A key to this resilience is their versatility, which provides crane operators with better value for their investment-particularly important during times of uncertainty.

"The rough terrain sector has not suffered too much during the economic slowdown-the cranes are still demanded all over the world, partly due to their versatility," says Michele Mortarino, sales manager at Italian company Locatelli Crane.

"One of the main requirements of our customers is that our cranes be compatible with lots of types of jobs in many different working conditions. This creates more commissioning opportunities and enables customers to use the highest proportion of their fleet. "Because of the demand for the more versatile options, demand for mid-range cranes, such as those with a capacity around 50t, is increasing."

Ed Gibson, North American sales manager at Global Crane Sales, agrees: "Rough terrain cranes are popular because of their versatility- they’re like a Swiss Army knife. They cost less than a truck crane, only have one engine, and are smaller and more versatile."

The cranes have a number of qualities which make them suitable for a range of jobs, says Mike Herbert, global product director at Manitowoc: "The RT has the ability to serve a wide range of projects due to its compactness, boom length and boom extension options, mobility and manoeuvrability with multiple steering modes, operator comfort, and lifting capability.

"It is truly a versatile piece of machinery on any jobsite. It is one of the most economical means of lifting available in the industry. This is part of the reason why the RT business is very focused on equipment rental.

"The cranes are used in virtually all types of civil construction projects, to move materials on the jobsite as well as support the erection of larger crawler and or tower cranes. It is common for a rough terrain crane to be the first crane to arrive on the jobsite and the last crane to leave."

This versatility is also extending to working not just on different projects, but also at different times of day, says Brian Smoot, product manager for rough terrain cranes at Link-Belt: "It is becoming more common for bridge and road projects to be moved to night-time hours, especially in the summer months of the year, so contractors have requested that more light packages be added to Link-Belt cranes. The RTC-8080 Series II has optional light packages that include a remote controlled high-intensity boom floodlight, as well as an above the cab mounted LED light bar.

"At the interstate job near Burbank, California the crews working on the project opted to move to earlier start times to avoid the afternoon heat that came in mid-August 2014 when temperatures reached highs above 43° celsius. By working at night, crews were able to avoid those temperatures and remain productive during the cooler points of the day."

Strong future

The sector has also been bolstered during the economic slowdown by growth in emerging markets such as the Middle East. This has helped to counter slower sales in North America-where Manitowoc’s chief executive Glen Tellock described sales as "weak" in a recent earnings call, and Ron DeFeo, chief executive at Terex, noted a 25% drop in the rough terrain category in 2014.

However, with DeFeo adding that he expects this decline to be nearing an end, manufacturers are predicting that the rough terrain crane sector is now set to grow-with the Middle Eastern market one of the drivers.

"We have seen a very interesting second half to 2014, and are expecting sales to have increased around 15% compared to the first half," says Mortarino at Locatelli. "This is mainly due to a strong performance in the Middle East, Far East and Africa.

"These markets are traditionally dominated by cranes from Chinese and Japanese manufacturers, but we were able to enter the markets, probably because of our competitive pricing. "It is not always easy to initially convince the local users to try our cranes, and to assist with this we are working on establishing partnerships with local distributors in the regions. In the first quarter of 2015 we will make the official presentation of our dealer network. Previously the trend in the Middle East, Far East and Africa regions was to have large lots in a few countries, whereas now customers are looking for distribution of smaller lots in every country.

"The main sector using cranes in these regions is the oil and gas industry-new countries are still discovering opportunities. We are also now working with port authorities-in the last 5-6 years it had been very rare to deal directly with a shipyard."

Scott Smith is director of crane sales at Manitex Industrial, which produces a range of three RT cranes. These are relatively low-capacity-there are 15t and 30t models-and designed to be compact and manoeuvrable, making them particularly well-suited to oil projects. "We supply RTs for projects for tank farms, transmission distribution lines, and fracking pipeyards-but 90% of our RTs work on refineries," says Smith.

"The Middle East market is very big for us, because of all the oil field projects-it is probably as big as the US at the moment. We are also doing lots of work in Canada and South America."

Gibson at Global Crane Sales has also seen growth in the Middle East, but as part of a more widespread global expansion of the use of RTs. "The rough terrain market has been steady over the last two years," says Gibson. "At the moment around 50% of the world market is in the US, but their popularity is starting to catch on in other markets, and there is growth in the global market.

"The Middle East and northern

Africa are strong, and we have seen more rough terrain cranes being used in South Africa and Hong Kong as well This is partly due to US contractors, who are used to working with rough terrain cranes, running projects worldwide."

Kenichiro Kawakami at Japanese crane manufacturer Tadano says the company has seen demand rise in the same regions-North America and the Middle East-with other markets set to follow.

"Our products are mainly used in the energy sector in North America and the Middle East," says Kawakami. "This includes oil-sand mines in Canada, oil fields in the Middle East, and refineries in these areas.

"Our forecast says the demand in Asia-especially India-Africa, and Central/South America will expand in the future. Regarding the demands of mature markets like Japan and North America, the demand is not only for the replacement of current cranes but also purchasing cranes with larger lifting capacities, which will continue after 5-10 years. We think this trend of demanding larger lifting capacities will expand into other areas like Middle East, Southeast Asia, and so forth." New capabilities The trend towards larger capacities is already well-established in some markets, and rough terrain crane manufacturers are also making improvements in other areas. As well as additional capacity, customers are demanding more reach, says Gibson at Global Crane Sales: "One trend is that customers always want more reach-we recently launched a 142ft main boom on a 65t crane, which has proved very popular worldwide. The key advantage is that operators do not have to put out the fly jib, which is a benefit when working in any sector.

"We will be looking at expanding our range of rough terrain cranes at some stage-the next step would be adding a larger-capacity crane."

Scott Smith at Manitex says: "In general, the trend in the rough terrain sector is for larger capacities-there is increasing demand for cranes of more than 65t-as well as for longer reach. However, we focus on more specialized applications where a more compact, manoeuvrable crane is beneficial. Our cranes are down-cab straight cranes and have all the characteristics of RTs-other than the upper not rotating-but are more compact."

Locatelli is soon to introduce a larger-capacity crane, as well as adding features to its existing range, says Mortarino: "We are soon to launch our heavy duty 80t rough terrain crane, and at the Intermat show in April we will launch a new model of 65t crane. Last month we introduced Tier IV engines as an option for our entire range, although conventional engines are still available for customers who do not require the Tier IV technology.

"We are currently redesigning the complete interior of our cabins, to include sliding doors, an electropneumatic joystick, a redesigned steering wheel and column, and greater comfort. We are also standardising all of our cabins, to help reduce maintenance costs.

"We have added a remote control device into our machines, which can obtain and record information from the crane, as well as enabling the operator to set a maintenance and servicing plan for each crane and provide reminders. This is a growing trend in the crane sector, having started in the earth-moving equipment sector."

Link-Belt has also improved the cabins of its cranes, says Smoot: "Link- Belt’s latest rough terrain model is the 135t (150 USt) RTC-80150 Series II which comes with a six-section, 12.9-59.5 m pin and latch boom. The RTC-80150 Series II debuted at ConExpo 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada and includes an operator’s cab ergonomically designed with improved visibility.

"The operator’s cab tilts up to 20° which is always great when you’re working with longer boom in tight spots. A swing-up roof window with windshield wiper and washer, engine-dependent warm water cab heating, a sun screen, and a five-way-adjustable seat with headrest ensure a comfortable work environment."

Tadano is gearing up for the launch of its latest rough terrain crane, set to be introduced in March, says Kawakami: "The GR-500EXL is a newly developed right-hand drive rough terrain crane for overseas markets which meets the needs of its customers in emerging markets, such as those in Southeast Asia. It boasts a 51t capacity, a 42m five-section boom, and right-hand drive.

"Additionally, Tadano has developed this rough terrain crane to have a long boom which is improved from the current model of 34.7m to 42m, becoming the longest boom available in its class. It also provides an extra reach by a two-staged under slung jib that features easy installation at confined job sites and have a good reputation in Southeast Asia, a compact carrier, and improved drivability and safety as well as easy maintenance, and high performance at a great value. We are also developing a left-hand drive version of GR-500EXL.

"We also launched the GR- 1450EX, called the GR-1600XL-2 in the Americas, for the energy sector in North America and the Middle East, and mining sites in South America and Australia. It features a 61m-long boom, the longest boom in its class, and great manoeuverability with fullcounterweight in the jobsite.

"Our customers require mobile cranes that have larger lifting capacities and longer boom length and, especially the energy sector, it is essential to have a crane that can work smoothly while manoeuvering through tight spaces. GR-1450EX meets these requirements perfectly and has a good reputation worldwide, particularly as it can work as 200t class crawler crane for lifting at high height and much better manoeuvrability comparing with the 200t class crawler crane."

Reliability and hardiness are two of the areas identified by Manitowoc as important to their customers, says Herbert: "The changes that occurred in our global economy in 2009 have truly changed the way business people look at capital equipment. It is more important than ever to understand and manage the return on investment for each asset within a customer’s fleet. "When it comes to the rough terrain product, simple is better and the crane needs to be reliable. A simple, reliable product, with the right features, acquisition cost and residual value is really what customers are looking for in a rough terrain crane.

"There are a lot of competitive products that will perform virtually the same work, the key is that Grove optimizes the return on investment for our customers.

"Manitowoc has recently introduced cold-weather packages on all of our rough terrain crane models. We offer two packages that are fully integrated into the crane cab, electrical, and powertrain systems. The first package is our cold weather package for ambient temperatures down to -29° C. The second is our arctic package for operating temperatures down to -40° C."