The hydrocarbon rich heart of the Middle East, the GCC, has been a good market for the international crane sector. A recession may have stung the worldwide economy but in the Gulf energy companies have continued production; refineries have kept refining, petrochemical plants have ‘cracked on’ with deriving olefins and aromatics and industrial growth has remained strong.

At the same time the Gulf’s biggest construction market Saudi Arabia has maintained spending on buildings and infrastructure. "Over the past five years we have grown by about 50%," says Saeed Malik, general manager of Sarens Nass Middle East. The joint venture, which saw international, Belgianbased, crane company Sarens Group join forces with local family owned conglomerate Nass Group in 2002, has expanded beyond its Bahrain headquarters into Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. It works with customers on four different levels: in long term contracts with major clients such as Saudi Aramco, Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) and Kuwait National Petroleum Compacy (KNPC); on EPC contracts doing heavy lift work such as the lifting into place of a huge prefabricated bridge in late January; for contractors doing long term fleet hire — where much of its extensive fleet is employed; and finally providing taxi cranes on day hire basis to subcontractors.

"So this way we cover all segments," says Malik explaining that the company has a very focussed approach working in the oil and gas hydrocarbons sector, providing specialist heavy lift services and serving petrochemicals and industrial plants. "One of the reasons for our growth is that we have given equal importance to each of the countries that we are in," says Malik, explaining that each country has fully fledged facilities with maintenance teams — not just sales staff. "Another reason is that we were in markets that themselves were growing. Just to maintain market share of 7-10% per country you need to grow. Both partners, Sarens and Nass are very good investors."

Investment is paramount to the company, which prides itself on its high standards and quality assurance. It only buys what it considers to be the best cranes: Liebherr, Tadano and Terex. "We purchased 25 cranes last year and bought the first 500t mobile crane to Bahrain," says Malik. This was a 500t Liebherr Mobile Crane LTM 1500-8.1, with the sale announced in March 2013 to coincide with the company celebrating a decade of its operation.

"We have decided that all our future investment will be in midsize cranes as these are our best performing in terms of utilisation."

In 2014, this meant purchasing a further 32 units including 11 Tadano 80t rough terrain cranes and 21 Liebherr 100t and 200t all terrain machines. "The plan for the next five years is 12-18 % growth, we want to consolidate," says Malik.

Manufacturers too report strong demand in this segment. Christian Kassner, senior sales and customer support manager at Terex Cranes says that a very significant, steady and growing demand for their AT, RT and crawlers comes from the petrochemical, energy and infrastructure applications where these cranes play a vital role. For example logistics, shipping and equipment firm AGAM Group Limited Company in Kuwait recently used a newly acquired Terex AC 250-1 for replacement of a 70t transformer. Operations manager Naseem Qureshi says that the machine will be used in oil refineries for maintenance work and in construction of new facilities, on power projects and for road bridge construction.

Another local firm, the UAE’s Al Jaber Heavy Lift Group is also a well known client of Terex Cranes as it is one of just three companies in the world to have purchased the 3200t CC8800-1 Twin machine. "Petrochemical & energy related projects tend to have the most strict safety and reliability requirements, independently of the country where these are being carried out." says Kessner. "This makes Terex crawler cranes very popular and there is a large population of them especially on the class above 400t. Models like the Terex CC 2800-1 around the 600t "heavy" class and the Terex CC 8800-1 around the 1,600t "super heavy" class are considered the standard when planning projects."

Building and construction too is another important sector for crawlers, rubber tyre mobile cranes and of course the staple for any high rise development, tower cranes.

Manufacturer Manitowoc says that although the energy sector remained strong, building and construction suffered following the 2008/2009 downturn. "What really stopped was the Dubai real estate boom and that had a strong impact on the tower crane business as we only had Saudi that was still doing building and construction, everywhere else was extremely slow," says David Semple, VP for sales Middle East and Africa.

"What we now see in the last 1.5 years is the wider market coming back very strongly," he says, pointing to Qatar as a good example of major growth. "If you had asked me about Qatar last year I would have said it was all talk but now it has really started to come up as major road and rail contracts are being awarded. The UAE is also returning as Dubai has overcome its debt problem and is back in the game now."

Dubai, an emirate in the UAE that has never been short on ambition, most notably delivering the world’s tallest building the 828m Burj Khalifa in January 2010, will also be hosting the 2020 World Expo giving further stimulus to the building sector. In fact developers such as Emaar Properties have already begun announcing new tower blocks and developments. "Without a doubt the UAE is going to be a very challenging and prestigious job site," says Semple. "It is already quite a remarkable place that has come out of nowhere in last 15-20 years in a well planned and thought through manner. They have smart master planners and already have the world’s tallest tower and offshore islands. They don’t need to build much more to attract people."

However the ambition of Dubai’s developers, and others in the region, creates construction challenges. "The issue is that some of the proposed buildings are so unique that the contractors need help working out how to set up and tie-in the tower cranes during construction," says Dayne Davis, a structural engineer and founding director at Van Doorn Tower Crane Consultants. He says that the company has seen an increase in demand for its consultancy service in the Middle East in recent months. "Many clients in the region are visionaries and this has led to unique situations that the traditional tower crane community had not come across, buildings with crazy geometries, and curved edges and so on and this fantastically affects the cranes," he says pointing to the famous Dubai hotel the Burj Al Arab which has a complex sail shaped outline that billows over the waterside. Fellow founder of Van Doorn Tower Crane Consulting, Cornelius Van Doorn, worked on this unique building which needed an alternative tower crane strategy as the curvature created long distances from the building edge to the tower crane tie in points.

Head of tower cranes at the world’s leading tower crane manufacturer Liebherr Hans-Martin Frech says that the complexity of projects is a challenge along with the spontaneity and the speed of the decisions being taken by customers. Liebherr supplies nearly its entire range of tower cranes to the region including the EC-H range, the HC range, the EC-B range and the HC-L range. For dismantling the tower cranes of high buildings they also have their derrick crane. "The most popular machines in this region are the 280 EC-H, the 357 HC-L and 542 HC-L," says Frech, who gives several examples of important schemes that have used the cranes including the National Museum in Qatar. Here the client Hyundai Engineering and Construction rented 12 tower cranes from Liebherr dealer United Equipment Group for the construction of the Jean Nouvel designed museum better known as Qatar’s Desert Rose. The cranes are a combination of 12t capacity high top 280 EC-H 12 Litronics, 16t capacity 280 EC-H 16 Litronics, 40t 630 EH-H 40 Litronics, and two ‘top of the range’ 80t 1000 EC-H 50 Litronics. Frech also points to other major projects such as the new Midfield Terminal in Abu Dhabi and also a lot of luffing tower cranes in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s Holy City of Mecca has been subject to a multibillion dollar investment programme to provide better accommodation and facilities for the millions of pilgrims that visit the Kingdom every year. This has included a multitude of tower blocks and used hundreds of tower cranes in a challenging environment. "Mecca is very mountainous," says Dayne. "Cranes could not be put on the side of many of the buildings because they were sitting against the mountainside so we had to devise a strategy where we would put cranes in the middle and then find a way of dismantling them that did not disrupt the construction process," he says, This meant putting them in lift shafts and other voids and ensuring that each crane had a long enough jib to reach the crane beside it. "And we had to also make sure that each crane had enough girth on it to be able to lift materials through the hole to finish off the building. Once you take the tower crane out we use the neighbouring crane to drop the remaining floor segments in one by one and put the roof on and then repeat the process."

For the crane industry the increasing complexity and value of projects means that tower crane maintenance and technical support is even more vital. "Standstill is money and the maintenance and service of a tower crane must be very quick," says Frech. "It is the combination of man and machine that matters, and finally a trustful and respectful relationship that exceeds the jobsite’s duration," he says.

This philosophy is certainly serving Liebherr well with clients like Sarens Nass praising the company for its support. "The aftercare service of Liebherr is phenomenal," says Malik

Of course a busy market is not without its challenges. "Time is of the essence in UAE and Saudi Arabia. Our cranes are subject to 24 hour seven days a week working for 365 days of the year. Where you would use a machine in the US or Europe for 25 years here some customers would need to think of replacing it after 12-15 years," says Semple.

Firms also point to the level of regulation in the region as being another challenge and say that the training and licenses required by operators are often left to the discretion of the owner. "There are firms that are very good at training and insist on top quality but unfortunately there are probably more people who don’t really care and are not willing to invest in these kind of issues," says Semple. Other firms point to logistical challenges and say that getting visas for staff can be difficult depending on their country of origin, and availability of expertise.

Super Size Bridge Lift
Earlier this year Sarens Nass Middle East used a self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT) to install a new 122.5m long bridge needed for a new access route into the US Navy facility.

The work involved lifting a prefabricated 2650t bridge into place over the existing Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Highway in an overnight closure. Main contractor was the Contrack Nass JV who undertook the work using this method to save months of road closures and disruption that would have ensued if the work had been done in-situ. The new tied arch cable suspension bridge is 122.5m long, 16m wide and 21.4m tall and hosts a 16m wide post tensioned concrete deck. "The entire bridge was constructed at an offsite facility about 250 meters away from the permanent location across Prince Khalifa Bin Salman Highway and was moved to be placed at two end piers with highway completely open." says Ghazi Nass, Supervisory Board Member of Contrack Nass J.V. and Director of Nass Corporation B.S.C.

Sarens Nass provided 96 axles of self-propelled modular trailers for transporting the 3000 ton bridge and jacking it to the bearing points on the highway. Bahrain’s Ministry of Works had ordered the closure of the highway to carry out this ambitious operation, a first in the Middle East.

Sami Nass, Managing Director of Sarens Nass Middle East and Nass Corporation B.S.C. says "Even though we have 1000 axles working every day in the Sarens Nass fleet, this project was unique and challenging because of the engineering aspects involved in the movement and jacking process. Every millimeter of precision on the move is important to ensure safety of the bridge."

Firms subcontracted by Contrack Nass JV for bridge manufacturing and installation:

– Tony Gee and Partners – third party bridge designer for bridge modelling and design of temporary works

– Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Middle East (Private) Limited – fabrication and installation Structural Steel Arch Rib

– Mekano4 MK4 for installing and tensioning the hangers which were supplied by Redealli thru Contrack Nass JV;

– VSL Middle East LLC for bridge deck post tensioning, jacking of the bridge and stressing of PT bars between lifting beams and bridge deck;

– Nass Mechanical Contracting Co W.L.L. for fabrication and installation of lifting beams and for installation of Arch ribs under Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Middle East (Private) Limited

Transportation sees strong demand
Special transport solutions are often needed in the Middle East where petrochemical sites and power stations can often be found surrounded by desert. Huge components needed to build, maintain and operate industrial facilities have to be carried by high capacity multi-axle trailers that can cope with the terrain. "Our trailers have a very high stroke of 600mm on each wheel set which makes it easier to manoeuvre within a terrain that is uneven and allows you to keep the load level," says Julian Thelen, sales manager Middle East for heavy haul trailer specialist manufacturer Faymonville. "Most trailers that we build can take 45t per axle, obviously that is at very slow speed."

Most trailers are not loaded to ultimate capacity and will travel at around 20/25kmph. Thelen says that over the past couple of years the firm has sold equipment to all major GCC countries and other markets such as Jordan and Iraq. This is one of the par ts of the world where we are still expecting a lot of growth whereas other parts of the world that are stagnating or having a hard time. Faymonville has a wide product range but says that most of its Middle East enquiries are for heavy lift sector. "This then means heavier low bed 8-9-axle trailers which we call the multimax range. These can transport up to 100 or 120t payload. We then go over to modular trailers which we call our module max range. This is special as it can be compatible and interoperable with trailers from other manufacturers," says Thelen.