Sales of truck-mounted loader cranes in Southeast Asia have started to climb during the past 15 months as the regional economic upturn encourages private companies and state-run enterprises to upgrade and expand their truck fleets.

While loader crane sales remain someway below the peak levels seen during the mid-1990s, dealers are optimistic that the current increase in orders will be sustained as infrastructure and private industrial investment continue to grow.

One loader crane manufacturer reporting stronger sales in Southeast Asia is Palfinger. “Business is very good. There is a lot of demand, but truck [loader] crane prices are not so good,” commented Jimmy Liew, managing director of Wong Fong Engineering Works Pte Ltd, Palfinger’s sales agent in Singapore. “There was a slowdown in 2002, but then things started to pick up again from the start of 2004. The Singapore economy has picked up during the past year.”

Wong Fong sells Palfinger loader cranes as part of its custom truck engineering business, which includes modifying trucks for use as flatbed, refuse and general-purpose trucks.

Crane siting is flexible

The company designs, builds, and repairs truck-mounted waste handling and load handling systems along with special handling equipment.

Depending on the truck’s eventual use, customers may request a crane to be fitted either behind the driver’s cab, in the middle, or at rear of the truck.

“Our Palfinger business is complementary to our other business,” Liew explained.

“We build up structures for dump trucks, self loaders, gas cylinder carriers with tail lift, rear end refuse compactors, skip loaders, maintenance trucks, and those with special steel bodies.”

Wong Fong offers the full range of Palfinger truck cranes in sizes up to 120 metric tonnes. Most units sold are models below 35t. Occasionally, 90t cranes are sold to Singapore’s construction industry, Liew said, noting that the 72t models are used for moving heavy machinery and lifting sewer and drainage pipes.

As part of the company’s efforts to expand Palfinger crane sales and develop its truck modification business, Wong Fong successfully applied for ISO 9001 certification in 2000, an unusual move for a crane dealer in this area.

“We do military and government jobs and they require ISO certified companies for their contracts. The ISO standard covers the truck [loader] crane business,” Liew explained. “We have to integrate the mounted crane with the modified truck. We do calculations for the mounting. It took us over 18 months to prepare for ISO certification.

“We do the military trucks here in our workshop. The last job was to design and build container trucks for the military. Military trucks need special modifications to mount cranes. Our last military order was for over 100 units of 3m 1,000kg and 3m 3,000kg cranes, which we delivered from 2001 to 2003. Palfinger paints the military truck [loader] cranes olive green.”

Established in 1968 as an engineering workshop, Wong Fong began selling Palfinger cranes in 1996 under a contract with TCJ of Thailand. Since 2001, when the TCJ contract ended, Wong Fong has worked directly with Palfinger. Its 9,000 sq ft workshop is equipped with facilities that include four Demag overhead hoists, and the company employs 80 staff.

“We have the top truck [loader] crane sales in Singapore with over 60% of the market,” Liew said. “We sell a lot, but because the Euro exchange rate has increased there is not as much profit.”

Singapore’s loader crane market is currently estimated at about 150 units a year compared with about 200 units annually in the peak period immediately before the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

According to Liew, Singapore’s construction, transport, and shipyard industries are the main industries using loader cranes. More recently, specialist parks and tree maintenance companies have been buying truck cranes to mount on trucks used by tree maintenance teams to trim back overgrowing branches.

Horticultural applications

“Singapore is a garden city, and the government keeps it up,” Liew said. “Government business is by tender. Private contractors bid for jobs like parks and trees maintenance, and then they buy their equipment.

“There is a lot of tent and marquee rental business for functions. The rental companies use cranes for lifting tables and chairs, and for erecting and pulling down night market stalls and bazaars. Truck [loader] cranes also move power generators used for lighting up events.”

Moving factory machinery is another major use of truck-mounted loader cranes in Singapore.

There is a lot of investment in factories by local and foreign companies,” Liew said. “Even if they are relocating their factories to Indonesia or Malaysia, these companies still need to move machines and equipment.”

The annual market in Singapore for loader cranes used for parks and tree maintenance averages about 10 to 15 units, mostly models ranging from 10 to 19t. In addition, about 30 to 40 loader cranes for general transport use averaging from 25t up to 32t in capacity are sold each year.

A further 15 units, averaging 30 to 32t, are sold annually for construction use, along with about 10 to 15 truck cranes for scrap metal handling which generally are 14 to 19t models.

Apart from fitting loader cranes on newly built vehicles, Wong Fong has also built up an important crane replacement business replacing customers’ existing truck-mounted cranes, which include competing brand models with Palfinger units.

Most trucks in Singapore are licensed by the government for 10 years initially. On expiry, the owner then has to buy another certificate to revalidate the truck for another 10 years or scrap the vehicle. Those extending their truck license may decide to replace their existing truck crane with a new model.

Liew explained that Wong Fong is involved in the second hand loader crane business as a result of its replacement work. Although some reconditioned loader cranes are supplied locally, most are exported. Wong Fong exports about 60 to 80 cranes a year that are reconditioned after being removed for replacement, mainly through trading companies. Australia takes about 40% of the second hand cranes while rest are supplied mainly to Indonesia, East Malaysia, and to Hong Kong en route to southern China.

“China is an upcoming market for second hand truck [loader] cranes,” Liew said. “There is so much demand. China is developing, and they want more of these cranes for pick and go use” (see box above).