For the all-terrain crane user the tasks they are required to do are usually time critical. Operations are often planned well ahead and delays can be disruptive for schedules and work-paths, costing money and reorganisation effort.

Uwe Renk, marketing manager, Tadano, says, "Any interruption of performance on the jobsite causes trouble for all parties. In order to put the crane back to operation again a highly sophisticated service organisation is required."

Most of the big manufacturers recognise the significance of support for their equipment and place a major emphasis on providing efficient and timely backup, from basic parts provision to help and assistance for breakdowns. Liebherr sales manager Wolfgang Beringer says that reliable spare parts provision over several decades has been a key factor in a good market perception of the company’s units. Link-Belt from the southern US equally declares that it puts "a huge amount of focus" on spares, even for some of its oldest models. Manitowoc, also from the States, has a formalised system of spares and service provision under its Crane Care designation and last but not least US-based Terex is in the middle of a worldwide reorganisation to upgrade spares provision.

Modern backup and support also includes help and advice with servicing and increasingly the monitoring of crane functions, and remote access to the data, to provide for both timely service work and the pre-emptive replacement of worn or near life-expired parts. Major repair and replacement is important and from some of the manufacturers, complete renovation and overhaul is offered and even upgrading of machines. Manitowoc offers this under its EnCORE programme for example.

Support begins with parts however, as all the makers underline, either supplied directly or through the dealer network.

Japanese-owned US maker Link-Belt coordinates this work directly from its home base in Lexington, Kentucky where it runs and coordinates the worldwide parts supply from its own logistics centre. The advantage, says Link- Belt supervisor for parts marketing and pricing Kelly Ghani, is that the inventory is combined with production line stock which creates economy of scale and a useful overlap. "In a pinch we can always pull something from the production line itself," she says.

The centre, directly run by the company, operates via its world distributor network, a system that works says Ghani because "we have the best dealers in the world we believe". Personnel from the distributors attend the centre for training in parts ordering and provision.

"They can then interact with us round the clock, because we understand that global supply needs us to have a 24/7 response and our part system is available that basis." The parts centre itself works two ten-hour shifts for fulfilling orders and sending them out, for the US and selected markets, on a same-day basis.

Local distributors also maintain an inventory of the more commonly required parts.

This is a major change from three decades ago, she say,s and a response to both worldwide demand and the possibilities of modern technology, particularly the internet. Distributors can discuss parts with the centre’s specialists while looking at diagrams online.

Helping with parts and service is a system for accessing parts pages, service manuals and operator manuals which is available if customers sign up for a Link-Belt Preferred membership.

"We have done it for at least a decade though it has recently been enhanced," says marketing communication manager Bruce Kabalan. Recent changes include 3D multi-angle view component diagrams and machine specific manuals which are accessed by entering the serial number.

Tadano has been working to develop the back office systems supporting its parts supply. Renk says, "Tadano Group is presently unifying its global IT system to SAP. This will mean same data on all cranes in the market in any place in the world."

In some regions, there are special issues. Australian Ben Baden running the Baden Davis Crane Connection in Sydney, who took on the Link-Belt distributorship five years ago, says that the remote and far flung nature of the country creates difficulties for his service crews. Extensive travel can be needed to get to outback and mountain mineral facilities in this huge continent,

sometime requiring one or two days. Clearance to go onto mines, particularly for valuable metals, can be difficult and this is compounded by very stringent general national and industry specific safety regulations which require sometimes day-long inductions or even more.

"Some projects are off the coast for oil and gas and can be remote even by Australian standards," he adds. "These are often environmentally protected so the machines have to have ‘weed and clean’ treatment if they come back for repair."

Despite the remoteness, freight companies like TNT are able to supply a very fast delivery to many areas, "but although they do ‘same day’ to main points it still has to get to the sites which can add time. "As far as possible we convince the customer to keep an inventory on site which can prove more cost effective than losing the down time." He adds that traditional phone ordering remains important here, because the remoter areas can have little or no mobile phone and internet connectivity. "But most of the users have their own workshops on site and there is usually someone mechanically literate to talk through the issue with and determine the parts needed."

Liebherr works differently with a parts supply network of its own subsidiary companies in the major regions. Usually these are depots that might also be handling spares for other division too such as earthmoving, though the different lines are separately responsible. A few regions have more than one centre, such as Canada, another of the world’s very large countries with many remote operations, particularly in the Arctic.

"We don’t have dealers as such but do have sales and service partner companies that we will usually have worked with for decades," says Beringer.

The parts and service centres hold a range of stock according to the population of the cranes in the area, he says, "and in our busiest markets like Germany and France they would even have big components like transmissions."

They deliver parts by the TNT courier service primarily and for key markets, provided an order is in by 5pm it can be delivered by midday following.

Customers can talk with specialists at the centre for advice on parts and in some cases the technicians will go out to see the customer.

Terex is currently restructuring its entire worldwide spares distribution. "We are in a major transition to a global parts service," says Frank Schröder, "moving from a factorycentric service two to three years ago to a more customer centric one, accommodating better to local markets."

A three-part process has begun, he says, with the establishment of global sourcing warehouses distributing to regional distribution centres for large areas such as North America, the Europe and Middle East, and south-east Asia. One of the regional centres has just opened in Singapore, for example.

In turn these will supply satellite parts centres for more local distribution which could be via a dealer, directly operated or in some cases by a specialist third party. This network is in the middle of being set up, he says, with some already operating in Saudi Arabia, São Paulo in Brazil and, naturally, for the UK and Ireland which historically has strong links with the Terex company.

"There is also a base in China, for the domestic market," he adds. In Turkey, Terex cranes are supplied and serviced by major dealer Das Otomotiv. The dealer also covers Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan where it has satellite facilities for thee huge areas to complement its Istanbul centre, which controls its Turkish and world wise operations.

"Parts are ordered directly from Terex through its online web system," says aftersales manager Orçun Urcan. But very often the company repair and service technicians will be working with customers to advise and aid with maintenance which can involve significant travel. For large customers the dealer will place technicians with the customer. With the right service agreement a container of spares stock is also placed with customers.

"As well as the market areas we support customers in many other countries," he says. The Turkish construction industry has grown significantly and companies work world wide. Jobs for the Otomotiv technicians have taken them to Latin America, and remote sites in countries like Eritrea.

US manufacturer Manitowoc supplies parts under its Crane Care system, from two major Parts Distribution Centres. For the US and the rest of North America this is now from a big new facility in Jeffersonville, Indiana covering just over 13,000 sq m storing some 70,000 items, while the rest of the global market is serviced from a centre in France at Décines.

Parts can be ordered directly via a Global Parts Express system and are also available from a widespread distributor network, the company says.

One of these is the big Canadian dealer Strongco, covering an extensive territory from Alberta in the west to Quebec and even down to US border states in New England, with over two dozen strategic locations. Most customers are in the urban areas but there are many remote locations all the way into the Arctic Circle which its technicians have to reach by plane.

"Customers prefer to use their own technicians for routine service work," says Bill Ostrander, vicepresident for cranes. "So we get called out for warranty and major repair issues.

"Product support is through the Crane Care system which is the main point of contact." Manitowoc brings remote monitoring and crane renovation under the Crane Care Umbrella, with a system called CraneSTAR. Like most manufacturers this takes advantage of the modern electronic control systems on cranes to gather data on crane operations, such as hours of use, fuel usage and lifting data. Data capture is every 30 minutes with a GSM system (mobile phone transmission) to a central database giving the user access via CraneSTAR on the web. "We link in to the ‘canvas’ which is the data transmission system on the crane," says European marketing manager Jean-Jacques Habib. The system is still being rolled out and so far is on 60% of cranes. "For the present the cost of the system is free for the first three years," says Habib, "to encourage its use and so that people get used to it and learn how to get the most out of it." The possibilities are only just emerging, he says.

Strongco for example says that some of its customers are taking it up but not all are yet using it. For rental owners the benefits include being able to track actual use and position of crane fleets and even to set virtual boundaries for the geographical area it can be used within. For maintenance it alerts users to upcoming service needs. It can also be useful for incident and accident analysis. But data can only be released with the owner’s agreement. Legally they own the data and Manitowoc has to get a signed agreement before it can be activated.

Link-Belt has also been strongly developing remote monitoring and in the near future all its cranes will be telematics capable, says Kabalan. It recently extended basic capacities with a new system rolled out at the Conexpo equipment show that monitors 240 data points on the cranes.

"That allows monitoring of individual functions such a slewing for example and gives much a much better analysis for predictive maintenance and component replacement than a straightforward hours-of-use method," he explains. "It measures a lot of valuable information like winch turns, loads, swings. For example one user might use much more boom turning than another, or work only with light loads primarily.

"Control is in the hands of the end user though we encourage them to share the data with us for making the most of the system."

At Liebherr, Beringer says that a remote diagnostics system has been developing since the 1990s. "Originally it was only an option but starting with the model LTC 1055 it was standard. Now all models with the new crane control LICCON2 system are equipped."

The system uses a mobile phone connection and Liebherr provides the SIM card for the first two years which the customer renews after that. "Remote Diagnostics can be used almost worldwide if there is a phone network so it is not internet dependent," he says.

It is not a logging system he emphasises and no data is stored, rather it allows engineers to examine the crane at a distance to assist in trouble shooting. "In many cases it can also be judged which spare parts might be needed."

Data logging is provided by Liebherr for other equipment but Beringer says there is less demand with cranes. Most customers have relatively small fleets compared to big construction companies operating excavators and the like, and "they know where their machines are." Terex is also developing telematics system at present says Schröder, though "we are in a test phase with that. We see the benefits."

As with other makers Terex says that the advantages are two-way, allowing customers to monitor their fleets but equally allowing the makes to understand better how cranes are used, which can feed back into design.

A final element of support for cranes is major repair and even renovations. Most of the makers have capacities to renovate machines and return them to the market; Liebherr for example has a substantial turnover of some 300 "middle aged" machines at its works in southern Germany, for second-hand sale, and depending on requirement these are simply checked over, refitted with new tyres and cylinders, or given a complete overhaul and warranty.

Other do similar work but Manitowoc has perhaps gone the furthest, incorporating into its Crane Care system the EnCORE programme of both renovation and upgrade.

Though aimed largely at tower cranes and large equipment it also covers all terrain models.

EnCORE is primarily aimed at providing repair options, says the company, but can also be used to rebuild and re-manufacture cranes. "Re-manufactured cranes through the EnCORE programme come with a new one-year warranty," it says. The programme includes upgrading cranes by installation of new safety features and other equipment that were not available at the time of purchase.