Standing their ground

24 March 2022

Can their ability to withstand the toughest of conditions and operate on the roughest of ground secure the rough terrain's position in the crane market? Julian Champkin reports.

An all-terrain crane can travel on all terrains. Or so its name might suggest. Certainly it can drive itself over public paved roads to a job site; and when it is there it can cover most unfinished, soft, muddy raw ground.

A rough terrain, on the other hand, can drive only over rough ground. It is not allowed on roads. It has to be carried to its site on the back of a semi-trailer, which is inefficient and costs time and money and resources; and once it is at the site it has to stay there until it is collected by the semitrailer again.

So why would anyone buy a rough-terrain when an all-terrain is available?

“Well, the names are not exactly accurate," says Giancarlo Montanari, who Terex's general manager of rough terrain cranes based at the company's Crespellano business unit in Northern Italy.

Prior to this appointment Montanari was business line leader for rough terrain operations at Crespellano in charge of sales and distribution.

"An all-terrain cannot really drive over all terrains," he continues. There are many places – rocky slopes, hillsides, deep mud – where it just cannot go and where you need a rough terrain. And on a large site, the rough terrain can drive anywhere over it, and stay for weeks or months if needed. They are compact, they are versatile, they are manoeuvrable, with different steering modes and they can turn in very small spaces; and since they are very much cheaper to buy than all-terrains they give the customer much greater efficiency and productivity and value for their money.”

Montanari's appointment shows that Terex clearly sees a big and continuing future for rough terrains.

“I am now responsible for the internal side of the Terex's rough terrain business as well as the outside, customer-facing work,” he says. “My appointment is certainly part of a new corporate strategy from Terex that puts the RT product at the centre, with a completely new focus on the product. And being physically based here at our factory in Crespellano, all the daily activities in the company can be better coordinated and supported.

"The management of Terex certainly sees a huge potential in the product.”

The reasons for Terex’s faith in the future of rough terrains are as outlined above: there are tasks which only RTs can do; and there are other tasks that RTs or ATs can do, but the RT can do them better and more economically. “One reason their purchase price is so much cheaper than ATs is that they are so much simpler,” Montanari says. “They do not need to have all the road-drivability elements – the regulations, the road-traffic compatibility requirements can all be side-stepped. And the inconvenience of needing a separate vehicle to transport them can be minimised: we do that by keeping the overall width of our RTs to less than three metres, which means they can be transported without needing special permits. So the total cost of ownership can be very advantageous.

“ATs and RTs are actually very different types of crane, and in the end the markets and the customers for them are completely different.” Another part of his job is to expand that market: “We are trying to get into countries where RTs are not so popular yet. If you look at the southern part of Europe we have a huge market here in Italy but with countries that are very similar, for example Portugal, Spain or Greece, RTs are not so common. So we are thinking of ways to highlight the capabilities of our cranes there, perhaps to show the advantages they have over small city cranes or all terrains, for example. And I think that there is room for us. There are very many things in common between, for example, Spain and Italy and we are confident and sure if we can work correctly with a market like Spain and explain to the customer the benefits that an RT can give, especially in the cost of ownership of the machine, we can certainly enter the market where today the all terrain is dominating.

“Again, the crawler crane customer is also different, with his own special needs; but of course RTs perform well in very difficult ground conditions, so probably with our product we can also eat a bit into the market of the crawler machine.

“During my six months so far with Terex I have been able to meet distributors and importers and customers; and customers tell me the key thing they look for is performance. The crane must be easy to use, to maximise their productivity. And certainly our RT range, with the new Terex operating system TAOS and with the T-Link telematics platform, ticks all those boxes. They are easy to use because on every crane the operating system is the same, which means that one operator can use the 35 tonne model and then moved to a 90 tonne version without any extra specific training.

“A trend that we are seeing in the market is a demand for longer booms – but there is still the desire for the crane to remain as compact as possible. Of course, you can increase the length of the boom, but remaining compact while you do it is not easy. A longer boom will change the load charts, and need a wider chassis and makes more weight and so on; so this is challenge for the future – one that we will happily face.

“The TRT range is our latest; they have all the TAOS and T-link features we have mentioned and a new ergonomic cab with wide visibility, new Stage Five engines, and a new boom with three extension modes.

“Demand is constantly increasing. 'Crazy' is a good word to describe it just now; and that is okay because the world is like that now and there are many things pushing it; so the main issue for us is to be able to fulfil that demand without interruption. We are working constantly on production; and we have a successful development strategy that we have put in place, appointing new worldwide distributors for long term partnerships; that is a fundamental of our strategy. We have just (February 2022) appointed Troost Machinehandel as our authorised RT distributor for the Netherlands.

"Also for 2022 we have one of our focuses is on South East Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines. We know that there is a market over there, and we have the product to do well. We are constantly developing our network and always looking for distributors for long term partnerships and cooperation.”

Across the Atlantic, Brian Elkins is product manager for rough terrain cranes at Kentucky-based Link-Belt. He too is finding large demand; and like Montanari at Terex, boom length is a key request of his customers. “We are seeing a big demand for our larger rough terrain cranes and our one hundred US ton and 160 US ton (145t metric) categories,” he says. “A lot of utility work is really picking up. Wind farm work is really taking off as well – that, of course, needs long boom lengths; infrastructure work has rebounded from the pandemic really quickly; and we are also seeing work on high quality entertainment-sector projects, building stadiums and arenas and civic centres. On those projects you are working from the inside out or the outside in, and either way again you are needing that long boom reach. On our RTC-80160, the 160 ton (US) model, has a six-section boom, and if you put on the extensions and offsettable fly that takes you to a tip height above ground of around 311 feet, which is just shy of 100 metres; think of the outside of a football stadium or something like that, and with that reach and height and capacity you have everything you need.”

He is particularly pleased with Link-Belt’s latest introduction, the 85 RT. “We introduced it back in October 2021 at our Crane fest here in Kentucky. Some other crane manufacturers offer 80 or 85 ton cranes but for the most part they have taken a 100 ton crane, with a 100 ton boom and chassis, and have de-rated it or perhaps taken a slab of counterweight off to bring it down to 85 ton capacity; but in all reality because it is originally a 100 ton crane its price point is going to be in the 100 ton range. But this one was designed from the bottom up as an 85 ton unit so it has the cost price point of an 85 ton crane.

“Traditionally, the smaller RTs would be bought by small contractors for everyday use; fleet operators would buy the larger ones to rent out. The 85 RT fits neatly into both markets: it is affordable for a small contractor to buy and use, and still good for fleet operators to want to own to spread the range of their offerings. So it has something for everyone, and happily sales have reflected that. Although it is so new on the market it is already at work on good number of job sites.

“When you look at our rough terrain base, different size cranes are used for different applications. A lot of the small RTs, the 50t or 60t capacities, are the ‘wheelbarrows’ jobsite: they are simple, they do all kinds of tasks, they get used by several people every day for several different things. One day they could be doing rigging work, the next day they could be doing bridge construction, the day after they could be setting up an air conditioning unit on a roof. Unlike larger all terrain cranes, which are going to have the same operator in the seat every single day, these get driven by multiple different people for short periods, so they need to be clear and uncomplicated in the controls.”

And, like Terex, keeping up with demand is, well, demanding. “So far this year we have been selling our cranes as fast as we can build them,” says Elkins. “And we are building them as fast as we can get the parts. For aftermarket support for our customers we have just completed, in January, a warehouse expansion that adds 5,500 sq. m of space to our Parts Distribution Center. It is a $9m investment which centralises all of our parts distribution and is really helping our ability to serve our customers throughout the world.”

Rough terrains, then, are in no danger of ceding their market to all-terrains, or to lattice crawlers, or it would seem to anything else. The advantages of a crane that really can travel over the roughest of rough ground are not going to go away.

Link-Belt: Link-Belt’s new 85RT at its launch
Giancarlo Montanari is now the GM of RTs at Terex
The $9million new warehouse at Link-Belt will streamline parts delivery