Origin of the species

17 November 2022


Key milestones in the evolution of modern mobile and tower cranes, as noted by crane expert and long-time Cranes Today contributor Stuart Anderson.

When the first issue of Cranes appeared in 1966 there was already a well-established crane industry. In those days much of the news carried by the magazine focussed on the large and diverse UK crane industry. Even though the US and many European countries also had well-established crane manufacturing companies and cranes were being sold and used all over the world, obtaining news of these activities in those days was a real challenge.

Since the 1930s crane hire (rental) had been well-established in the US and by the 1960s was fast-growing in the UK but much less-so in Europe. Since the turn of the century, earlier steam-powered cranes had given way to petrol (gasoline) and diesel-powered cranes mounted on crawler bases as well as rubber-tyred self-propelled chassis with increasingly sophisticated power transmissions. While most cranes relied upon mechanical transmissions some makers, such as Coles Cranes, Gottwald and others, preferred diesel electric systems.

The use of crawler undercarriages was pioneered by Bucyrus of the US with its type 14 dragline of 1911. It was 1914 when the first gasoline engine-powered excavator/crane was introduced by P&H with their Model 210. As diesel engines emerged, it would be 1932 when excavator/crane market-leader Lorain installed a Cat diesel. In 1934 Eisenwerk Rothe Erde introduced a ball-bearing slew ring as an advanced option to the hook-and-roller swing systems that were the industry norm. In 1941 Manitowoc introduced the 65-ton capacity 3900 as one of the first purpose-designed crawler cranes and in 1945 Lorain’s new TL series was the first with a completely welded upper works (rather than one employing castings and riveting).

Although Coles Cranes had been a pioneer with its first truck crane of 1922, across the Atlantic such developments also soared ahead in the hands of companies like Universal (later Lorain), Harnischfeger P&H, Bay City, and Orton & Steinbrenner.

The first tower cranes had been also developed in France by Jules Weitz and Grues Besnard and in Germany by Julius Wolff and Carl Peschke, and Peschke’s son Karl. These were small cranes, typically of one tonne capacity or less, and a reach of between 5 and 16 metres.

EARLY INFLUENCERS

American mechanical crane and excavator technology became dominant worldwide during the post-war building boom.

In addition to their sales and marketing efforts, which were far more advanced than those of Europe, US manufacturers spread their influence around the world by establishing joint-venture manufacturing or granting licenses in markets as far afield as Germany, France, Japan, India, Australia, Mexico, Canada and Brazil.

Though virtually every European country by then had its own crane and excavator manufacturing industry, US manufacturers continued unheeded to expand their European market presence. New licenses were established in Spain (Koehring - 1952), Germany (P&H - with Rheinstahl: 1955), France (Marion - 1960), and the UK (Unit - with Coles/Neals - 1960). In Italy, Link-Belt acquired the former O&K excavator plant in Milan in 1964, forming Link-Belt SpA.

Another company which had grown very strong though acquisitions, Koehring Company, acquired 40% of the UK’s Ransomes & Rapier forming NCKRapier in 1964 and two years later bought 70% of one of German’s oldest excavator/crane producers: Menck & Hambrock of Hamburg.

Even in the 1960s Chinese enterprises were already developing small tower cranes.

During the first half of the 20th century mobile cranes had grown ever-larger and more powerful. Before cranes achieved independent mobility, however, as early as the late 19th century, small tower cranes were at work in some of Europe’s leading cities. Amongst their builders were Carl Peschke and Julius Wolff, both of Germany. By 1927 they had been joined by Pekazette of Zweibrucken, Germany, and Carlo Ferro of Milan, Italy.

These early tower cranes were small bottom-slewers with offset luffing jibs and lifting capacities of between one and three tonnes and working radii of from five to 15 metres. As these small tower cranes were developed they quickly became a staple for house-builders across Europe and, in turn, created a new and dynamic manufacturing industry that especially took root in France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Switzerland.

However, even as tower cranes proliferated across Europe their use in the UK was severely limited. This, in part, was due to the prevailing ‘not invented here’ attitude. Britain’s hand-built brick-and-mortar house building approach also played a role, as did the widely-used, locally-manufactured Scotch-derricks (or stiff-leg derricks) that had become a staple for long reach lifting in ports, quarries, dockyards and shipyards. The leading manufacturer was Butters Brothers of Glasgow which succeeded in selling thousands of these simple cranes throughout the British Empire and beyond.

Elsewhere, hydraulic crane development and demand continued around the world. Some traditional mechanical crane and excavators were drawn in.

Amongst the first was Bucyrus- Erie, the leading excavator maker which, in 1948, acquired a small local firm, Milwaukee Hydraulics, which had developed the world’s first telescopic truck-mounted cranes of two- to five-tonnes capacity. These cranes were mounted on two-axle commercial trucks and featured a threesection cantilevered telescopic 35 ft. (10.7m) boom.

Of the first Mechanical Handling Exhibition held at Crystal Palace, London, UK, in 1948 the August journal of Commercial Motor made the somewhat exaggerated boast, “during the past two years the mechanical handling industry has seen considerable expansion with the result that this country [UK] can now boast of equipment as good as any to be found in the world”. Exhibits included a one-tonne capacity Coles all-electric full-slew mobile crane and Jones mobile cranes with capacities of two and four tonnes.

Fifteen years later, in 1963, the dominant exhibit was a Coles Centurion lattice truck crane, rated 75 tons (100 US tons) at 12ft (3.66m) radius, heralded as the largest truck crane in the world.

ROUGH TERRAIN AND TOWER CRANE DEVELOPMENT

The first rough terrain cranes were developed during the mid-1950s. Austin-Western Co. developed the first five-tonne capacity rough terrain crane with the operator’s seat (no cab) located at the front, just ahead of the front axle and featuring 4x4 wheel steer and 4x4 wheel drive.

In 1957, Grove introduced its first rough terrain crane – this time with a capacity of 12t and with a cab mounted on the chassis to the side of the boom. Similarly telescopic truck-mounted cranes, of small capacity (one to three tonnes), would soon be developed in 1955 by Japan’s first telescopic crane manufacturers Tadano and Unic and, in 1958, by Kato.

American companies, primarily Austin-Western, Grove, Bucyrus- Erie and Drott, pioneered many of the early technical innovations and concepts in hydraulic crane development. Even so, as early as 1956, the UK’s F. Taylor & Sons (later part of Coles Cranes) and the British Hoist & Crane Co. (Iron Fairy) developed small pick-and-carry mobile telescopics.

By 1958 Coles Cranes had adopted diesel-electric transmissions as standard and offered a line of 15 models of up to 45t capacity available in self-propelled, truck-mounted and rail-mounted versions.

By the 1950s tower cranes had also developed in capacity and reach and the first saddlejib cranes using trolley-mounted hooks, from Potain, Linden, and others, were arriving to supersede the needle type cranes that had been the staple for some 50 years.

Considering all of the main varieties of crane, for the tower crane industry the late 1940s and early 1950s were the most tumultuous. Across Europe new manufacturers cropped up with breath taking regularity.

Soon after the end of the second world war, in 1945, Braud & Faucheux of Ancenis, in the Loire region of France, developed their first small ‘tower’ crane. Its designer was killed during the liberation of Ancenis leaving the company to be managed for many years by his widow. In 1949 Hans Liebherr had built his first, and the world’s first self-erecting crane, the TK 10, and by 1952 new tower crane businesses had been started in the shape of Cadillon, Konig, Ferro, Boilot, Hilgers, Simma, Reich, Pekazette, Schwing, and, in Finland, Betox.

By the mid-1950s small tower cranes were increasingly used in residential construction in mainland Europe and manufacturers began to focus on particular size and type categories.

THE 1950S AND 1960S

During the 1950s the development of the purpose-built crane carrier chassis had revolutionised lattice truck crane development and soon, larger size telescopic truck cranes (on crane carrier chassis) were also being built.

Specialist vehicle manufacturers Faun and Atkinson were joined, in 1963, by Foden which brought enhanced levels of quality and sophistication to the crane industry. By that time lattice boom cranes had reached an advanced level of technical maturity. Meanwhile, during the 1960s, the number of US manufacturers of telescopic cranes grew with well-over 20 firms entering to industry including Pettibone (1961), Galion (1963), Lorain and Shield Bantam (1967), P&H (1968) and Link-Belt (1969).

GAME CHANGER

The world’s first 25 ton tele truck crane was introduced by Grove in 1964, followed in 1966 by the first 30-tonner from Pettibone, the first 45-tonner from Grove also in 1966, a 50-ton Pettibone in 1967, a 65-tonner from P&H in 1969 and the 80-ton Grove TM 800 in 1970. In particular the TM 800 was a real game-changer, featuring the patented Trapezoidal boom.

Meanwhile, in In Japan, Kato introduced a 32-tonne truck crane in 1967 and, in 1969, the NK75 – a 75-tonne capacity truck crane mounted on a four-axle Mitsubishi Fuso carrier and with a 43m four-section full power boom – claimed to be the longest in the world.

In Germany Demag introduced its rounded ‘Ovaloid’ boom in 1970 and, in 1975, introduced the world’s largest tele boom crane in the shape of the 140-tonne capacity HC 500.

As had been the case pre-war, the European crane market of the 1960s remained dominated by small mechanical crawler and increasingly truck-mounted excavator/cranes of nine to 15 tonnes capacity. Industry leader was UK-based Ruston-Bucyrus (R-B) which produced as many as 1,800 units per year and ultimately 10,246 between 1950 and 1985.

R-B was the UK affiliate of Bucyrus-Erie and by-far Europe’s largest manufacturer of these machines which were offered with a variety of ‘front-end’ attachments ranging from lift crane to dragline, clamshell/ grab, backhoe, face shovel and piledriver. In this business other long-established major British players included NCK-Ransoms & Rapier, Thos. Smith & Sons (Rodley) Ltd., Priestman Brothers Ltd., John Allen & Sons (Oxford) Ltd., Babcock-Marion and Jones Cranes Ltd. Across the channel, markets were served by the likes of Demag, Menck, Gottwald of Germany, Fiorentini of Milan, and Pinguely and Nordest of France.

During these post-war years there was a serious shortage of cranes of all types with construction work and especially building construction often still dependent on manual labour operation from scaffolding.

Almost all of these machines were initially designed and manufactured to be tough and reliable to withstand the rigours of arduous excavating work. Machine weight was rarely a consideration. Indeed, it was not until much later, typically the late 1960s, that the first crawler-mounted machines were specifically designed to optimise their crane lifting performance. It was only by then that some companies began to focus on the use of lighter steels to optimise lifting capacity and reach. Since the 1800s crane and excavator controls were long mechanical levers and foot pedals demanding significant exertion.

Indeed, it was the 1960s, and especially 1970s, before power-assisted controls became the norm.

In central Europe, in countries like France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland, small self-erecting tower cranes replaced mobile cranes as the preferred type for residential construction. By the 1970s new manufacturers had emerged in the markets they served.

France’s Potain and Germany’s Liebherr had reinforced their market leading positions but were joined in competition by dozens of local manufacturers. By the mid-1970s a thriving tower crane industry had developed in Italy, joined by likes of Conedil, Simma, Trojsi, FM Gru, Fergru, Alfa, and Fergru.

In rough terrains, Pettibone set the pace with the first 15-tonner in 1961, leaping to the first 35-tonner in 1965 and first 40-tonner in 1969. All of these were cab-down cranes. In the US Sargent introduced the world’s first swing cab rough terrain in 1967 with an 18-ton model. It was followed in 1968 by Grove with a 25-tonner.

Even though the lifting capacity and reach of these early hydraulic cranes was very limited and their reliability unproven, by virtue of their operating speeds and relative ease of use, they met with immediate market demand and sales growth was dramatic.

During the late 1960s the output of the US industry telescopic cranes grew rapidly – from 2,000 in 1967, to 2,400 in 1968, to 3,700 in 1969 – with approximately 55% being rough terrains, 10% Industrial cranes, and 35% truck cranes. By then approximately 20-25% of US production was for export, mainly to Europe.

DEVELOPING MARKETS

In the early 1960s Japan remained a market dominated by lattice boom cranes – especially crawlers. Under a series of license agreements the Japanese had been afforded access to US technology with deals struck between Kobelco and P&H, Sumitomo and Link-Belt, Yutani and Northwest, and IHI and Koehring.

They joined Hitachi’s own-designed products and, by the mid-1960s, the Japanese industry was producing nearly 2,000 lattice cranes. 85% of these were crawlers. During the second half of the 1960s Japanese demand for lattice cranes grew to nearly 3,000 units with 30% now being truck cranes of up to 150 tonnes capacity. By this time, however, domestic Japanese demand for telescopic truck cranes had begun to develop and, from being almost non-existent in 1965, had grown to 1,500 units in 1970.

At that time, the rough terrain crane was unknown in Japan - Tadano developing Japan’s very first rough terrain in 1970. Also, as the decade drew to a close, Japan’s hydraulic crane makers were only just beginning to explore overseas markets for their cranes.

In the 1960s, like Japan, Europe was also a market where truck cranes and roadable pick-and-carry industrial cranes were popular. UK producers dominated European production with their total mobile crane output rising to approximately 500 units in 1969. There were also numerous new manufacturers of telescopic cranes in Germany, Italy, France and elsewhere. The Italian Industry grew dramatically with almost 100 manufacturers. The leader, Ormig produced no less than 5,000 of its best-selling 75M pick-and-carry model.

Tower cranes had also developed and become suitable for hi-rise and industrial construction. The predominant types were bottom-slewing cranes with saddle jibs being used as the primary building construction tool across central and west Europe.

During the five years to 1969 alone, some 7,800 US crawler cranes were sold in North America, with 5,400 being very small machines of up to 45 US ton (41 tonne) capacity. While truck cranes were generally of limited lifting capacity due primarily to the strength limitations of vehicles of the day, development continued.

In 1965 Germany’s Demag introduced its own 100-tonne lattice truck crane in the shape of their TC 400. While crawlers were favoured by contractors crane hirers preferred the mobility of the truck crane.

In addition to the various ‘mobile’ telescopic cranes (rough terrains, truck cranes and industrials) some of the early manufacturers of small truck-mounted telescopic concentrated their efforts on this ‘small’ end of the market, developing today’s boom truck industry. Amongst these were Pitman (RO), National Crane (previously Burg) and such companies as the Hiab in Sweden, and Unic in Japan.

As the 1960s drew to a close, the hydraulic mobile crane industry (excluding the manufacturers of small truck-mounted cranes) comprised some 70 manufacturers producing a total of about 6,300 cranes per year.

In an effort to solve housing shortages in the UK and Europe, during the 1960s modular house-building systems, often based on Scandinavian and German designs, grew in popularity across Europe and the UK. This fostered a demand for small tower cranes and led to crawler-mounted tower cranes produced by Liebherr, Munster and others being widely employed by British building contractors.

In 1954 Liebherr established a plant in Bischofshofen, Austria, where its smaller tower cranes would be built and then, in 1960, opened a major plant in Biberach- Ris which would become its primary tower crane plant.

As early as 1965 Liebherr Werk Biberach began producing truck-mounted lattice boom strut jib and tower cranes of the AUK Series. Eventually the series extended to 13 models – all available as tower cranes. In 1969 production of these cranes was transferred to the new Liebherr-Werk Ehingen factory where the 125-tonne capacity AUK 220 and 79 of the small AUK 40T-60 were produced.

During the mid-1960s as buildings and industrial facilities grew ever-taller, large American lattice boom truck and crawler cranes were developed into tower configurations. In particular Manitowoc’s 150-ton 4000W crawler and, starting in 1963, Lorain’s larger-sized truck-mounted Moto-tower cranes of 50 to 150-ton capacity became rental favourites.

While these proved particularly popular in North America, European tower cranes had failed to make a breakthrough – mainly due to lack of local support and concerns over their electrics. Even so, in 1961, Harnischfeger P&H struck a deal with Liebherr to handle the North American marketing of large tower cranes produced in Liebherr’s plant in Killarney, Ireland. It didn’t work.

In 1961 the Killarney plant had opened as Liebherr’s first overseas plant, to make tower cranes, quickly followed by a plant in Spring, South Africa, also making tower cranes.

Across Europe, however, Coles found significant success amongst crane hirers with tower versions of its larger-sized Ranger, Zealous, Valiant, Gargantua, Centurion and Colossus truck models of 30-to 170-tonnes capacity, while Demag and Gottwald developed luffing jib models of their larger truck cranes.

In 1972 Priestman Brothers took a misjudged stab at the UK pre-fab market with a tower version of its 32-tonne BC 72 crawler crane which proved too small for the market.

Technical limitations in hydraulic and automotive components severely limited hydraulic crane development throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, thus prolonging the life of mechanical lattice boom truck and crawler cranes. In fact, during the late 1960s sales of lattice crane worldwide continued to grow – reaching 12,000-15,000 a year. At that time telescopic boom cranes were still limited in capacity and reach. During the late 1960s, Germany’s leading lattice truck crane manufacturers were already producing 300-tonne capacity cranes and developing 500-tonners. The lifting performance and length of lattice booms had been significantly improved with the development by US Steel of T-1 alloy steel in the early 1950s.

Using T-1 US manufacturers, particularly Manitowoc and American Hoist, introduced 200 ton crawler cranes during the late 1960s. By the late 1960s, German’s Gottwald was building 300-tonne capacity truck cranes available with strut or tower configurations.

From the early years the US lattice boom crane and excavator industry had been quick to exploit overseas market opportunities and to capitalise on this. They, and several UK crane makers, established joint-venture manufacturing subsidiaries or licensed manufacturing operations overseas. From the 1930s onward they established manufacturing operations around the world – often in countries protected by tariff barriers and import controls, or with limited foreign currency availability.

TELESCOPIC CRANES

Starting in the 1950s Japan had rapidly taken to the telescopic truck crane concept, creating strong domestic demand dominated by three suppliers: Tadano, Kato and Unic.

In that regard these manufacturers produced only ‘the crane’ soliciting the vital support of the country’s strengthening truck industry to provide its vehicle. The first purpose-designed crane carrier chassis were built by Mitsubishi Fuso and Nissan in 1960 and 1961 respectively and during the mid-1960s Kato. Tadano then added carrier-mounted truck cranes to their (commercial) truck-mounted crane lines. In 1969, Japanese domestic demand for (carrier-mounted) truck cranes quadrupled to 1,100 units and, in 1970, hit 1,500.

Mitsubishi and Nissan were the first large-scale commercial truck builders to produce specialist crane carrier chassis. At that time, only a few of the world’s crane makers produced their own carriers - Coles of the UK and P&H of the US being notable exceptions

In the US with many more manufacturers fighting for market share, Grove, Pettibone and P&H became the leaders whilst, in Europe, Coles Cranes was by far the strongest supplier.

In Europe the struggle for the world’s tallest mobile crane was won, hands down by Leo Gottwald of Dusseldorf with its 400-tonne capacity MK 600 introduced in 1968. A mobile (rather than truck-mounted) crane on eight-axles, the MK 600 offered boom lengths to 100m or tower lengths to 83m plus a 75m luffing jib for maximum heights of 160m.

During the 1970s, telescopic cranes gradually took over as the preferred type of mobile crane in the small-medium capacity classes (10-100-tons).

In Germany Leo Gottwald established market leadership with its well-engineered lattice and telescopic boom truck cranes. In 1966 Gottwald introduced its 18-tonne capacity AMK 45-21 two-axle telescopic which would later be recognised as a pioneer of all terrain cranes.

Having at first scorned the potential of the hydraulic crane as a passing fancy, many of the large and well-established mechanical/ lattice boom crane manufacturers belatedly began to develop their own telescopics, as sales of small to medium size lattice cranes steadily declined. However, since demand for large-size lattice cranes increased the leading lattice crane manufacturers focussed on the development of the upper-end of their product ranges rather than on the telescopic developments.

In 1975 Gottwald took the crown with the world’s largest telescopic with their 140-tonne AMK 155-53 – the first units being purchased by Scotts of the UK and Sarens of Belgium. Although a relatively small company Gottwald established itself for its outstanding design and engineering capabilities. In 1978 the company again topped the industry with its 200-tonne capacity AMK 200-103 tele truck crane.

American Hoist and Manitowoc dominated worldwide demand for large size lattice cranes and from 1970 to 1975 American’s sales of over 100 tons capacity increased from $20m to $84m (including large offshore barge and ship-mounted cranes).

By the mid-1970s the number of hydraulic crane manufacturers grew to an estimated 140 companies manufactured in 25 countries. The pace and volume of new product development increased with the ever-broadening number of competitive suppliers. Although many had considered the telescopic crane fundamentally limited in terms of reach and capacity, the first 100-ton truck crane (Grove TM 1075) was introduced in 1974 and the following year the first 52.7m telescopic boom was introduced again by Grove on the 125-ton (113-tonne) TM 1275 truck crane.

BLACK GOLD

The opening up of the Prudhoe Bay oil field and subsequent construction of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline during the early 1970s was the first major petrochemical project to employ over 100 hydraulic cranes. It would not be the last. Thanks to the efforts of the Grove/Caterpillar pipeline distributor – Fabbick Tractor of St Louis, MO, and Grove distributor Gleason Cranes of Chicago, the vast majority of the 200 cranes employed on this challenging project were Groves.

Larger-size swing cab rough terrain cranes of 50-tons (1975) and 80-tons (1978) capacity were pioneered by Grove and became viable alternatives to crawler cranes on unmade construction sizes, further broadening the application potential of the telescopic crane.

As the 1970s drew to a close Germany’s manufacturers began to fully exercise their engineering talent, introducing 150-200-tonne capacity telescopic truck cranes as well as truck cranes with better off-road travel performance which would, a few years later, be renamed all terrain cranes.

During the early 1970s North American market demand for telescopics continued to grow, reaching over 4,000 units in 1974 and 1975 – with about two-thirds of these being (mainly small) rough terrains, one-quarter truck cranes, and the remainder industrials.

Meanwhile in West Europe crane demand was strong during the early 1970s before softening markedly in 1974 and remaining relatively weak for most of the rest of the decade.

However, Europe’s fast-expanding number of telescopic crane manufacturers and their broadening range of types and sizes provided attractive openings both to replace lattice cranes and to exploit export opportunities.

By this time the Comecon countries of Eastern Europe were generating significant demand for cranes. Coles, Grove and P&H were amongst the most successful players in this region. The USSR also placed very large orders for telescopic truck cranes with Kato winning orders for over 2,000 cranes in the mid-1970s. China was also emerging as a significant market, served primarily by Kato and Tadano of Japan and Coles of the UK. Another communist country, Cuba, bought over 1,000 cranes during the mid-1970s mainly from Kato and Coles.

In 1972 Grove acquired a majority holding in John Allen Ltd of Oxford, the company they had licensed to market and mount its crane uppers on Allen-designed European truck carriers. However, the move that caused the greatest ripples occurred in 1975 when Clark Equipment Company and Richards & Wallington of the UK, the world’s largest crane rental company, each invested 45% of the equity in a new British crane manufacturing company named Crown Cranes, staffed notoriously by ex-Coles executives. This bold initiative however ran out of steam and into receivership within two-years.

The first oil price shock of late 1973 created a dramatic increase in crane demand from the OPEC countries, contributing significantly to a major increase in world demand. Very quickly these countries became major crane markets as they raced to develop modern industrial and urban infrastructures with their new-found wealth.

These markets really took off in 1975 and US crane makers were the first into them, augmented by through their existing ties with the oil companies. Grove proceeded to win a 250-plus rough terrain crane order from Saudi Arabia’s Aramco in 1975 (again with the invaluable participation of Bob Gleason).

Indeed the oil boom that spread through all of the OPEC countries during the mid-1970s created a huge new market for the world’s crane makers.

Through the 1970s demand for cranes continued to increase, reaching some 2,500 large telescopic cranes shipped to the oil-producing countries of the Middle East and Africa. Though Europe’s crane makers did quite well, it was American rough terrains and Japanese truck cranes which won the lion’s share of demand.

Demand in Iran soared taking 400 hydraulic cranes in 1976, followed by Saudi Arabia with some 250, and Iraq with 280.

In total that year some 850 tele truck cranes and almost 600 rough terrains were sold in the Middle East and North and West Africa. Business in these markets was also strong for the lattice crane builders with almost 600 of mainly US-built crawler cranes as well as a similar volume of large tower cranes supplied to the region – led by Liebherr and Potain. P&H seemed to have greatly benefitted from its deep ties and investment in Iran until 1979 with the overthrow of the Shah, they suffered huge losses. By the early 1980s crane demand in these markets had contracted markedly.

LATE SEVENTIES

The domestic demand in North America rose to peak levels in 1978 and 1979 returning to the 4,000-unit level. At the same time, Japanese domestic demand reached new heights of 2,500 telescopics as the decade came to a close.

Europe was a different story. From a peak of over 4,000 telescopics sold in 1974, demand fell steadily to about 3,000 units in 1978/79. However, demand in Germany strengthened during these years in contrast to that in the UK and France. With numerous local manufacturers active in each of the large European markets, as well as all of the major US and Japanese manufacturers, something had to give. The UK crane industry was hardest hit with manufacturers such as Hydrocon, Cosmos and Smith going out of business and Coles and Jones closing some plants. In France, Italy and Germany there were also limited casualties and product changes, too. During the 1970s, Japan’s crane makers began adding rough terrain cranes to their lines and in the late 1970s, manufacturers in Germany and elsewhere in Europe introduced the first all terrain cranes.

Telescopic crane demand peaked in 1977 and 1979, at around the 14,000-unit level, as demand for lattice cranes became more and more limited to the larger-size classes where telescopics were not yet fully developed.

By the mid-late 1970s Japan became the world’s largest market for telescopic truck cranes and the world’s largest supplier. 1991 was the best year to date for Japan’s mobile crane makers. Kato sold around 3,500 cranes (of over five-tonnes capacity) and had revenues of about Y104 billion ($810m), while Tadano notched up sales of Y142,6 billion ($1.01 billion).

At the same time the Japanese had developed new hydraulic lattice boom designs, ditching the original mechanical crane technology they had licensed from the Americans.

These cleaner, quieter cranes were easier to operate and soon found ready markets not just at home but around the world just as the originators back in the US went out of business, stuck with outdated technology.

ROAD REGULATIONS

During the 1970s and 1980s enforcement of European road regulations became stricter, demanding lower road-weights and smaller dimensions. This challenged all manufacturers but especially the US companies to modify truck cranes into compliance. Fortunately, Europe was well served with local manufacturers of crane carrier truck chassis, most notably Faun, Mol, Foden and CVS.

Using these as a base for their cranes became an established and easy way for American and Japanese crane makers to comply with European road regulations. Meeting stringent road regulations became a key factor in achieving European truck crane sales. At the upper end of size classes, the use of Faun carriers became a critical factor. At that time Mannesmann- Demag employed Faun carriers on its large cranes including the very-successful 250-tonne TC 1200 lattice introduced in 1973.

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the market recognise the benefits of large crawler cranes of 250 to 800-tonnes capacity over lattice truck cranes of similar size. This especially benefitted the new Demag which found a ready market in the USSR where 11 300-tonne CC 2000s and 7 800-tonne CC 4000s were purchased for nuclear power plant construction.

Rough terrains had largely failed to catch-on in Europe which looked to develop the more versatile, all terrain cranes and which leant themselves to crane hire (rental) application. Accordingly, Europe became the industry’s battleground contested by about 100 manufacturers from around the world.

1981: THE PIVOTAL YEAR

While most of Europe started the 1980s in recession, demand remained very strong in North America, Japan, Asia and Latin America and was again growing in Africa and the Middle East.

During the heady days of 1980, the world’s crane and construction machinery manufacturers prepared for the upcoming Conexpo ’81 to be held in Houston, Texas. Grove dominated the show with a giant outdoor display which featured no less than 70 cranes and aerial lifts and introduced the new TM 2500 telescopic truck crane at 250-tons capacity, the world’s largest.

Also in the Houston Astrodome, P&H displayed it’s innovate new Alpha 100, 100-ton light-weight truck crane. The show was a spectacular success but within 30 days of its closing, the US economy plunged into what would become the deepest recession since the 1930s. By 1982, US domestic mobile crane demand had fallen by 80% of 1991 levels.

The 1980s also saw Tadano, Kato and Komatsu introducing their new rough terrains to the North American market. The mid-1980s had seen the first entry into the US market of the Japanese telescopic crane makers – Tadano, Kato and (briefly) Komatsu.

By this time, the Japanese crane industry had developed a hybrid variety of the rough terrain crane, which offered limited road travel performance sufficient for domestic Japanese demand to begin to switch from truck cranes to these new rough terrains. However, attempts to export this new variety of rough terrain had, at best, mixed results and only Tadano persisted in its North American marketing efforts with a more conventional rough terrain crane concept.

By the mid-1970s the ‘new’ markets of SE Asia including Singapore were being approached by Potain. Alimak, the Swedish hoist manufacturer, having acquired the rights to Sweden’s Linden Cranes in 1973, introduced the ground-breaking 8000 series of super-large flat top tower cranes in 1974.

At the same time Demag introduced its 800-ton capacity lattice truck crane while Liebherr also introduced its new 200-tonne telescopic truck crane which would go on to significantly outsell the big Grove TM, a harbinger of things to come in the heavy lift segment of the market.

The US economy was drawn into recession by the continuing oil crisis, political uncertainty over Iran, and record high interest rates which proved a double-edged sword for US capital goods manufacturers – diminishing domestic capital investment at the same time as making US exports very expensive. Even worse, the artificially low foreign exchange value of the Japanese Yen made their products very cheap to US buyers causing, for the first time, a flood of construction machinery imports from the Far East.

This economic turmoil had the effect of bringing about major structural changes in the world’s crane and construction machinery industries. It would cause many in the US to feel that the days of America leading the world as a machinery supplier were over – that the steel and heavy industry of the future could only thrive in the Far East.

Domestic US lattice crane makers, already hurt from a decade of technological change to hydraulics, found themselves with no remaining markets and some 17 of 22 US lattice crane plants were closed from 1981 to 1985. Similarly, between 1981 and 1985 ten US manufacturers of telescopic cranes went out of business, unable to keep pace with the rapid technical developments. As the US recession and high dollar dragged on, US manufacturers moved production overseas. P&H closed its US plants and transferred production to Kobe Steel, its Japanese licensee. In 1984, Grove acquired Coles Cranes Ltd. of the UK out of receivership. Similarly recessions in France, Italy and Scandinavia saw numerous crane manufacturers close their doors.

In 1981 Maschinoimport of the USSR ordered 333 Liebherr truck and all terrain cranes, plus some 30 big Demags. The truck-mounted cranes were specified with cold-weather protection for -40C.

Two further orders for some 40 large Liebherr cranes followed in 1983. During these years Liebherr placed increasing emphasis on its growing line of all terrains and, in 1987, introduced the 800t capacity LTM 1800.

During the 1970s and 1980s Mannesmann-Demag strengthened its position as leader in the market for high-capacity lattice cranes. In 1980 the company had set a new benchmark with its 800-tonne CC 4000 – soon surpassed by their CC 4800, and then, in 1996, by the 1600-tonne CC 12600. As global demand for super-heavy crawler cranes expanded, in 2001 Demag added the 1250-tonne CC 8800 which matured into the 1,600-tonne capacity CC 8800-1 and was then ‘literally’ doubled with the 2008 introduction of the CC 8800-1 TWIN.

However, no discussion of large crawler cranes could be complete without mention of the Lampson Transi-Lift.

Originally designed by Neil F. Lampson in 1974 over the last 40- plus years Transi-Lifts have grown in size to 3,000 tons capacity.

New competition in this size class comes from the 3,000-tonne capacity Liebherr LR 13000. This monster is the largest crane available on ‘conventional’ twin crawlers (as opposed to the two-sets of four crawlers of the Demag CC 8800-1 ‘TWIN’. With 4-5 LR 13000s already in service this crane – as well as its newly-announced 2,500-tonne LR 12500- 1.0 - seeks to build on Liebherr’s already dominant position in the heavy crawler crane league with its 1,000-tonne LR 11000 and 1,350-tonne LR 13500.

Further emphasising its technology in 1989 Liebherr unveiled its LICCON system for monitoring and controlling its mobile cranes. In 1990 the German economy was picking-up and Liebherr was awarded a contract for no less than 459 all terrain cranes from the German military.

Markets for tower cranes across the world opened up during the 1970s and 1980s.

In the early 1980s a new ‘variety’ – the City Crane emerged. This concept was quickly adopted by most European makers. They were distinguished by towers (masts) of reduced cross-section dimensions and their appeal was related to the congestion of urban construction sites where accidents due to collisions were becoming a serious issue.

On the self-erecting crane front, manufacturers were increasingly adopting hydraulic drives. By the 1990s the size and capacity of self-erectors had increased substantially. The largest cranes now offered 100 tonne-metres load moment or more and reaches extending past 50m and hook heights exceeding 40m. Able to handle work previously the domain of standard saddle jib cranes these versatile cranes continued to extend their applications and demand.

At Bauma ’98 Liebherr again extended its technical talents with the introduction of ‘Litronic’ – a frequency converter crane control and management system which has initially made standard on its larger top-slewing tower cranes and subsequently proliferated across the Liebherr crane lines.

That year’s show was dominated by the introduction of Liebherr’s largest telescopic to date – the 500-tonne capacity LTM 1500-8.1. This eight-axle crane would go on to become the best-selling large mobile crane of all time with 626 units sold until the end of 2021 when it was discontinued and superseded by the 650-tonne LTM 1650-8.1.

In 2001, when Ameco won the project to extend the Syncrude oil sands plant in Western Canada, it ordered 100 Terex machines. Clearly, oil has always primed the crane industry’s pump.

Even as demand and sales soared, the Japanese were constrained by component shortages, stretching delivery times to six-months and longer.

By then Kato’s production was 60% rough terrains and nearly 40% truck cranes. Unlike Europe, all terrains featured marginally in Japanese mobile crane production. Nevertheless, the Japanese were able to tap into the fast-growing markets of Asia and SE Asia. As demand had stabilised and then declined in the Middle East, the markets of the Pacific Rim and ultimately China compensated.

But this growing demand was not simply in the traditional 15-to-50-tonne classes but also for so-called ‘mini cranes’. These were the small rough terrains and tele boom crawler cranes of up to 4.9-tonnes capacity which proved perfectly suited to Japan’s congested urban infrastructure.

On the other side of the world, crane makers were preoccupied with local issues. The all terrain crane started to become a significant factor during the late 1970s and early 1980s and, by the mid-1980s, it had replaced the truck crane as the preferred crane hire tool throughout most of mainland Europe.

The German manufactures also made their first tentative steps into the North American and Japanese markets. Of particular importance in these new market entries were the larger capacity telescopic truck and all terrain cranes of 80 to 300 tonnes capacity.

By this time, both the American and Japanese crane industries had lost their early leadership in the design of competitive large size telescopic cranes.

In 1978 Gottwald again upped the ante with the 200-tonne AMK 200-103 tele truck crane, only to re-double its challenge with the 400-tonne AMK 400-93. While the 200-tonner was a significant success, only a handful of 400-tonners were sold.

DEEP RECESSION

The ravages of the deep and long recession of the 1980s took a severe toll on the crane and construction equipment manufacturing industries of the US and Europe, burdened by massive over-capacity.

By the late 1970s there were about 150 manufacturers of mobile cranes in the world with upwards of 75% of these based in North America and Europe. From 1982 through 1987, about one third of the companies ceased crane manufacture and every other manufacturer in the industry either made dramatic cutbacks or closed some of their plants. During this period the Japanese intensified their export efforts in order to maintain employment.

The relative strength of the dollar made US exports expensive and imports cheap, opening the market to the Japanese and German machines, as well as making US cranes too expensive in export markets. This double-edged sword closed down much of the US industry, stifling new product development investments in the US and eroding the US industry’s hard-earned share of the depressed world market. So harsh was the downturn in US crane production and so daunting a challenge to compensate for the strength of the dollar that America’s leading crane makers were driven to survival strategies.

In 1983, Harnischfeger P&H decided to close its US factories and made an agreement to transfer all of its mobile crane production to its Japanese licensee partner, Kobe Steel (Kobelco) or to its subsidiary in Germany. In 1982, Kidde Inc., declared its subsidiary, market leading Grove Manufacturing, a discontinued operation but later decided to retain it and, in 1984, acquired one of Europe’s leading manufacturers – Coles Cranes of the UK, whose parent Acrow had taken the group into receivership. In 1986, FMC Corporation sold its Link-Belt subsidiary to its Japanese licensee partner, Sumitomo Heavy Industries.

In 1987 the French Legris industrial group acquired control of Potain. As the market recovered in the late 1980s, the number of participants had reduced and the Japanese industry had grown to be the most powerful in the world. 1990 saw Tadano make the first ever European crane industry acquisition (Faun) by a Japanese company. Several major Japanese construction equipment manufacturers - Kobelco, Hitachi and Komatsu - established new excavator manufacturing plants in the US, thus providing a bridgehead for later entry into the crane market.

With Liebherr established as the all terrain market leader, in 1988 they unveiled the 400-tonne LTM 1400 which became a best seller. That year Krupp acquired the rights to pioneering Gottwald’s lines of truck and all terrains. The following year Krupp introduced their ‘Megatrack’ independent wheel suspension for their growing line of all terrains.

When the downturn in the Japanese economy began in 1992, it was not seen as some cataclysmic event and most Japanese manufacturers carried on in anticipation of a near-term recovery. Obviously, this did not happen and year-upon-year what is now by far the longest recession in modern Japanese history has worn down the domestic industry. As always, however, Japan has managed to keep a near strangle hold on its domestic market. The earlier threat of German imports having been cooled by the development of Japanese all terrains which, though too heavy for export, had met with approval at home.

By the late 1980s the days of the truck crane in Europe were numbered. Manufacturer by manufacturer, domestic European production of truck cranes diminished leaving only reduced sales of Japanese truck cranes in the 25- to 50-tonne classes. Meanwhile hydraulic lattice boom truck and crawler cranes had grown in capacity with Demag emerging as market leader with crawlers.

The ever-present demand for improved load handling precision was a factor in all varieties of construction cranes. This was especially the case as tower cranes inexorably grew in height, reach, and capacity. As early as 1966 Potain followed the example of leading mobile crane makers in making electronic crane controls standard. During the early 1990s the European tower crane industry gradually adopted various types of frequency control systems – at first applied to individual crane functions and then to entire crane systems.

From 1992 until 1999, the American market enjoyed eight years of expansion – the longest in history and the US crane industry returned strongly to health.

In 1995, Grove acquired Germany’s Krupp in another attempt to regain its former strength in Europe as well as to access the German prowess in all terrains and large-size telescopic crane technology. By then Grove’s other European ‘possession’, the former Coles Cranes business in the UK, had continued its downward slide and in 1998, when its former British owners, Hanson, sold Grove, it was politically acceptable to close the last remnants of Coles UK operations.

NEW PLAYER

The 1990s also saw the rise of a new power in the mobile crane industry - Terex Corporation of Westport, Connecticut, USA.

In 1987, Terex had acquired Koehring – Lorain’s weakened operations in Waverly, Iowa, but it wasn’t until 1992 when a new CEO, Fil Filipov, was recruited that it began to show signs of life. In 1994 Terex acquired PPM, the leading French crane manufacturer which had acquired the Bendini SpA of Italy in 1988 and then the Century II-P&H operations in the US and Germany in 1991.

With this critical mass, Terex slashed operating costs to the bone, rationalised its product line and adopted the most aggressive pricing and marketing policy the industry had ever seen. With prices 20% or more below the competition Terex began to win market share and, by 1997, had become North American market leader. Terex then proceeded to expand into the crawler crane business with the acquisition of American Crane and into the tower crane business with the purchase of Peiner in Germany and Comedil in Italy.

The competition had been slow to react and by the time the old market leader Grove had woken up it was too late to recover. Having been sold by Hanson to Keystone, a US financial investor in 1998, for the high price of over $600million, the following year Grove plunged into losses.

While it’s German (ex-Krupp) operations continued to perform well in a healthy all terrain crane market, Grove’s core US operations were bleeding badly. In 2001, Grove sought protection under Chapter 11 of the US bankruptcy code but within months a reorganization plan under which Grove’s primary creditors, Chase Manhattan Bank, became majority owner was accepted by the courts.

The 1990s were a challenging decade for Europe’s tower crane industry. In 1993 France was in deep recession and, in 1995, the German economy drifted into a downturn. Things improved in 1997 with Potain’s sales increasing 14% to FF57 billion.

In 1998 Potain acquired the emerging German manufacturer BKT, bringing topless and luffing boom tower cranes to the French company’s line. Potain’s crane sales increased from 2,100 in 1998 to 2,600 in 1999. By 2000 over some three years Potain had renewed some 80% of its crane line.

Meanwhile in Europe, as worldwide demand for all terrains had gone from strength to strength, Liebherr reinforced its leadership of this important sector. In 2001 the firm opened a massive extension to its Ehingen factory – enough to increase capacity from 800 to 1400 new all terrains per years.

Even so, during the late-1990s and early 2000s the leading German manufacturers continued to exert their technical prowess. In 1996 Liebherr introduced its oval-shaped ‘Oviform’ boom with its single tele cylinder ‘Telematik’ extension system that would become a hallmark of all Liebherr telescopics for decades to come.

A year later Mannesmann Demag introduced another groundbreaking new design, the first ‘City’ type compact all terrain: the 25-tonne AC 75. It was soon followed by the three-axle the 40-tonne AC 40-1 which went on to sell more than a thousand units.

In 2001 Demag followed up with the Sideways Superlift (SSL) that would revolutionise the lifting performance of large-sized telescopics. This led to a patent dispute with Liebherr over their ‘Y Guy’ which was subsequently settled out of court.

GLOBAL ALLIANCE

In 2001, the Japanese crane manufacturers, Tadano, Sumitomo and Hitachi formed a global alliance. Though this revolved primarily around lattice boom mobile cranes it also involved the hydraulic mobile crane businesses of Tadano in Japan, Tadano-Faun in Germany and Link-Belt in the US.

In March 2002 it was announced that the Sumitomo and Hitachi crane businesses would merge. The following year a supply agreement for Kobelco crawler cranes to Manitowoc was announced. This proved highly successful and was only terminated in 2018.

Following Keystone’s failure to turnaround Grove, it sold the business for $270 million in March 2002 to the leading US lattice boom crane manufacturer Manitowoc who the previous year had acquired the leading French tower crane manufacturer, Potain.

Changes in the ownership of Mannesmann saw the Demag crane business become an unwanted division of Siemens- Bosch and the acquisition of Grove with its German (ex-Krupp) unit by Manitowoc polarised the industry. In May 2002, Siemens agreed to sell the Demag mobile crane business to Terex for $150 million.

Beginning in the mid-2000s the crane world found itself exposed to the first rumblings of an offensive from the emerging Chinese crane industry. This should not have come as a shock to experienced executives as many had already seen limited access to the Chinese. The first Chinese truck cranes from XCMG and Zoomlion and tower cranes from Yongmao and Zoomlion arrived courtesy of Dutch crane traders and were notable for inflated claims and low prices. Unfortunately some rather naïve European crane buyers were sucked in by the apparently attractive offers and soon found themselves with products with, at-best, scant service support.

TOWER POWER

By the mid-2010s, construction methods of the leading nations of SE Asia were strongly evolving to PVVC (Prefabricated Prefinished Volumetric Construction) with the motive of improving safety and productivity in building construction by using pre-cast concrete elements of up to 40-tonnes weight.

Naturally this drove demand for significantly larger tower cranes. As well as Potain and Liebherr, Yongmao was a beneficiary – especially in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia.

New luffing boom cranes of 20 to 25-tonnes capacity and flat tops of 40, 50 and 60 tonnes capacity quickly emerged and proved very popular. For local rental companies, their rates were under pressure from the growing challenge of low-cost Chinese tower cranes. Business also remained healthy in the region’s petro-chem, oil and gas and offshore industries which continued to employ large crawler and all terrain cranes from the leading crane hirers.

Developments in self-erecting tower cranes included the broadening use of trolley-hoists that can ride up and down steep jib angles.

TEREX AND LOAD KING

In 2010 Manitex International acquired trailer manufacturer Load King from Terex and in 2015 the business was acquired by Custom Truck One Source.

In mid-2016 Terex announced it would close its mobile crane and boom truck plant in Waverly, Iowa, and transfer production to the Terex plant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 2019 Terex sold its truck crane and boom truck product lines to Load King. The former Terex boom truck and truck crane lines of up to 80-tons (72-tonnes) capacity would be branded Load King ‘Stinger’.

Terex US rough terrain crane production was discontinued with rough terrain production continuing in Crespellano, Italy. In 2022 Terex announced it would close its Oklahoma City plant and that it would transfer production of its line of Genie telehandlers to a new plant in Monterrey, Mexico.

LIGHT FANTASTIC

After decades of dependence on wire ropes, in 2012 the first signs of fundamental change emerged in 2012. That year the US rope maker Samson announced its K-100 fibre rope product line which would soon be made available as an option on Manitowoc lattice boom crawler cranes and then Grove rough terrains, truck cranes, and boom trucks.

In 2019 Liebherr introduced the EC-B series of eight flat tops with three of them available with soLITE high-tensile fibre ropes developed in collaboration with Teufelberger. In 2019 Wolffkran acquired an interest in German’s Trowic GmbH – a fibre rope company.

POTAIN IN PUNE

In 2019 Manitowoc announced a new Potain manufacturing plant in Pune, India, where for many years it had been producing Potain towers with former licence Shirke. Added to its plant in Zhangjiagang, China, this gave Potain ‘two bites’ at emerging markets from Asian sources. Originally the joint venture plant in Zhangjiagang opened in 1980 but the current 56,000m2 plant was opened in 2012 and by the end of 2018 had produced over 6,000 cranes.

Soon after Bauma 2019, Arcomet and Matebat announced their new name, Uperio, managed by Phiippe Cohet, former Manitowoc executive and now chairman of Matebat and CEO of Arcomet. Uperio’s main business would be tower crane rental with a worldwide fleet of 2,200 cranes and it would also operate as a Potain distributor in France, a Terex Towers distributor, and as the Zoomlion distributor in the US through its P&J Arcomet business. One of Cohet’s expressed ambitions was to rationalise this diverse crane fleet through telematic connectivity and machine controls.

At Bauma, XCMG chairman Wang Min said, “at the very beginning of our exports, first we aimed for medium and low-end markets such as Asia, SE Asia and Africa… We realise parts supply and service support have been an issue. We have not been very strong at our management of aftersales service. It has been hard for customers to find the exact parts.”

2019 saw early North American installations of AMCS Technologies DCS 60 devices to management of prohibited overflight zones and avoid the interference of two luffing boom tower cranes. The DCS 60 operates in real time and in 3D to calculate the distance between each crane as well as movement speed.

Amongst the first to employ the AMCS devices were two Jaso J380PA luffers operating in Seattle and Vancouver followed by Comedil CTL 272-18 luffers and CTT 202 flat tops.

Meanwhile Comansa’s plant in Hangzhou was also expanded to meet demand and introduced several new models. As was also the case in SE Asian countries like Singpore, Hong Kong and Korea, China was demanding significantly larger tower cranes – as big as 25- to 50-tonnes capacity – to meet demand for PPVC pre-fabricated construction. Responding to this trend Zhangjiagang introduced its largest flat top crane – the MCT 565 with a choice of 20t, 25t and32t winches at Bauma China 2019.

While flat top (topless) cranes continued to grow in popularity in China and worldwide, in some countries like Korea, traditional hammerhead cranes like the Potain MC 310 remained very popular.

Just as flat-top tower cranes had carved out a significant market niche during the 2000s and 2010s, as manufacturers sought to balance the benefits of hammerheads versus this ‘new’ variety a third variety emerged bearing the rather cumbersome name of ‘low-tops’ as a kind of in between category – albeit with clearly definable benefits. Meanwhile in 2019 Liebherr introduced its largest flat top in the shape of the 1000 EC-B 125 of 125-tonnes max capacity.

In 2019, Zoomlion, now China and the world’s largest tower crane manufacturer, opened a huge new factory in Changde. It was the result of a RMB 780 million €100 million investment programme that started in 2016. It included 12 automated production lines, more than 10,000 sensors over 100 industrial robots and 16 CNC processing centres.

BENCHMARK MODELS

Beginning in the early 1970s Grove made a strong push to develop demand for larger-size rough terrains. The 35-ton RT 65S and 50-ton RT 75S were the first rough terrains to feature trapezoidal booms and established themselves as benchmarks.

Some 1400 RT 65Ss were sold worldwide. Grove upped the ante in 1978 with the 80-ton RT 980 which confounded critics by becoming a runaway success and for the first time became a viable alternative to lattice crawler cranes. Hopes were high in 1982 when Grove introduced the massive 8x8x8 150-tonne capacity RT 1650.

Unfortunately the crane was too far ahead of its hydraulic and automotive component technology which proved unreliable. To this time, the competition had steered clear of competing with Grove.

In 1993 Grove returned to a more conventional approach with its 100-ton RT 9100 and in 2001 added the 120-tonne capacity RT 9130E. Throughout the decades of Grove market dominance, Link-Belt and Lorain had persisted as significant US competitors but strong rough terrain crane competition also persisted from Japan’s Tadano and Kato and most recently from the all terrain crane market leader Liebherr.

Always innovative Link-Belt broke the traditional mould of two-axle rough terrains in 2002 with the 100-ton RTC 80100. This three-axle model afforded lower transport heights than the big two-axle RTs allowing them to be legally low-bedded at under 4m. The new 6x6 Link-Belts quickly found a willing market and Link-Belt has subsequently developed 130 and 160-tonne models,

Unlike Grove’s RT 1650, when Tadano developed its largest rough terrain to date, the 160-ton (145-tonne) GR 1600XL - albeit some 25-years later, they selected a three-axle carrier. Meanwhile with its latest 165-ton (150-tonne) GRT 9165 Grove adopted a similar 6x4x6 configuration.

By the 1990s demand for rough terrains cranes of 15 to 30 tonnes capacity, for generations the workhorse crane in countries like the US and Middle East, found reducing demand. The trend wasn’t just in conventional small rough terrains which progressively had been replaced in the market by larger rough terrains of 40,50, 60 and 65 tonne capacity.

In addition, telehandlers with similar boom reach of up to 18 to 23 metres and able to handle loads of one to four tonnes had become the preferred small-size high-reach option. Japan’s mini rough terrains of seven to ten tonne capacity that had become such a phenomenon in the 1990s and 2000s had been replaced by similarly compact cranes of 13 to 16 tonne capacity, while in the UK the small seven to ten tonne Coles Speedcranes and Iron Fairies were long gone.

TELE BOOM CRAWLERS

Adding new competition to rough terrains, tele boom crawler cranes continued to grow in popularity and capabilities.

First introduced by Grove and Coles in the early 1960s for decades this variety had remained a niche market product essentially kept alive by manufacturers such as Mantis of the US.

One of Germany’s most famous and respected makers of crawler cranes and excavators – Sennebogen – was an early proponent of tele boom crawler cranes and has subsequently developed as a leading full-line supplier which today also provides its products through an OEM branding agreement with Grove for the North American market.

In 2007 Link-Belt joined the fray and has since become the US market leader with a full range of cranes up to 250-tons (220-tonnes), and in 2006 Liebherr also added a 100-tonne model and has since become a strong force in the segment with a range of cranes up to 220-tonnes capacity.

After a couple of years during the early 2000s the efforts to establish Chinese cranes in the mainstream truck crane and tower crane markets of Europe and Australia diminished. While this left some crane dealers in various levels of financial distress all the while the Chinese were redoubling their product development efforts and preparing for their next foray.

At each edition of Bauma China, new, improved and larger cranes continued to appear.

In 2013 China’s President Xi introduced the Belt & Road initiative which, through loan programmes, has since funded numerous infrastructure development project in the world’s emerging nations. This provided a massive vehicle for China’s contractors and crane and machinery makers with a Government-funded access to foreign markets. For example, Zoomlion established over 20 trading platforms and nine production bases overseas with over 120 dealer sales and service outlets.

In 2019, at the Bauma show in Munich, Tadano announced that it was acquiring the Demag mobile crane business from Terex. The announced cost was $215m.

In 2021, to the surprise of many, Tadano announced it would drop the Demag brand name just as president and CEO Koichi Tadano stepped down from his leadership role.

ELECTRIC DREAMS

Major changes are also evident in the power sources of mobile cranes. As far back as the 1970s Italy’s leading manufacturer of industrial pick-and-carry mobile cranes – Valla – had developed a full-line of battery-electric models. Back then few manufacturers followed Valla’s lead but recently their former general manager founded JMG as a competitor.

In recent years the employment of battery-electric technology in mobile cranes and tele handlers has developed quite dramatically. Primary usage in mobile cranes has been on tele boom crawler cranes (Marchetti and Sany) and lattice boom cranes (Liebherr and PVE) as well as mobile industrial pick-and-carry cranes including Valla and their Italian competitors Ormig, JMG, Sard, Omar, Galizia and Lige.

In addition, mini crawler crane makers, such as Maeda and Furukawa-Unic, have long had battery-electric powered models and more recently makers of aluminium truck-mounted cranes such as Klaas and Bocker have added electric models.

In 2021 Zoomlion introduced its 25-tonne capacity ZTC 250N-EV battery electric truck crane. The world’s first ‘unmanned’ crane, it has laser scanning obstacle-avoidance, 3D scene creation, working while charging capability, anti-sway hoisting, 150kw/100km power usage equivalent to 19.5 litres fuel consumption per 100 kms and 230 kms endurance range.

In 2021 Zoomlion introduced the world’s largest tower crane in the form of the 12,000tm capacity W 12000 flat top of 450-tonnes capacity and with a maximum hook height of 400-metres.

Predictably, fast on its heels, arch-rival XCMG trumped its nemesis with the announcement of the 15,000tm XGT 15000-600.

With a maximum lifting capacity of 600-tonnes and 92.5m freestanding height the crane was developed in conjunction with China Major Bridge Engineering Co. Like other large Chinese tower cranes it was designed for the construction of large modular bridges. With an annual production of over 10,000 tower cranes, XCMG is also in the running for the top spot in tower crane output with revenues in excess of RMB 5 billion.

As these two Chinese players continue to compete for supremacy in 2022, Zoomlion held open-days for its 2,400-tonne capacity ZAT 24000H ‘all terrain’.

In this respect the use of the term ‘all terrain’ truly is a stretch. However, like Zoomlion’s earlier so-called 2,000-tonne QAY 2000 displayed at Bauma China 2012, it will be surprising if this new model ever sees the light of day outside of China! However, the same cannot be said for monster Chinese crawler cranes. Sany and Zoomlion’s sharp pricing has opened doors for their 40- to 2,000-tonne crawlers in markets as diverse as Turkey, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Russia.

Cranes magazine started in 1966; in November 1972 Cranes became Cranes Today
A 1977 Butters Cranes’ portal jib crane in Chatham, Kent, UK; Scotch-derricks were a staple for the company
Hans Liebherr and a Liebherr staff member, Kirchdorf, circa 1950
In 1975 the Demag HC 500 was the largest tele boom crawler in the world. It has an eight-axle carrier, with the fourth and fifth axles being hidden behind the front outriggers. It was followed by a six-axle HC510
A ten tonne capacity R-B dragline screengrab. The 10-RB had a production run of 7625 units between the 1930s up until 1969. Pic credit: By morebyless - Flickr: Ruston-Bucyrus 10-RB, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16388591
Priestman on the cover of the August 1978 issue of Cranes Today. Small mechanical crawlers with attachments were Priestman’s bread and butter
The Liebherr AUK 40T-60 was a best seller in Liebherr-Werk Ehingen’s early years. It had a 24m telescopic boom
In 1969 the first truck mounted crane to be produced at the new Liebherr-Werk Ehingen factory was the AUK 220. The first model from the factory went to a customer in Denmark
The production lines being installed at Liebherr-Werk Ehingen
The Gottwald AMK 45-21 was later recognised as a pioneer of all terrain cranes
The Grove TM 1075 was introduced in 1974
The WS-150M from P&H for the UK market on the cover of our November 1979 issue. That year P&H had suffered big losses in Iran due to the overthrow of the Shah
Linden-Alimak on the cover of the April 1981 issue of Cranes Today. Swedish hoist manufacturer Alimak acquired the rights to Sweden’s Linden Cranes in 1973
Coles on the front cover of the March 1981 issue of Cranes Today claiming to be ‘way ahead’. Three years later the company was acquired by Grove
Liebherr sold 333 truck-mounted cranes to Maschinoimport. The cranes were specified with cold-weather protection. For this Liebherr developed a three-element pre-heating circuit in the chassis
In 1990 Liebherr won a major order from the Federal Office of Defence Technology and Procurement for the supply of 459 mobile cranes with a total value of almost €140 million
An FMC Corporation Link- Belt front cover from August 1979. Around seven years later FMC sold its Link-Belt subsidiary to Sumitomo Heavy Industries (HSC)
In 2001 Tadano, Sumitomo and Hitachi formed a global alliance. This is the back page Tadano advert from the May 2001 issue of Cranes Today
Terex’s rough terrain production facility in Crespellano, Italy
Manitowoc's Pune plant in India
The Grove GRT 9165
Tadano’s acquisition of the Demag brand at Bauma 2019