavator manufacturer JCB has said it will cut 750 jobs.


Speaking to analysts after the company’s full year 2008 results were announced, Manitowoc Cranes president Eric Etchart made the situation facing the crane industry clear. According to a transcript prepared by, Etchart said, “2008 was our best year ever in the crane segment with very strong demand in the first half of the year followed by an accelerated decline in demand during the second half. The worst markets are in western and southern Europe where cancellations have directly impacted our lines of self-erecting and top slewing tower cranes and more recently, our mobile hydraulic product line, but to a much lesser extent.

“Our total crane backlog in Europe has declined by almost 80% compared to the same period last year. This reduction in backlog has left us with the need to right size our employment levels.

“We are taking actions to adjust our cost structures in all regions. This includes workforce reduction in France, Portugal, China, India, and our Shady Grove facility in Pennsylvania. In total, we are reducing our workforce by approximately 22%.”

Manitowoc announced a series of capacity cuts at the end of 2008. A statement issued by Jean-Paul Roudier, Manitowoc vice president of human resources for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, said the measures taken at the company’s tower crane plants included, “The cancellation of virtually all temporary and short-term contracts, the reintegration of sub-contracted activities, the transfer of some of the mobile crane production from Wilhelmshaven (Germany) to the tower crane plants in Charlieu and Moulins, and the temporary suspension of production in France, Slovakia and Portugal.”

Manitowoc continued to reduce capacity in 2009. At a special Central Works Committee meeting on January 15, it announced a staff reduction programme. Roudier said, “This reorganisation project provides for the reduction of 358 jobs within the French organisation. These staff reductions include direct and indirect positions in the production units at La Clayette, where 82 jobs are to be eliminated, Charlieu (132 jobs), and Moulins (104 jobs). In addition, 20 jobs will be eliminated in Manitowoc Crane Care France along with 20 jobs in support services.”

The job cuts and cancellations of temporary contracts at tower crane plants in Europe were accompanied by redundancies at Manitowoc’s mobile crane facility in Shady Grove. According to local reports, the company announced 130 job losses at the plant in December. In January, Manitowoc vice president of human resources for the Americas Dennis Rooney told the Hagerstown Herald-Mail that the number of redundancies would more than double, to include 315 people, made up of 305 production workers and 10 salaried staff.

Explaining the increased number of redundancies, Rooney told the paper, “Things just turned around that quickly. [There has been] a pretty strong softening of the marketplace for our product. The entire 2009 looks pretty soft for us. We’re convinced it’s going to come back beyond 2009.” The company had opened an expansion to the plant in September 2008, adding 170 jobs.


Manitowoc’s main US rival, Terex, also announced job cuts in North America. In a statement, the company said, “Due to a significant decrease in customer orders, the Terex Cranes facility in Waverly [Iowa] has been forced to make the difficult decision to reduce our workforce in order to better align our resources with market demands and our current production levels. In recent years, the Waverly plant has been significantly reorganised to be a highly efficient, lean manufacturing operation. As a result, we will be well positioned to meet increasing demand for our cranes as the economic situation begins to improve.” The company declined to comment on the specific numbers involved. According to the Iowa Gazette, the layoffs will affect around 150 people.

Like Manitowoc, Terex has also made cuts to its tower crane production. According to a release issued by the press office of the municipality of Cusano Milanino, Terex-Comedil’s self erecting tower crane plant in the town is to close, leading to 45 job losses. Terex-Comedil had acquired the Cusano-Milanino facility in July 2001, when it bought Ferro. The acquisition added self erectors to Terex-Comedil’s tower crane range for the first time.

At the time of the acquisition, production at the plant stood at around 250 cranes. According to the Cusano Milanino municipal press office, annual production doubled between 2001 and 2007 246 to 563 cranes. In 2008, however, the municipality reports, production dropped 50%.

The municipality says that Terex and its workforce agreed a reorganisation in 2008: among other measures, 27 workers would accept redundancies. However, Terex decided in December to close the Cusano Milanino plant. According to the municipality, 45 employees received a letter of dismissal on December 16. The decision has met with strong opposition from the workforce, with union members picketing the plant in an effort to change the company’s plan.


Of the big three international crane manufacturers, only Liebherr has so far resisted the pressure to make cuts among its permanent staff. In a statement, a company spokesman said, “Our position is that, for the whole group, and even for divisions that are more critically affected than cranes, there are no layoffs of Liebherr staff intended at the moment. Liebherr has more than 32,000 people on its payroll, about 6,000 more than in 2006.

“We use the flexibility we have to adjust labour capacity. Some staff have taken extended holiday leave. We have adjusted the number of temporary workers we use, who are not on the payroll of Liebherr. We have ‘re-in-sourced’ some of the partial processes in manufacturing that had previously been outsourced in order to match capacities with outstanding high demand.

“This crisis is so singular, with no precedent from the past, that no-one can say what will happen in six months’ time.