‘Although we have been exporting and selling our products to overseas markets, mainly Europe, we are unfortunately struggling in North America, which is the largest construction equipment market.’

That is what Japanese Maeda said as recently as last year; and it had a point… and a problem. Traditionally in the US everything is bigger and better. So just how do you sell mini cranes in a maxi-country?

Maeda has been tackling that problem head-on. In 2022 it created Maeda America Inc. in the USA, as a wholly-owned subsidiary to expand its overseas market. And the place it chose to establish it was the state that prides itself on being the biggest and brashest of all the US states: Texas – where size (as well as friendliness) is almost a state of mind.

Selling big diesels in Texas, for example, would have been no problem. They fit in with the stereotype. Robert 'Buck' Trawick, COO of Maeda America, is one of the men Maeda chose to lead the enterprise. Cranes Today caught up with him at Conexpo back in March. ‘Is America ready for Maeda?’ we asked him?

“Round here we have a word for the outlook you are talking about,” he said. “It’s called Bubba. Bubbas are the big guys that want to have the big strong powerful stuff; and you could say that this outlook has been traditional in Texas. But the Bubba world is changing.”

He gave three reasons for that. One is familiarity: “In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Japanese cars entered the market. They needed to prove their capability, and they did, and the quality of Japanese manufacturing gradually became known. I think anyone would agree that Japanese engineering capability and quality is famous. It’s almost as though our machines are handcrafted.”

A second thing that has changed in the Bubba world is the type of building that is going on and the regulation that has gone with it. “What's happening today is that there is a real directional change with architecture,” says Buck. “They are doing some marvellous things that require very strategic types of operating cranes; there are panel walls and hanging roofs where a traditional crane doesn’t work.

"And the other piece of it is there's a lot of indoor working in confined areas where emissions become important and where the government won't allow a more traditional diesel engine to be at work. And OSHA is now really getting deeply into the spider crane – and that is because it is becoming a volume unit. They had not really regulated them separately before, but they are now identifying regulations in that category. And a consequence of this is that there are people who may have been getting away with using other cranes who are no longer going to be able to do that.

“Size is one thing that people have to get over, just as they did with Japanese cars. There was the adjustment: ‘Oh my gosh, I need to have the big wide seats in my car’ but when they realise how easy-to-drive and manoeuvrable the smaller cars were, they bought them. It’s the same with cranes: the efficiency and the cost savings are talking. The people that are renting these cranes are not trying to appeal to Bubba any longer.

They're talking about the bottom line: ‘What’s my cost? Hey, that’s a huge saving – I’ve got to have one!’.

“The other piece of this is transportation. How do you get your crane from location to location? A mini crane you can easily flatbed to those locations. So it is mobile, it is used in confined areas. I think the fact that it is compact and almost handcrafted makes it the equivalent of a specialty tool. If a repairman reaches into his bag he won’t be just grabbing the big hammer anymore. He’s saying, ‘I am a craftsman, I need the tiny ball-peen hammer to do this job well.’ This is artwork.

“So the timing is perfect. It's a perfect storm. The economy is good right now. The marketplace is ready for the mini crane as a product and the piece that's been missing all along is the dealer network.”

Which is what Maeda America has been setting in place. It now has dealership agreements with Wood’s CRW operating out of Vermont – to serve in the northeast New England and Pennsylvania; in Cleveland, Ohio there's ALL Crane, which has branches in Illinois and Indiana; and with Australian crane company Preston Rentals, which has up to now been a user of Maeda cranes rather than a dealer but which is moving to become a dealer in the US under the name Yello, with locations. in Tennessee, Denver, and southern California. “And we have a company called Levitt, out of the Pacific Northwest, who have Oregon, Washington, and are also big in Canada. It is also the Jekko dealer in Canada. We are very pleased to have it on board.” If mini cranes are at last cracking the US marketplace, they are also moving ahead elsewhere. In Europe, Alberto Franceschini is sales and marketing director of the above-mentioned Jekko. “Mini cranes are finally becoming more commonly used in various work environments,” he says. “The increase in demand for them shows this: Jekko has had a 20% increase in our turnover and consequently in our production compared to last year: the last 12 months have seen a positive outlook, and that trend of growth has been common to everyone in the three years of post-pandemic operations.

“Italian markets are being very dynamic, which is greatly helped by government subsidies for companies purchasing new machinery; but positive global economic factors have driven also a dramatic increase in export sales. We expect a similar consolidation over the next 12 months. The sector is seeing a positive trend.”

Even so, he is not expecting a growth rate for his own company: “Our strategy is not to increase production but to preserve our high quality,” he says.

Jekko’s latest model is its SPX328. It has lithium-ion battery drive; and accessories offered are a 500kg electric job, or a one-tonne runner jib stored on board; and a JVM800-R glass manipulator.

In the UK, also, things are happening. Dan Ezzatvar is marketing manager of GGR, a distributor for UNIC mini cranes. Increased versatility and flexibility is what he sees in the market.

“This is in response to customer demand,” he says. It is a trend he sees followed by both Japanese and European manufacturers.

“The market was built and well established by Japanese cranes. European manufacturers have come in and they put more basic facilities within the concept, and that option created a new demand that new products are catering for.”

As witness, he points to Unic’s new products that debuted at Bauma. “We launched a hydraulic fly-jib for the 295 and the 546. We've had hydraulic fly jibs for years but they have been on the larger cranes, the URW 1006, which is a ten-tonne machine, and also the URW 7062, which goes to six tonnes. Now Unic has taken that and brought them onto the smaller models."

Unic also launched a popup crane: the ECO 325. As a spider crane, the design of this is innovatory and ingenious: it has a vertical king-post which, as the name suggests, pops up while the four-section telescoping hydraulic jib articulates from the top of it. The king-post is positioned centrally on the chassis to increase stability. Because of the minimal overhang the design gives the ability to work closer to obstacles than its competitors.

It has expandable tracks, which take the width from 1100mm to 750mm, so it can fit through doorways. The hydraulic jib takes the lifting height from 10.9m to 16.5m and the maximum working radius from 9.82m to 15.7m.

Variable outriggers fit into some of the most confined working areas. Power is from a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which can also be used while still charging.

Ezzatvar points to the threeway relationship between Japanese makers, European makes, and customer demand for onestop- shopping. “At GGR we've always paired the cranes up with attachments. We looked for the best manufacturers of cranes, and of attachments, and offered them as a package. Now it appears that the European mini-crane manufacturers are offering the attachments as well as integrated features. That is a case of manufacturers responding to the demand that we set and created.”

GGR was, in particular, a pioneer of glazing robots – which are effectively very small mini-cranes with suction-pad manipulator heads attached.

“That was very much an innovation that GGR brought to the table. It now appears that European manufacturers are going down the same route from a crane perspective, whereas we offer cranes with them the full range of different attachments.”

As is, for example, Dutch manufacturer Hoeflon, who is offering vacuum lifters for glass as accessories for its range of tracked compact cranes. Jekko, as noted above, does the same.

So, on both sides of the Atlantic, small is becoming beautiful. Uses for the mini crane are legion; and the advantages of doing more with less are taking hold not only in Europe but even in the strongholds of Bubba philosophy.

Stadium Standout

The Palfinger PCC 57.002 is large for a minicrane. In fact at 26 tonnes in weight it might not qualify for that category at all, but for one feature which allows it to get through narrow and low underpasses or doorways into the small spaces inside factories and half-fi nished buildings that are the natural habitat of the minis: it can split itself in half.

The crane unit can separate itself from its crawler chassis. The chassis is low enough to be manoeuvred through tight entrances; and – here’s the clever bit – the crane part of the machine can walk itself along on its outriggers, through those same small entrances, and then lift itself up to reattach to the crawler base once inside.

As was demonstrated recently at Salzburg’s Red Bull Arena. The stadium's stand was to be extended. To do this, nine concrete elements, each weighing 1.3 tonnes, had to be lifted over the stand. There were a number of challenges to overcome: The low stadium entrance had a clearance of just 2.83 metres and a width of 2.87 metres; aisles were narrow with barely any space to turn around, and precise specifi cations of the load-bearing surface allowed a maximum load of 16 tonnes. “It quickly became clear to us that this was a challenging job that a standard four-axle truck crane would never have been able to handle. It would not have been able to enter the stadium or meet the weight requirements,” says Markus Egger, foreman at construction company Doll, which carried out the expansion of the stand.

“The only logical and feasible solution was the Palfi nger PCC 57.002.”

At the low-clearance stadium entrance the Palfi nger crawler did its crane-unit-from chassis separation trick. That is how it was able to pass through into the stadium arena.

Using its own outriggers, the crane part was able gradually to shift itself along the narrow aisles to its operating locations while remaining optimally balanced and stabilised.

Once there and re-connected to the chassis, it was ready to work. So as not to damage the first floor of the stand in the stadium while the concrete elements were being lifted into place, the work had to be carried out with millimetre precision on all sides, which was no great problem. For Egger, this was the first but not the last time he deployed a PCC 57.002: “Whether in the stadium or for other special applications with low access heights, such as in car parks — we are impressed with the compact size combined with excellent manoeuvrability of the Palfinger crawler crane. It is also possible to drive the crane with a suspended load. This is definitely a solution we can recommend.”

Pulling the stops out

Fratelli Ruffatti Organ Builders is a Padua, Italy-based company that, since 1940, has been making and restoring historical pipe organs. The St. Katharine of Siena Parish Church in Wayne, Pennsylvania, USA, commissioned an organ from the company. Installing the instrument took several weeks of intense work.

This is a middle-sized yet extremely valuable organ, hand-made for the church. It has three keyboards and 2,242 pipes. It can be played for either of two identical consoles: one is located in the choir loft, the other one in the side nave.

The crane needed to transport the instrument into the church, and especially to position the two-ton console in the choir loft, had to be small enough to fi t through the church’s standard-sized doors, and light enough not to damage the terrazzo floors. A Jekko SPX532 did the job.

Colt Vacek, service manager of Fascan International, Jekko’s US dealer, said, “size, load capacity, smoothness and precision were crucial to the desired outcome. The SPX532 was no doubt the best choice. Designed to pass through single-width doors easily fitted through the church main door. As a plus for this type of machine, it can work in electric mode so it carried out its work without producing any emissions. The radio control operates the machine from any angle and distance. The work done at the St. Katharine of Siena Parish Church exceeded by far our expectations.”

Michela Ruffatti is responsible for design and manufacturing supervision at Fratelli Ruffatti Organ Builders. “Special care and smoothness are needed to transport and install an organ,” she said. “All the parts are hand-made from fine and valuable materials that need to be treated carefully, especially during transport. The Jekko crane work was simply outstanding, since it was easy and quick in hoisting a heavy load despite its long reach, yet it was extremely smooth in movement. While supervising the work, I was under the impression that it is a user-friendly machine to operate.”

Mike Ambrose, of F. Ambrose Rigging, is the man who operated the SPX532. It was the fi rst time he had undertaken such an unusual project with a Jekko machine but he was impressed. “It has been really simple to use the machine, it’s extremely versatile, and it is the ideal machine to work inside the church because it’s emission-free, easy to operate and agile enough to avoid indoor obstacles such as pews, lights or beams.”

A video of the job can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=KOUUtLGh08g