Keep on trucking

27 November 2023

When is a truck crane not a truck crane? Julian Champkin is slightly baffled.

A truck crane is a crane that is mounted on a truck. Clear. Easy. Simple. And that is what this writer used to believe...

Indeed, long ago in my distant and innocent youth, I wrote an article to that effect in this very magazine (the December 2020 edition, if you are collecting). 'Take a truck that is made by Volvo,' I wrote, 'or by Scania, or by MAN: stick a crane on the back of it; and you have a truck crane'.

And nobody complained: not the (then) editor, not the crane makers, not the readers. But I am older now, if not necessarily wiser; and life is not as simple as it was; and truck cranes, it seems, do not have to be cranes that are mounted on trucks after all.

Yes, they can be mounted on trucks: on any commercial chassis, from a manufacturer of your choice; but they can also be mounted on chassis that are specially made for them by the crane manufacturer: that is what Link-Belt Cranes does with what it calls its 'telescopic truck cranes'. They also make a TTLB series, which it calls 'truck terrain cranes'.

These machines – a crane on a chassis, and both of them made by Link-Belt, both specially designed around each other - might begin to look like an all-terrain crane, which Link-Belt also makes.

Link-Belt's all-terrain and telescopic truck crane product manager, Andrew Soper explains what distinguishes them: “Our all-terrain crane has the same purpose-built chassis as the telescopic truck crane, but with steerable drive axles in the rear. TT versions are different from an all-terrain crane in that TT cranes have a conventional truck suspension and lack the hydropneumatic suspension typically found on all-terrains. All-terrain cranes typically have driven steer axles on the front of the crane; that is not found on our TT models.”

Link-Belt’s 120/TTLB telescopic truck crane was unveiled last year, at Bauma. As well as its steerable rear axle it has four steering modes (independent front, independent rear, combination and crab), a seven-section 11.7 metre to 50 metre boom, 120-ton capacity and a maximum tipping height of 79.7 metres.

Oh, and typically in North America, cranes mounted on commercial truck chassis are referred to as boom trucks, says Soper.

The advantage of a speciallydesigned and proprietary chassis such as this is clear. As Link-Belt puts it, “it means we can integrate the lifting performance of a truck crane into the transportation performance of the crane. When we design a truck crane we are building a crane from the ground up. We are able to position axles or change the frame design in order to get the best transport and lift performance.”

The advantage of an off-theshelf commercial chassis, on the other hand, is equally clear. Someone else – Volvo, Scania, MAN or whoever – has had all the headaches of designing the truck chassis, and of refining it, and they are absolute experts in doing those things; and the considerable cost of R&D has been passed on, not to crane makers and their customers, but to millions of ordinary truckowners. And the mass-volume production of those chassis brings their cost down even more. So on-the-road costs will be far less. The customer gets, in effect, the bottom half the crane – the half with the wheels on it – at a discount.

There is more. The standard commercial truck chassis is intended to spend every moment of its working life on the move. It has been designed to drive many thousands of kilometres before it wears out. With a crane mounted on its back, though, it will spend only a small fraction of that working life in travelling: it will drive to a job site, spend a fair part of the day more or less static at that jobsite, and then, most likely, drive home again. It is the crane that does the full days’ work and it is probable, therefore, that it is the crane that will wear out long before the truck. Even though it is far cheaper than a custom-designed chassis, the commercial truck chassis is severely overengineered for its crane-carrying job. It will therefore prove reliable, as well as fuel efficient – consumption on the road will be far less than a comparable all-terrain crane on the road - and, as we have seen, it is cheap to buy.

Liebherr also chooses its own way of naming things: it is very definite that it makes, not truck cranes, but truck-mounted cranes. Liebherr started mounting telescopic boom cranes on a standard truck chassis in 1979.

This was the birth of its first telescopic truck-mounted crane, and it called it an LTF. “Even today, LTF cranes are a low-cost alternative when cranes are mainly used as taxi cranes – in other words for short hoists and lots of road journeys,” says the company's spokesperson. “Their use on standard truck chassis make LTF series cranes ideal for driving long distances on the road. And it also provides the high level of comfort of a truck.”

Liebherr can supply crane configurations for all conventional truck chassis – and it can even fit longer cabs that have a bed for the driver in them; 'a comfortable operator is a happy operator' is no bad motto.

And they have more to say in favour of truck (mounted) cranes. LTF cranes comply with all the criteria for an unlimited permanent road licence in Germany. “In addition to being road-ready, use of a truck chassis for a crane has advantages in terms of tyres and other parts subject to wear, since these are produced in large quantities,” says Liebherr.

The company's current truckmounted crane offerings comprise the LTF 1045-4.1 and the larger LTF 1060-4.1 – both of which go on four-axle truck chassis.

The LTF 1045-4.1 has a long telescopic boom (35m, with a lattice jib adding an extra 9.5m), making it ideal, it says, for assembling prefabricated components. Maximum hoist height is 44m, and radius 42m. It can carry its ballast, double folding jib, and hook block at a gross weight of just 38t – which complies with standard axle loads so that no extra transport units are required. The outriggers have Liebherr’s Variobase support technology.

The larger 1060-4.1 increases the capacity to 60t, and boom length and lift height to 40m and 56m, with 48m radius.

From a user’s perspective, “our cranes cover around 15,000 km a year,” says Ibrahim Kücükdag of Bavaria-based crane operator Würtzburger Kranverlein und Bergedienst. “They are much more economical than conventional mobile cranes over long distances. With part ballast the LTF cranes can be licensed exactly like a normal truck. This is a major advantage for our flexibility.”

Tadano’s truck-crane users give similar reasoning for their choice: “We chose this particular crane mainly because it’s a lot more costeffective to buy and operate than an all terrain crane, given the sorts of jobs we intend to use it for,” says Willard Pluimers, managing director of the Netherlands-based crane service provider of the same name.

His Tadano HK 4.070-1 is mounted on a Volvo chassis, one with triple rear axles. The steered trailing axle gives the carrier a very small turning radius. Tadano will also mount them on similarly-axled Scanias.

The HK 4.070-1 has an H-style outrigger system and five outrigger bases, which make the machine extremely versatile at tight work sites; the Tadano Smart Chart intelligent control system gives combined main boom and rooster sheave operation. Though the crane is rated as 70 tonnes capacity, “the system increases the available lifting capacity to the point where we can even use the HK 4.070-1 for lifts in the 80-tonne class,” says Pluimers.

Sylvia Fredeweß is dispatch manager at Cloppenburg, Germany-based truck crane rental firm Härzschel. It, too, runs the Tadano HK 4.070-1. “Its low axle loads mean that we can use the crane without the need for a permit in our region,” she says. “Together with its large lifting capacity and long reach, this makes it way more versatile than the vast majority of cranes out there.”

For Härzschel, another crucial advantage is the commercial truck chassis, which makes it possible to get spare parts quickly and costeffectively if necessary.

“This crane will enable us to cover an incredibly large range of jobs – from machine relocation projects, through roofing and ceiling work in the construction industry, all the way to work in anaerobic digestion plants,” Fredeweß explains.

To prepare it for the latter assignments, Härzschel has equipped its HK 4.050-1 with a load view camera that makes it easier for operators to empty anaerobic digester tanks and do these jobs faster and safer. The crane has a 70t capacity and a 41m main boom length with up to 15.8m of extensions.

Its smaller brother, the HK 4.050-1, has 35.2 m main boom with nine metres of extension.

Bernd Brielmann, managing director of Mössingen, Germanybased crane service provider of the same names, uses its HK 4.070-1 primarily to assemble prefab homes and basements, as well as to set steel and concrete components in place. His is on a Scania chassis: “It gives the HK 4.070-1 the same fuel efficiency as a normal truck, and it experiences much less wear in comparison to an all-terrain crane. It is way more cost-effective than many other options,” he says, adding that the crane’s extraordinary versatility is also a plus factor worth considering.

The latter is due in part to the fact that Brielmann ordered the crane with all the bells and whistles – including a trailer that carries the counterweight. He also has a runner, an emergency lowering system for projects that need a man basket, a camera system, and a wireless remote control that is particularly useful when mounting counterweight elements from the trailer.

A large truck is obviously less manoeuvrable than a small one. A heavy crane needs a large truck to move it. A light crane needs only a small truck to move it. Böcker, the German pioneer of aluminium in crane-making, applied this logic back in 1989, and ever since then has been producing cranes on very small and light trucks indeed, which makes them ideal for city-centre work, especially in the narrow city streets of much of Europe. Roofing work, carpentry, and facade construction and repair are among such applications. The concept took a while to establish itself in the UK, but that has now changed – see box on p46.

And since those early days it has added radio control with colour graphic display and optional camera technology to its truck cranes

The AK 52 is its strongest crane, and perhaps also the strongest of any aluminium crane. It lifts a load of up to 12 tonnes and has an extension length of 52m, with an option of 55m. Mounted on a 26-tonne truck it can lift 100kg to 30m radius and 34m high. It can also be used as a work platform.

The AK 46/6000 fits on a smaller truck, of 18 or 16 tonnes. It lifts a maximum of six tonnes and has an almost circular working area. The reach is 26m with a 1000kg load and can be fitted with a double fully hydraulically extendable luffing jib as an option.

The AK 37 fits on a 7.49 tonne chassis. (Böcker uses MAN or Mercedes). It designed it for roofers and carpenters who want to reach the rear roof and building sites; with a load of 250kg the AK 37 achieves a height of 28m. It also is extremely compact since it has no overhanging mast top. Because of the very small slewing radius of the crane superstructure, and the possible one-sided support from the hydraulic outriggers it can work from it even while road traffic is flowing. In the latest generation the crane is also available as an electric version, the AK 37e, which has additional e-drive and battery with 230 V charging technology.

So, define them how you will, truck cranes are useful and economical – to run and to buy. And if our old definition of a crane on the back of a truck is not quite accurate anymore, it still reasonably well describes the concept.

Easy decision: Berry stays Böcker

UK crane rental company Berry Cranes based in Towcester, Northamptonshire in October took delivery of a new Böcker AK 36 and another new AK 46 truck crane. These machines complement their existing fleet of Böcker cranes, and further machines are to be delivered until 2024. This includes orders for brand-new models like the AK 42 and the new AK 48, presented at Bauma 2022 in Munich. This latter is an electric crane mounted on an electric truck, the Mercedes eActros.

“When we purchased the first Böcker crane in the UK in 2008,” says company founder and managing director Neil Berry, “we did not know just how well they would fi t in. 15 years and 20 new machines later, it was very easy to decide where to place this order. The unique, diverse versatility of the Böcker cranes, and with their quality and backup, has made this a very easy decision.”

Spectacular sight: Sany truck cranes in uzbekistan

Chinese manufacturer Sany also make truck cranes, in 45 tonne, 90 tonne, and 100 tonne-plus versions. A repeat customer in Uzbekistan has just received another 23 units of the 45 tonne STC450 truck crane. Dependability, strength and technological sophistication, says the company, are the reasons for their popularity in that country.

Krösche-Kran of Holzminden have over 60 Liebherr LTF truck-mounted cranes
Netherlandsbased Herms is the first crane service provider in the country to secure a delivery of the Tadano HK4.070-1 truck crane
Link-Belt Crane’s four-axle 120 TTLB truck terrain crane, launched this September