Compact class

25 January 2011

The minicrane is a niche that is becoming mainstream. In many cases, its ability to get in close to where a load needs to be placed means it can rival bigger cranes. Phil Bishop reports the latest developments

Mini crane sales have fared no better than other types of lifting equipment during the global downturn. However, the underlying rationale for their use – improved productivity on confined sites and eliminating high-risk manual handling – only continues to grow in validity.

Before the downturn, more and more users came to learn the benefits they offered, in a wide range of applications, especially working underground or inside buildings where their compact size allows them through doorways and into lifts. Latent demand, therefore, remains sound. This is a product category that has come to life only in the past 10 years and is sure to revive solidly once economic activity revives and global industries return to growth mode.

With this in mind, specialist manufacturers have continued an interesting range of new product development in this sector.

There are several ways to segment the mini crane market: pick-and-carry or lift on outriggers; with a cab or walk behind; on wheels or on tracks (usually rubber in both cases); electric powered or diesel powered; or even by size, defined either by lifting capacity or the size of doorway they can pass through.

The mini – or compact – crane concept, as with so many things mini, was pioneered in Japan, where Maeda and Furukawa Unic have led the way with their crawler tracked models. In recent years a handful of Italian manufacturers have sought to challenge their market position. And the past year has seen some innovation from a couple of US companies in this market.

Maeda’s two largest mini cranes, the LC785 (4.9t capacity) and LC1385 (6t capacity) have operator cabs and a similar appearance to zero-tailswing mini excavators, except with a boom. They are pick-and-carry types that are designed to lift without outriggers being deployed.

Last year it added the LC383M-5B, rated at 2.93t capacity and able to pick and carry 1465kg. Features include an 8.7m four-section boom, a programmable moment limiter and an open but covered operator’s cab. Gross weight is 4400kg and width is 1.74m. This model was already available in Japan but has been revised for international markets.

Maeda’s other five models, prefixed MC, are the “spider” type with spider-style outriggers and either an open cab or walk-behind controls, from the 995kg-capacity MC104 up to the 3830kg-capacity MC405, which has a 16.8m boom.

All eight Unic models are spider types, from the 995kg capacity URW-094 to the 6000kg capacity URW-706.

Maeda will be seeking to attract the attention of US customers at the Conexpo trade show in Las Vegas in March. It will be displaying five models, all fully compliant with the local ASME and EPA requirements. Models to be shown range from the 1720kg capacity MC174 to the 4900kg capacity LC785.

“This is the first time fully compliant Maeda mini cranes have been displayed at ConExpo,” says Maeda USA president Tony Inman. “The mini crane method of material handling has been successfully proven in our territory and the market is finding many applications for smaller cranes.”

Alongside the cranes, Maeda will display new attachments that expand the use to include a man-basket, jib attachments, glass manipulator and a searcher hook, which is a boom tip extension arm for lifts where there are overhead restrictions. A new accessory transformer package will also be shown which converts the power supply when operating on electric. Maeda is also looking to sign up distributors across the Americas.

Unic is also looking to win hearts and minds in the USA. When Europe began embracing the Unic mini cranes, US dealer Spydercrane remained for sometime more focused on the larger boom truck market, using Unic’s stiff boom loader cranes. Now, however, it is pushing the mini crawlers as well.

Spydercrane faced off a legal challenge not long ago from SafeWorks, which owns the unrelated Spider brand of lifting products. A Washington state court decided in October 2009 that the Unic mini crawler cranes and boom trucks sold by Spydercrane were sufficiently distinct from Spider hoists, used widely in the entertainment and events sectors, that there was no risk of confusion. SafeWorks’ trademark infringement claim was rejected.

In Europe, master distributor for Unic mini cranes is GGR Cranes, owned and managed by the brother and sister team of Graeme and Gill Riley. GGR began life as a Maeda customer in the late 1990s, renting mini cranes with special vacuum pad attachments to glazing contractors. The Rileys were quick to see the potential of the concept and within five years had bagged the Unic franchise for Europe and set up a crane sales division alongside a diversified rental operation. More recently they have added Italian- made Galizia pick-and-carry cranes to their portfolio as well. Thanks to lively competition between GGR Unic and the UK branch of Maeda master distributor Kranlyft, the UK has been a good market for mini cranes, with several dozen companies now owning them and offering them for hire. Between 2004 and 2008 the UK spider crane population grew from fewer than 40 units to close to 500.

New from Unic this year is a battery-powered version of the URW-295 (2.9t at 1.4m). Battery power is aimed at indoor applications, such as airports, galleries, retail developments and power plants, where noise and fumes may be an issue.

The 295 battery crane has no combustion engine and at only 600mm wide is narrow enough to fit through a standard doorway. This model was recently used in the UK at Liverpool airport terminal hall to lift stair stringers into position from non-airside to air-side as airports only allow electric plant to operate indoors.

As mini cranes are designed to work in restricted spaces GGR Unic now offers the option of work area and slew limitation on all models. It has developed two versions using the Wylie i3000 system. Off-limit zones can be programmed in and can only be over-ridden by inserting a setting key.

Italian company IMAI built its first tracked mini crane in 2002; further special orders followed and in 2006 it created the Jekko brand for its spider cranes, similar in concept to the Unic and Maeda spiders. In 2007 IMAI built a new plant to produce Jekko cranes up to 3t capacity. IMAI was last year merged into its parent company Ormet, an established knuckle boom crane installer.

Jekko director Marco Zava says: “There is no doubt that the global recession had its effects on the mini crane business… but this niche is becoming bigger and bigger.” He says that customers initially consider them to be expensive, but not once they realise the project cost savings and safety benefits that they offer.

Jekko offers five models, from the 1200kg-capacity SPD 265C to the 4000kg-capacity SPX 1040. Its newest model, introduced last year, is the SPX 527. This is based on the SPX 500 but with added features of pick-and-carry capability, slew area limitation and a jib that can be angled upwards (useful typically for placing loads through gaps such as window openings). The boom also has been redesigned to increase the maximum capacity from 1800kg to 2700kg and with an extra 2m length. As with the SPX 1040, introduced in 2009, the SPX 527 has full radio remote control. Both these models will make their Conexpo debut this year. US distributor Keith Shank of C4 Cranes says word of mouth is spreading about this type of crane in the States. “Every day someone new is seeing the benefits of these machines,” he says.

Battery power is particularly appealing to glazing contractors, Shank says, adding: “Nobody wants to haul gas or LP up the buildings and a lot of owners and safety people don’t allow it either.”

Another young Italian player in this sector is Kegiom, established in 2003. It has three machines in its range, with two more in development. The largest is the 8700 E4, which is essentially a double articulating knuckle boom loader crane, to move round obstacles, on a rubber tracked chassis. It offers a maximum hook height of 16m when fitted with 2.24m jib and a maximum lifting capacity of 2690kg.

The 350 E4 Spider has a rated capacity of 2050kg, a boom length of 6.79m and a maximum lifting height of 10m with 1.2m jib attached. It is just 750mm wide when travelling and 4m by 4m footprint with spider outriggers deployed.

While these two models are both on rubber tracks and are diesel/electric and petrol/electric powered respectively, the third in the family is on rubber tyres and battery powered. The 200 Panda has a rated capacity of 1200kg and a 5.2m boom offering lift heights up to 6.5m.

In development this year are two new models at the top and bottom of the range. The radio-controlled 5000 Cobra has a lifting capacity of 5000kg and a 16m boom with hydraulic fly jib. The 200E3 Spider weighs in at just 908kg but can lift 1500kg. The 5.2m boom and 1m jib offer a maximum lifting height of 8.1m.

Italy’s newest producer of self-propelled mini cranes is JMG, whose range of battery-powered cranes starts at 200kg capacity and goes to well above the mini category at 60t. JMG is focused on rubber-tyred pick-and-carry cranes, rather than the spider types.

Including the 22t-capacity MC220 that is in development, JMG offers eight models. Of these, four are less than 5t capacity and less than 1600mm wide and can therefore be considered mini.

The MC20, rated at 200kg capacity and with a body width of just 940mm, has a four section boom with three telescoping sections (one hydraulic, two manual). The operator walks behind the crane, controlling and steering by a handlebar.

The MC25 is a similar concept, rated at 2500kg, with traction in front and 180° steer at the rear. The boom is the same as the MC20 and the winch is also available in high speed version. It is remote controlled by radio or cable. The hydraulic functions are controlled by an electro hydraulic proportional distributor.

The MC45 (previously called MC40) is 4500kg capacity and is the smallest in the JMG family with an on-board operator’s cab. The four-section boom is fully hydraulic. The rear axle is driven and steered. The head of the boom is designed to carry attachments such as forks.

The MC40S is a narrow version of the MC 45, without a cab and therefore 1200mm wide rather than 1550mm, but with the same features and load charts.

So far, JMG has sold direct to customers but is now looking to develop an international network of dealers.

Galizia produces 10 wheeled pick-and-carry models from the smallest G20 up to the biggest G220, with lifting capacities from 2t to 25t and a maximum working height of 15m. They are battery operated as standard, with a diesel engine as an optional extra on certain models.

Three models are in the mini class: the G20 (2000kg capacity), the G35 (3500kg) and the G50 (5000kg).

The G20, the only walk-behind model, is just 928mm wide and has a maximum lifting height of 5.3m and a working radius of 3.5m. All other models have cabs. The G35 is 1.47m wide and the G50 is 1.65m wide.

As previously mentioned, UK hire company GGR has added Galizia pick-and-carry cranes to its offerings to complement its Unic spider cranes. Managing director Graeme Riley says: “We see pick-and-carry cranes coming into their own in workshops, marinas, factories and aircraft hangars - places where a forklift cannot give you the capacity or the reach you need.”

Valla’s illustrious history in crane production was featured in last November’s issue of Cranes Today. Valla produces a comprehensive range of pick-and-carry cranes up to 409t capacity. Within the family are five battery powered pick-and-carry models in the mini class under 1600mm wide. These range from the 2000kg-capacity 20TRX – the only battery-powered Valla crane on crawler tracks – to the 500kg capacity 50E. Valla also has two diesel-powered mini cranes: the 50D and the 35D (3500kg capacity).

Valla models up to the 3000kg-capacity 30E are walk-behind models; larger ones, from the 35E up, have-board cabs.

One of the newest machines from Valla is the 25E, introduced last year. It weighs 2300kg and has a rated capacity of 2550kg. The crane frame has built-in counterweight as well as removable counterweight for maintenance or lifting.

The 25E is also available on request in a Light version, 25EL, weighing 300kg less. Two 25EL units were shipped to US cladding specialist Benson Industries in October. Rated at 2.25 US ton capacity in this version, Benson is using these cranes to install the complex curtain walling system designed to clad both the Freedom Tower and Tower 4 of The World Trade Center development in New York City.

A new entrant in the USA is Smart-Rig Cranes, which announced itself to the world in March 2010 with a battery-powered pick-and-carry mini crane using a water tank as ballast.

The S1 Standard Model weighs 476kg, or 658kg when the water tank is filled with 178 litres of water.

It can lift up to 1100kg and has a 5.5m boom, with optional 6m two-piece pull out. The remote controlled winch is rated at 1360kg. It runs on polyurethane on iron wheels and is narrow enough to fit through 900mm doorways.

“Our cranes are made in America, built tough, built to last,” says founder and CEO Josh Clark. “The Smart-Rig Crane is the only compact, eco-friendly, multipurpose mobile rigging unit for versatile applications. It can work in hard to reach places or where forklifts can’t.”

Finally deserving a mention is Man & Material Lift Engineering, founded in 2000, which customises cranes and other equipment. It offers battery-powered versions of standard industrial carrydeck cranes for indoor applications. Its most compact model is the IC-20, which is 1.2m wide and can lift up to 2268kg on outriggers over the front or 1134kg on rubber tyres.

JMG's compact pick-and-carry MC45 model at work unloading construction materials JMG's compact pick-and-carry MC45 model at work unloading construction materials
Kegiom's 350 E4 Spider has a rated capacity of 2050kg Kegiom's 350 E4 Spider has a rated capacity of 2050kg
A URW-706, the larger crane in the Unic spider range, installing equipment from the roof of the One New Change retail development in the City of London A URW-706, the larger crane in the Unic spider range, installing equipment from the roof of the One New Change retail development in the City of London
Man & Material Lift Engineering's battery-powered IC-55 compact industrial crane Man & Material Lift Engineering's battery-powered IC-55 compact industrial crane
A Maeda minicrane lifts part of a helicopter at the the world's largest dedicated helicopter museum, in Weston-super-Mare in southwest England. A Maeda minicrane lifts part of a helicopter at the the world's largest dedicated helicopter museum, in Weston-super-Mare in southwest England.
Ancient building in Venice Ancient building in Venice