Rise and Shine

28 December 2021


A dramatic growth in demand shows that the world is, at last, waking-up to the tele crawler, says Cranes Today contributor Stuart Anderson.

As readers of Cranes Today over many years will recognise, I have long been a strong advocate of the tele crawler crane. Until quite recently it sometimes seemed I was banging my head against a brick wall. But no longer! Seems that everywhere you look they are the product on everyone’s lips. The upsurge in interest is being driven not only by customer recognition and fast developing sales volumes but also by an unparalleled rollout of new products. And it truly is a global phenomenon with, for a change, a surge in demand for these (relatively) new crane types not being primarily-driven by customers in Europe, the US or Japan – but most especially by buyers in China and SE Asia.

As many will know, the tele crawler had its birth over 50 years ago with the first Grove (1967) and Coles (1968) before Kato developed the first truly successful machine (NK 160C) in 1971. Spandeck Mantis (now Tadano) of Franklin, Tennessee was the next significant entrant with the ‘Turtle’ designed in 1977 by one of America’s great crane engineers – Bud Van de Hey. Over the years there has barely been a single mobile crane manufacturer across the globe that has been able to resist the lure of developing one of these ‘amalgams’/‘hybrids’. Over the years notable entrants have included IHI (1988 – with the first mini – CCH 50T), Hitachi (1991: another mini - the EX 60T), Sumitomo (1990 LS-118RHT – the first crawler with a telescopic lattice boom), Liebherr (1990 with what is still the largest – the 800t LTR 1800), 1993 (Bendini 50 Beta), 1995 (Hitachi-Sumitomo SCX 400T using a Link-Belt boom), 1997 (Sennebogen 613R), 2000 (Kobelco TK 550 – the first truly heavy duty crane in this class), 2006 (70-tonne Marchetti Sherpa with outrigger supports), 2007 (XCMG XGC 55T), 2007 (Link- Belt TCC 450), 2007 Sany (SCC 1100TB), 2008 (FUWA), 2009 (Sunward) and most recently 2019 (Demag GTC 1800EX GTC 2000) and 2021 (Zoomlion ZCT 900). As if that list of some 20 players isn’t sufficient to trace the history, there are another 30 players taking the total number of participants to date to 50 – and growing.

However, as someone once said, there are statistics and then there are facts. Beyond the early trailblazers its clear that just a handful of these cranes actually changed the market and crane development history. Undoubtedly first of these was the 16-tonne Kato NK 160C – arguably the first really efficient tele crawler with a 23.5m full power boom and tractor crawlers. It proved highly popular in Australia, Scandinavia, Benelux and Japan with some 250 sold during the 1970s. Next came the 18-US ton (16-tonne) capacity Mantis 3612 – a crane that redefined the ‘species’ with very compact dimensions and most especially the availability of an earth auger to meet the needs of the US utility industry. Key to the success of the 3612 were its sturdy heavy-duty construction and the inspired idea of Spandeck founder William Mitchell Snr. to develop the option of a rotary drill rig that could be folded against the boom for storage and allowed the cranes to bore holes for transmission towers. In addition, the crane’s compact travel dimensions of 8ft x 8ft (2.4m x 2.4m) width and height allowed it to travel into oil storage tanks and construct them from the inside out. From its introduction in 1983 for more than 20 years the 3612 was at the heart of Spandeck’s business to such an extent that Grove was encouraged to develop a competitive model introduced in 1994 but which challenge proved both futile and very short-lived.

Before the world fell in love with spider cranes, a substantial demand developed for mini crawler cranes with swing cabs – typically of around five tonnes capacity and 12m boom reach. Ideal for public works construction, tunnel work, etc these cranes were based on mini excavator frames and they too quickly established themselves in new applications such as subway construction and maintenance. The first model to gain a significant presence was IHI’s 4.9-tonne capacity CCH 50T, becoming a popular rental product in the UK, Japan, Australia, etc.

LIEBHERR’S GAME CHANGER

Through the 1980s and 1990s a host of mid-sized cranes of 25 to 70-tonners vied for attention but generally did not cause mainstream customers to adopt the concept. The big game-changer arrived on the European market in 2006 and in some ways was a lucky accident. Liebherr Ehingen had been approached by an important customer who desired to augment their all terrain fleet with a single crawler crane that could travel beneath low bridges that were inaccessible for the taller four metre high all terrains. By combining their crawler skills with the upper of a 100-tonne all terrain, Liebherr was able to develop the first 100-tonne tele crawler – the LTR 1100. That crane quickly drew the attention of crane hirers and contractors alike around the world and by our estimates has now logged around 400 sales.

For the first time, the LTR 1100 offered customers the choice of buying a 100-tonne tele crane on crawlers instead of being limited to buying cranes on long wheeled chassis. In addition, and just as significantly, it offered a much longer tele boom than any previously seen on a crawler crane – 52m (171ft). As exciting as this development was, in some quarters it was met with a fair degree of scepticism. The reason? Fear of boom bending and tip-overs!

Such concerns seemed to have been justified when one crane in particular tipped and fell, boom fully extended, in Brisbane Australia. However the solution had already been conceived – equipping tele crawler cranes with load charts not just based on the traditional ‘firm-and-level’ ground but offering a choice of charts for use on slopes of up to four-degrees. It was a solution rapidly accepted on new tele crawler cranes manufactured worldwide and was another factor in increasing customer acceptance of tele crawlers

However there was still work to be done. Not all customers recognised that most tele booms had been designed for ‘pure’ lift crane work and were not necessarily up for the kind of shock loadings and vibrations involved in heavy duty applications such as regularly performed by lattice crawlers – pile driving, clamshell work, etc. Still there were some brands – most notably Mantis and the Japanese – IHI, Kobelco and Hitachi- Sumitomo – which did build their cranes with substantially heavier booms and frames. Nevertheless, the fact was that the vast majority of demand for tele crawler cranes was for ‘regular’ crane work and it didn’t take customers long to recognise the benefits that the tele crawler introduced. Compared to all terrains they offered some serious advantages: much smaller footprint; ability to turn in their own length; pick-and-carry capacities; much lower ground pressure; lower maintenance costs: crawler versus an automotive carrier.

EUROPEAN DEMAND GROWS

By the mid-2000s the mini tele boom crawler crane (with swing cab) had emerged as a large well-established segment finding demand worldwide with almost all models based on mini excavators and made in Japan by the likes of Komatsu, Caterpillar, Kobelco, Hitachi, Kato, Sumitomo and others. Larger cranes remained a mixed bunch made by a couple of dozen companies serving a market of under 250 units. It was correctly termed a ‘niche’ market. Mantis remained the only significant US supplier in a market of 50-80 cranes of all types and sizes although for a short while Malaysia-based Favelle-Favco became involved in a costly-attempt to convert 28- and 38-ton Cat excavators into cranes using Manitex boom truck booms.

West European demand reached around 60 units principally shared between Germany, Benelux and the UK with Sennebogen the leading player fighting Bendini/ Terex Italia and Marchetti.

Beyond the minis, in Japan IHI was the main player with 30 and 50-tonne models.

Given their credibility, Liebherr’s initiative was a turning point for the market and critical to the way customers began to view the tele crawler crane. Large crawler crane rental companies including the UK’s Weldex had already recognised the potential of the tele boom crawler crane buying its first 63t Mantis and 40t and 80t Sennebogen cranes.

By 2010 the tele crawler was becoming a significant crane rental tool especially in the UK. The pioneer in the tele crawler crane rental business was AGD based in Stratford-upon-Avon which during the 1980s and 1990s developed a rental fleet of some 50 teles including IHIs of 5, 30 and 50-tonne capacity. Since then AGD has continued as a major force in the UK tele crane rental industry representing both Marchetti and Sennebogen with equal success. Most recently AGD succeeded in selling four 120-tonne capacity Sennebogen 6113E tele crawlers to Borehamwood-based JRL Group. Focussed on sub-structure building construction these were JRL’s first tele crawlers, purchased together with two 30-tonne capacity MAIT crawlers as part of a package including foundation machines. Recently Martin Jones’ Shaftesbury-based expanding Jones Crawler Cranes added another 40-tonne Sennebogen 643R again purchased from AGD, as well as taking a new eight-tonne capacity Maeda CC 1908. The 120-tonne Sennebogen has also proven popular with BPH Equipment Ltd., part of Balfour Beatty, that also owns several 70 and 50-tonne Sennebogens purchased from Robert Law’s company. However, as Robert told Cranes Today, the market at present is pretty slow with crane hirers rather than end user being the most active.

UK Hitachi-Sumitomo and Link-Belt dealer NRC, part of the Joseph Gallagher contracting group, has long been a substantial crawler crane rental provider and most recently added a 75-tonne Link-Belt TCC 800 to a fleet that includes about ten Link-Belt telescopics of 50 to 127-tonne capacity. However by far the largest UK tele boom crawler crane hirer remains Alfreton-headquartered Weldex with a fleet estimated at over 70 Liebherr tele crawlers ranging from 60, 100 and 220-tonners.

A UNITED TADANO

For around five years after acquiring Mantis in 2008, Tadano’s primary efforts were spent developing the Mantis product quality up to Tadano standards while at the same time looking to integrate the technology and componentry of the tele crawlers into a more rational relationship with Tadano’s hydraulic crane line. Eventually that re-engineering effort resulted into common boom and jib designs, winches, cabs, controls and safety features. Indeed so extensive was the effort that the new’ product line was unrecognisable compared to the original Mantis line. The breadth of the line was also expanded up to the 156-tonne GTC 1800EX (GTC 2000) while the innovative asymmetric crawler system named Opti-Width added the same kind of operational flexibility found on the outriggers systems of the latest ATs.

It has been a very busy time for Tadano integrating the Demag crane line and refashioning its sales, service, administration and technical divisions. Thus far as best seems to be the case this substantial reorganisation seems to have gone quite smoothly.

After what at times seemed an agonisingly long wait, within the past two years Tadano has unveiled the first fruits of its new product plans – the GTC 600EX and GTC 800EX rated 60 and 80-tonnes but also renamed GTC 700 and 900 at 70 and 90 US tons for the North American market.

Probably very wisely, Tadano’s European tele crawler sales efforts began slowly and focussed on the UK market where they have an established organisation and no linguistic problems. The first sales were made in 2019 to two of the UKs best-established crane hirers – G.H. Johnson and Delden Cranes. Since then additional sales have been made and by our estimates Johnson now owns two each 60- and 80-tonners while Delden has seven 60-tonners and five 80-tonners. The very earliest deliveries were with Tier 4 diesels but since last year all have Stage 5 power. Beyond these crane hirers, there’s been the sale of a GTC 800EX to structural steel contractor M.J. Hughes based in Rotherham.

As Tadano’s UK sales manager Paul Goodall told Cranes Today, they are delighted at the positive reception given the 60 and 80-tonners and especially appreciate the repeat orders from such well-regarded customers. Naturally enough he is very keen to get his hands on other models from the range including the new 156-tonne GTC 1800-EX.

MIRAID APPLICATIONS

In the UK, especially for crane hirers like Weldex, road-widening projects have proven a real boon for tele crawlers such the Liebherr’s 60-tonne LTR 1060 – which the company has favoured to the extent of some 30-40 units. In Benelux the 60-tonne Liebherr and to a lesser extent Sennebogen’s 40 and 50-tonners have found favour with numerous building contractors on medium-sized prefabricated building construction projects while in Germany, for the main part, the 100-tonne Liebherr has proven the most popular for such applications. Barge work has also proven a highly-effective operation for work on inner-city rivers like the Thames. As wind turbine tower erection developed into a huge application area for lattice boom crawler cranes of 400-750-tonne crawler cranes, leading European crane hirers such as Sarens, Mammoet, Steil, Neeb and Wasel and numerous other German companies recognised the performance benefits of 100t, 120t and 220t tele crawlers as service cranes. Also in Germany the leading construction contractor Max Bogl has found the LTR 1220 highly-suited to its wind farm business and just added yet another unit to its fleet. The same application ‘marriage’ has proven similarly attractive in North America’s wind farm business with major buyers including Doug William’s Buckner Heavy Lift Cranes LLC.

Outside of Europe, it was Sennebogen that was first to recognise the potential of Singapore and subsequently the Philippines, Hong Kong and Indonesia. In addition, in partnership with its well-established Sydney-based dealer PACE Cranes, it was able to develop an enviably strong position in Australia’s rental fleets. Down under, Sennebogen’s 40-tonne 643R followed by the 50-tonne 653E and 70-tonne 673E quickly became best-sellers. In a vast country like Australia top-quality product support has always been key to sales success and indeed that has been the case with the Sennebogen-PACE partnership.

In 2015 Sennebogen also announced something of a coup, entering a marketing agreement with Grove covering the Americas. While this deal has its merits, especially for Sennebogen, given Grove’s lines of RTs and truck cranes and Manitowoc’s extensive experience building crawler cranes, it still came as something of a surprise that Grove decided against developing its own line.

THE CHINESE ARE COMING!

It’s now a dozen years since FUWA (then known as Fushun) brought its tele crawler cranes to Europe, then in the hands of Holland-based Crane Business. However, after selling a handful of 55t and 65t teles FUWA seemingly withdrew. Already in those days China was home to several small makers of tele crawler cranes. Principal amongst these was Taishan Construction Machinery Co., a well-established maker of side-boom pipe layers to which it added small 12-25-tonne tele crawlers to its pipelaying portfolio. Based in Hefei Province Hefei Smarter also developed a full line of tele crawler of up to 100-tonnes capacity.

About five years ago China’s leading mobile crane manufacturer XCMG entered the tele boom crawler crane sector with quite a splash – introducing four models of from 25 to 100-tonnes capacity in short order. Somewhat surprisingly, outside of Asia XCMG’s international sales efforts with this line have been somewhat restrained. However, during the last couple of years this sprawling company has continued to develop new models rated 40-tonnes, 80-tonnes, 120-tonnes and 220-tonnes. However, in the tele crawler crane field, its principal rival, Sany, has seriously outsold the Xuzhou-based mammoth. In fact, Sany’s European market entry only took off this year with dealer appointments in Holland (Verschoor) and the UK (Foster Cranes) and retail sales in Belgium (SCC 800TB Altez Constructie) and Holland SCC 600TB Van der Vlist). In addition, the Turkish dealer Ascendum has ordered three SCC 550TBs.

For Foster Cranes, it’s a bold development but one that clearly is being well-supported by Sany. "We’re very impressed with the quality – Cummins diesels, Rexroth hydraulics, etc,"- managing director Andrew Foster, told Cranes Today. "We already have a stock of spare parts and are well supported by a larger stock held in Holland, Delivery times from Sany are short - under six months - and right now we have a new 60-tonner being painted in our colours in Holland. Going forward, it's our intention to focus on retailing the Sany cranes, and probably not getting into rental."

Further afield, Sany has rejuvenated its efforts in Australia with Tutt Bryant, part of Singapore-based Tat Hong, being named as the new dealer and initially taking a 130-tonne SCC 1300TB tele crawler to its rental fleet, having already retailed a 40-tonne SCC 400TB to Murray Construction based in Deniliquin, in Southern New South Wales. A well-established family-owned business, Murray’s primary focus is on concrete bridge and levee construction. For some years now Tutt’s, being Australia’s largest crawler crane hirer, has owned and operated Sany crawler cranes of 300 and 400-tonnes capacity and, in part, its new SCC 1300TB lends itself as a service crane to these big lattice crawlers.

Meanwhile in the US Sany is seeking to revive its crane marketing efforts so-abruptly curtailed about five years ago. At that time it was with RTs and lattice crawlers that Sany had made its mark – albeit briefly – now it's with tele and lattice crawlers. Directing the effort this time is a former Terex Cranes team led by Doug Friesen and Mark Philippi. Considering the nature and ramifications of that earlier ‘exit’ they may well need pretty thick skins.

It is the domestic Chinese market and SE Asia, however, that have developed into key tele crawler crane markets. China alone represents by far the world’s largest market, this year expected to take some 400 tele crawlers from Sany alone. Its 25-tonne SCC 250TB has become the best seller taking some 50% of domestic sales where it often acts as a support crane on foundation projects. In SE Asia, the markets of Singapore and Indonesia are the biggest and in total the region represents an annual demand of approximately 100 units, mainly in the 55-to- 80-tonne classes. While Sany is the clear market leader, XCMG is a strong second. Added to these players most recently Zoomlion made its market entry introducing new models of 30t, 55/60t and 90t capacity. Being a late entrant, Zoomlion chose to simultaneously introduce three mainstream models, shipping early production models to its dealers in Malaysia, Singapore, Algeria and Turkey.

The dramatic growth in demand, although driven in large part by sales in China and SE Asia, nevertheless will surprise - even shock - many competitors. Having already registered a record sales level in 2020, this year total global market demand is estimated to reach between 800 and 850 units. Clearly not so much a ‘niche’ anymore! And it seems it’s only going to get hotter.

An all-Sany-machine jobsite in China. China is the world’s largest tele crawler market and, this year, is expected to take around 400 tele crawlers from Sany alone
The 16-tonne Kato NK 160C
An IHI CCH50T mini tele crawler owned by UK company Marsden Crane Services
The Mantis 3612; note the rotary drill rig folded against the boom
One of AGD’s Sennebogen 6113E tele crawlers
Tadano’s 156-tonne capacity GTC 1800EX
NRC has recently added a Link-Belt TCC 800 to its fleet
Max Bögl Group taking delivery of a Liebherr LTR 1220 in Ehingen, Germany
Sany’s 25-tonne SCC 250TB has become a best seller in China