Visionary thinking

17 November 2022

We’ve looked at the past, now it’s time to focus on the future: we ask a number of key industry players what their strategy for further future development is.


Our family’s blood runs Sarens blue, so I grew up in the world of heavy lifting. My first memory was attending a nighttime bridge lift in Belgium. I was about eight years old and there with my twin brother and father.

Back then, the TC3200 we used was considered a very large crane, and the entire operation happened at night, which was exciting. With all the light towers and equipment, the entire scene looked like something out of a movie.

By the time I was 12, my grandfather was teaching me, my brother, and cousins to drive cars on Sarens’ old terrain in Steenhuffel, where the company started. We used old, worn-out company cars that had over 300 kilometres on them, so we didn’t worry about dents and dings. (I think we did wreck a few, though!) I still remember that terrain: it had the old maintenance shops and old equipment, and we played there nearly every Sunday while our parents had dinner with our grandparents.


Fast forward to today, and I’m now leading the company, and the giant cranes, that I used to be so in awe of as a kid.

We have made incredible leaps since then: not only in the scale of our global operations, but the innovations we’ve made in crane design and engineering, as well as the tremendous projects we have worked on. We’ve moved everything from space shuttles to wind turbines, and have built the world’s biggest and mightiest cranes.

In the world of heavy lifting, everything happens on such a large scale. Looking back over the past few years, the impact of world events has been huge–but our vision for the future is just as big, and we’re excited for what is up ahead.


Recently we’ve weathered significant macroeconomic changes, as everyone has: Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and inflation among them.

Each required close coordination with our teams worldwide, and we invested a lot of time and energy reinforcing our organisation’s structure, processes, and lines of communication. During Covid, I made it a point to speak to every P&L-responsible person several times per week, and still start my week with those conversations.

We also introduced very practical controls on cash spending, which we maintain. These macroeconomic changes, though challenging, have made me even more confident that we have a solid organisation equipped to deal with anything the future brings.


It’s up to us to create the future, which is why we aim to be as green as possible. We have installed solar panels on our headquarters and are making headway on building a windmill on-site.

We are also the first in the industry to add a fully-electric crane, the SGC 90, to our fleet, proving that larger ring cranes can be fully future-proof. Additionally, we’re working with manufacturers on concepts like hybrid mobile-folding tower cranes, the use of HVO-fuel, retrofitting old engine and exhaust systems, plugging smaller cranes into the grid, and more. This kind of work is always evolving, because we can always do better.

Meanwhile, we continue to innovate and create new solutions. In the area of R&D, we are code signing lifting solutions with customers, especially as component weights go up. Our customers look to us for solutions, and their requests drive our future lifting designs.

As I consider where the industry is going, I believe that the fundamentals will remain the same: we are a technical services player providing clients with valuable solutions. A sound operational execution, close local client contact, and trust are as crucial as ever. What is changing is that equipment is becoming more complex and operator requirements more advanced. This will require more in-depth training of skilled operators and technicians, especially on electronics. Soon we’ll be calling them pilots or captains, as they’ll command increasingly more complex equipment while collaborating with everyone on site!

As we create our future, we will continue diversifying, pursuing growth in North America, and reinvesting in our crane rental divisions. We’ve focused on project equipment over the last several projects, so are rebalancing by investing in our rental divisions. I am convinced both are vital to our business.


We’re proud to boast a strong global presence thanks to a flat and efficient organisational structure. This means we avoid redundant management layers and focus on core processes that generate value for our customers. Our managing directors are more like mini-CEOs, with a lot of personal freedom and responsibility to operate in their local markets.

We complement this decentralised, flat structure with a very action-oriented headquarters team. This HQ team can be dispatched quickly to assist any business unit as needed, and every director at headquarters understands that they have both a controlling as well as supporting/expert role. This is how we can operate successfully at two extremes: serving local clients through entrepreneurial local business units, and global clients through centralised project organisation and engineering.

Our local business units are distinguished by their know-how and adaptability to local markets. The key thing that sets them apart, though, is that they can tap into our larger pool of global expertise and equipment. At the same time, we assist major global clients on a variety of complex projects because we have a footprint nearly everywhere. Being able to tell them, “Yes, we have already done this type of work, and yes, we have already been in this local market for years,” makes a big difference.


For me, it all started as I watched that bridge being lifted at night. But there have been many memorable moments since then, and each reminds me that at Sarens, we are fortunate to do what we love.

For example, I remember how deciding to build our own giant crane was actually a very short “meeting” in which all board members agreed on it in less than 15 minutes because we were all so excited to make it happen! The decision to build our second giant crane was an even shorter meeting. That’s the power of a united shareholder, board, and management team that’s committed to long-term development over short-term thinking. As that vision came to life, seeing our giant SGC- 120 crane in the background as President Obama spoke at a newly-built plant was amazing.

Setting up joint ventures has also been a rewarding experience. I truly like teaming up with complementary crane rental and transport companies, and although negotiations and discussions can be quite animated and intense, having co-shareholders, especially in challenging markets, is a real advantage. I’m proud to say that we now operate a diverse group of up to 11 joint ventures in Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.


We are proud of the work we do, and there is nobody else on the globe who is like us. We are the only global heavy lift and specialised transport player that is still majority family-owned and managed: that is a unique thing in today’s world.

Our clients can interact with a visible shareholder with a real name, and not with a “faceless organisation” where decision-making can be cumbersome and distant. They also get the benefit of working with an entrepreneurial business unit team on local projects, or with a global organisation on complex and innovative operations. It’s true that at Sarens, there is nothing too heavy and nothing too high. There’s also nothing we haven’t done, or won’t yet do. The future is ours, and we’re more than ready for it. We’ll see you there!


Link-Belt Cranes evaluates activity and future growth through the principles of Safety, Quality, Cost, Delivery and Environment (SQCDE). Link-Belt’s commitment to innovation dates back to its founding. Our dedication to SQCDE also means listening to the needs of our customers, as their needs evolve, with careful research and implementation, so do our products.

Today a number of alternate energy forms exist, but we see an increased emphasis on practical environmental alternatives like greater utilization of fuel alternatives (HVO) and extending the life cycle of our products as cutting-edge engine technology provides improvements to service intervals. Our growth strategy for the next 50 years is following our current successes and continuing to invest on a proven formula: a strong dealer network, reliable parts inventories, increasing value-added features like iCraneTrax and telematics, and a long-term investment in training.

Over the last 10 years, Link- Belt has invested over $80 million USD of capital funds in prototype development facilities, robotic welding, state-of-the-art machining centers, warehousing with electronic retrieval systems, as well as solar power and other environmental initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint.

With this investment history, it would be safe to assume that these types of investments will continue over the coming decades.


Since 2011, Link-Belt Cranes has achieved ISO 14001 certification, which is a standard for conserving natural resources in the best possible way. ISO 14001 certification is an 'establish and maintain procedures' audit, taking into account practices that are in place to maintain a long-term standing of environmental standards. Link-Belt Cranes last certified its ISO 14001 practices in 2021. One of the main targets was becoming a zero-landfill facility; in 2017, Link-Belt achieved this goal becoming a zero-landfill manufacturing facility and maintained this classification from 2017 to the most recent audit completed in 2021. Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association previously recognised Link-Belt’s environmental accomplishments with its Environmental Award in 2012 and 2018.

Link-Belt Crane’s aggressive environmental goals are in line with its manufacturing direction of continuous improvement. Link- Belt looks forward to finding new ways to protect the surrounding community with environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques.

In 2022, Link-Belt Cranes will further offset its environmental impact by adding a 170-panel solar array on the roof of its 2 787 sq. m (30,000 sq. ft.) training and prototype building, providing 94,494 KWh of electricity, about 11% of that building’s yearly consumption.


Innovations have been the driving force for Liebherr since 1949. Looking today what was invented over more than 70 years, it’s an incredible range of products and technologies. And there is much more to come. A lot of new products will be presented at the 2022 Bauma in Munich and the 2023 Conexpo in Las Vegas – but there are also some further things in the pipeline.

Looking into the crane world, Liebherr in Biberach is taking its tower cranes to the next level with fibre rope technology. Given that fibre rope is significantly lighter than steel rope of comparable diameter, fibre rope cranes offer a considerable increase in performance. The greater the hook heights, the more evident the rope’s effect. At present, jib head load capacities can already be increased by up to 43 percent compared to steel rope cranes.

The use of fibre rope also reduces operating costs and downtimes because the rope doesn’t require replacing as often. This is down to the fact that fibre rope is significantly more durable than its steel counterpart. On top of that, fibre rope increases safety: lubrication isn’t necessary and it is possible to see at a glance when the rope needs replacing. All this helps to ensure that Liebherr tower cranes operate even more economically in combination with their in-house manufactured high-performance drives and that the energy required for this is used efficiently.

Another key future-oriented focus for Liebherr-Werk Biberach is the digitalisation of crane operation. This includes intelligent assistance systems that actively counteract dangerous situations. New controls and user interfaces will make crane operation even more responsive and intuitive. In addition, crane operators will no longer necessarily have to climb into their cabs in future. The LiReCon teleoperation unit for tower cranes will one day make it possible to control cranes from the ground. Digital services will enable crane deployment planning and other processes to be even more efficient.


Jumping to the world of multi-purpose crawler cranes and special deep foundation, products that are manufactured from Liebherr- Werk Nenzing GmbH. In 2019 the engineers from Nenzing presented the worlds-first battery powered drilling rig. Only a year later, Liebherr revolutionized the crane industry with the world’s first battery powered crawler crane, the LR 1250.1 unplugged. The electro-hydraulic drive of the new cranes has the same performance specifications as the conventional version. Both versions are operated in the same way, which is especially practical if the crane driver has to often change between machines in one fleet.

An outstanding feature of the battery-powered unplugged units is zero emission. They do not produce any exhaust fumes and are extremely quiet. This strikes the right note especially in noise-sensitive regions and finds favour with construction site personnel and residents. Whether London, Paris or Oslo - the concept has already been successfully applied in these metropoles.

The battery is charged using a conventional jobsite electric supply. Operation can continue as normal while charging. In order to change to battery operation, you just need to pull out the plug, therefore: unplugged. Whether attached to the electric supply or not, the performance and range of application remains unchanged. The designers of the crane laid great emphasis on the safety concept. As with all crawler cranes from Liebherr-Werk Nenzing GmbH, the new battery-operated models are also available with all proven assistance systems.

In the world of mobile and crawler cranes, the products of the Ehingen plant, first of all the full fleet readiness for using HVO has to be mentioned. Since September 2021, all cranes leaving the factory and the factory internal traffic is using HVO instead of diesel, thus reducing the CO2 emissions in operation up to 90% compared with the use of fossil diesel. And all crane companies can switch to HVO immediately, saving tons of CO2 emissions worldwide within an instant – without any refurbishing or changes on the crane or drive system itself. All Liebherr cranes are 100 % ready for HVO.

In April 2021, the first hybrid crane from Ehingen was presented, delivery starts in 2023. The accelerating climate revolution demands drive concepts which reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. That is why our new LTC 1050-3.1E compact crane has an electric motor in addition to its conventional power unit. This enables crane movements to be powered electrically as an option. The new version of the compact 50 tonne crane therefore helps to reduce CO2 emissions and meets the requirements for operating on “zero emissions” sites.

The LTC crane takes the electricity for crane operations direct from the site. The compact crane retains all its familiar properties regardless of whether it is powered by the electric motor or the internal combustion engine. If the power supply is sufficient, its performance in electrical mode is comparable with when it is powered by the engine. If the power supply is lower, the performance of the crane is reduced accordingly. It’s the first crane of this kind. At Bauma, the mobile construction crane (MK series) form Biberach and the compact crane form Ehingen (LTC series) will be fitted with the new Liebherr Liduro Power Port, a mobile energy storage system than can power mobile cranes – but also tower cranes and many other products at a construction site that require electricity.

Finalising the alternative drive systems, Liebherr has chosen an open-minded way forward, being open to all available technologies and also to new, upcoming possibilities like green H2. The goal is to understand all technologies and to choose the right one for each different machine and different application as there is no one-fits-all.

Powering a large crawler crane with electricity while erecting a new wind turbine without any existing infrastructure makes no sense – while a smaller one, operating in a port application at one place can be perfectly fitted even with cable. So this open-minded access helps Liebherr to ensure choosing the right path together with its customers to find the perfect machine solution for each application. 

Regarding new technologies, Liebherr in Ehingen has started to roll out the latest generation of its crane control system, the LICCON3. LICCON3 improves and simplifies the crane control system in one. Electronics is the greatest masterpiece for the new generation of cranes. The LICCON3 control system is a dazzling array of new software, a dizzyingly fast data bus, new programming language, significantly more storage space and high computer performance as well as improved safety tools. And it comes with a new driver and operator cabin, featuring large touch displays – and readiness for fleet management and telematics.


This leads to the future of digital products. With MyLiebherr, the Liebherr group of companies is currently rolling out an updated version of its customer portal, featuring the slogan One portal – All Services.

Here are already many digital assets and products included, like the Crane Planner 2.0, Crane Finder, the Spare Parts shop, Product Document and Certificates. And there will also be a new telematic solution presented at Bauma to control, analyse and optimise mobile cranes in the field. And that’s just one step, while other solutions like MyJobsite offer next level job planning for deep foundation machines.

Connecting the machines, analysing the machine and site data and combining them to optimise the products in terms of efficiency and economically is the driving force for our digital product development, suppling added value to our customers.

We believe that the combination of alternative drive systems with intelligent assistance systems are the foundation for the construction site of the future.


Both Cranes Today and ESTA - the European Association of Abnormal Road Transport and Mobile Cranes - are children of the 1970s.

ESTA was formed in 1976, our later development driven by the vision of the late Christian-Jacques Vernazza, head of the leading French crane rental company Mediaco and a strong believer in pan-European cooperation.

In many ways, our priorities today remain similar to when ESTA was formed - the need to harmonise standards across Europe, the demand for proper consultation to stop our political masters trying to enforce completely impractical rules and regulations, and the on-going drive to improve safety - all underpinned by the fun of creating a club where business relationships and can be developed and best practice exchanged.

But there are major differences as well which will increasingly dominate the industry's agenda and drive developments in the years to come.

In 1976, concern about the environment was largely voiced by green fringe groups dismissed as eccentrics by mainstream politicians. No longer.

Next is technology. Fifty years ago, there was no internet, and few computers. The world is different today.

And finally, there is the skills crisis. The pace of technological change is transforming how we work, a trend accelerated by the rapid moves towards net zero and the rise of offsite and prefabricated construction.

For ESTA, ensuring that our industry has the skills it needs in future will be critical. That means we will have to attract more women into the industry and more youngsters from different communities. We will have to train them to a higher level and to offer secure and attractive career paths.

ESTA has responded with the creation of its European Crane Operators Licence move originally spurred on by complaints that many operators did not have the skills required for the increasingly sophisticated machinery.

Work started on the scheme nine years' ago. There was then and remains today a huge variation in standards of operator training across Europe. These different standards make the industry less safe and reduce efficiency by making it difficult for operators to move from country to country. Several major clients have been calling for high-quality, common Europe-wide operator training for many years

There is no doubt in the minds of ESTA's members and the crane manufacturers that ECOL will make our European industry safer and more efficient in future.

Today, with ECOL officially approved by the European Qualifications Framework, it is slowly but surely putting down roots across Europe.

Four ECOL training centres are up and running with more to follow. Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and British Columbia in Canada have agreed to recognise ECOL and talks are underway with Germany, Ireland, Spain and Switzerland

Once ECOL is recognised by a national authority, ECOL-qualified operators will be able to work in all those territories without further training or testing

But to accelerate ECOL's future acceptance, it needs our industry's major clients and contractors to give it public backing. We could move much more quickly with stronger support from the wider industry, especially from major international companies who wield great influence over their suppliers.

An enhanced skills base able to respond to the huge changes underway in our markets will help to improve safety, efficiency and productivity - qualities that are critical for our future success.


The need is underlined by the push to make the industry more sustainable. The challenges will be huge. The drive to cut emissions is already producing some eye-catching developments from a number of manufacturers, although the speed with which they take root might be limited by supply chain issues - for example in rare earths and other materials needed for an exponentially growing battery market. Crane manufacturers are already showing what might be possible.

The pace of innovation will only accelerate, but despite such notable developments, I believe industry will for the moment adopt short-term options, while the longer-term solutions and their implications are worked out.

For mobile cranes - in the 120- 300 tonne range - the short-term option will probably be to use diesel to get the cranes to site and then battery power for the crane movements on site itself.

Another interim solution might be to raise the use of LPG, if that proves possible in current political circumstances; it is not completely clean, but it is a lot cleaner than diesel and moves us in the right direction until electric/battery driven or hydrogen options are more readily available.

As for hydrogen power, it is realistic but it is a long way off. The development of hydrogen combustion engines in particular is very exciting.

But if industry is to develop the new supply chains that will be required, we will need our politicians to show clear thinking and leadership – and that means agreeing the necessary standards as a matter of urgency.

Hydrogen's energy density is relatively low so for it to work it has to be kept at a high pressure and this raises a lot of questions about standards, regulation and safety - all issues that will need sorting out.

We know from bitter experience – and our long campaign for harmonised European standards in abnormal transport – that such aims are far easier to debate than deliver. We can only hope that the climate emergency will induce a much greater sense of urgency.

In fairness, there are signs that the authorities in Brussels are beginning to take the heavy lift and abnormal transport sector much more seriously and are starting to take seriously our long-standing calls for harmonised European standards and permitting regulations for abnormal transport.

Wind power is one of the drivers of change along with increasing modularisation both of which are accelerating demand for bigger cranes and transports, a trend that shows no sign of slowing down.

Yet this trend is bringing another problem in its wake that will have to be dealt with as a matter of urgency.

Years of underinvestment in infrastructure in even the richest economies has resulted in a huge backlog of work, with some of the most urgent and sensitive being the need to repair or replace dangerous bridges.

This problem has resulted in calls for a network of heavy transport corridors to be created across Europe, along with investment in the bridge network, and ESTA is optimistic that the EU and the member states will eventually agree - because if they do not, it will not be possible to transport many heavy loads from their factory to their location.

However, to really drive change successfully on multiple fronts, we need something more fundamental - namely a commitment from our political masters to effective and timely consultation.

Too often, regulatory changes are proposed - and sometimes even enacted - without any consultation with the industry's manufacturers or users. Such an approach is a recipe for bad decisions, wasted time and resources and should not be acceptable.

A recent example is the EU's new planned European Machinery Regulations which ESTA and others have pointed out are completely unworkable.

It has, to say the least, been a turbulent few years. But even in these difficult times, there are reasons to be cheerful. Covid reminded us of the importance of meeting in person - not just for the social fun of it, but because personal meetings help us to learn from each other, to cement existing business relations and create new ones.

This year, ESTA held our first in-person awards event since 2019. It was a stark and very enjoyable reminder that such in-person networking benefits the whole industry. Long may it continue.

For more about the European Crane Operators Licence go to or contact ESTA directly via


The heavy lifting industry is facing a time of great change and we must adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented by broader trends in society. The scale and number of renewables projects is rising sharply as we move to a zero-carbon society, while heavy lifting work across all industries must support customers work to reduce their carbon impacts. In parallel, the gathering momentum of digitalisation is opening new possibilities in how projects can be delivered as accurately, promptly and safely as possible.

I am pleased to say that the industry is stepping up to the mark in meeting these challenges and taking advantage of ways to work more efficiently.


Electrification of equipment represents an important way of reducing our industry’s use of fossil fuels as the full supply chain seeks to de-carbonise. From developer to EPC to heavy lift specialist there is firm recognition that a move to electric powered equipment would help to reduce the supply chain carbon footprint of projects.

Although electric power is nothing new in applications such as domestic cars, the huge forces that heavy lifting equipment must generate has meant progress in our sector has been slower. But today, large cranes such as Mammoet’s SK6000 are capable of being powered entirely by electricity which delivers important emissions savings for projects, as well as SHE-Q benefits.

We also looked at how to pair electric motive power with new crane formats to deliver broader benefits. This led to our Wind Turbine Assembly (WTA) crane, which is powered by electricity and uses the tower of wind turbines to support itself rather than a conventional crane structure.

This means savings in the carbon footprint of a project can be made not only in the removal of fossil fuel emissions from operating the crane, but also from the logistics that would otherwise be required to move around and assemble a typical crawler or tower crane.

Other alternative fuels such as HVO – a strong intermediate alterative for use in diesel engines – and, in the longer term, hydrogen must also be explored. With HVO already in use across a number of Mammoet projects, we have also conducted successful trials with it, including skidding a transformer.

The challenge now is to ensure we as an industry can scale up availability of equipment that does not require fossil fuels for power so that these become the norm across projects as soon as possible.

There is a virtuous circle here with the increase in renewables work leading to more clean energy and therefore greater availability for future projects. This must be done in the context of owner operators taking greater involvement in how suppliers across multiple tiers can support the minimisation of their project’s carbon footprint.


But the potential for new technology to improve ways of working goes beyond how equipment is powered. What if we could take the Internet of Things that allows you to connect devices around your home and apply it to heavy lift projects - unlocking enhanced safety and greater efficiencies by doing so?

Mammoet is trialing just that. With a high level of connectivity, performance data such as energy consumption, average wind speeds and component wear and tear can be logged and shared with connected devices on site and in the office.

This then informs more accurate decisions not only for the operation of a crane but also its maintenance. The smart use of connectivity can also offer impressive possibilities for remote operation – allowing skilled operators to control equipment without having to physically sit in the cab.

This offers clear safety benefits and can also help to ensure the most skilled operatives are available for projects even if they cannot be present at the project site. We have seen the benefits of this first-hand by operating an MTC-15 crane based in Europe using a specialist Mammoet professional based in Louisiana, USA. In the future, this could mean an operator located in Europe is working on projects in Asia in the morning, Africa at lunchtime and the US in the afternoon – all from a dedicated remote hub.


The planning and design of projects also stands to benefit from new, emerging technologies. The use of sophisticated 3D renders and animations based on actual project schematics is already in use in the heavy lifting industry. This is proving invaluable in identifying required changes earlier in the process, as well as allowing clients to better understand exactly how the work will be carried out.

The next step being explored from here is how to use technology such as virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) to allow for an even more immersive experience. Engineers could run simulations of lifts in a virtual environment created from their own plans, inspecting every detail and making changes to calculations as they go to optimse procedures and enhance safety.

What’s more, Mammoet’s existing Move3D technology can automatically adjust all related calculations if a change is made to a plan, for example if the position of the crane needs to be moved by 50cm.

With the plans complete, customers would then have the opportunity to take a virtual tour of the proposed work, walking around the equipment, viewing how it would sit within their site and seeing exactly how the project would happen in real time. This also has the potential to create new ideas and methodologies as plans are brought to life from the page.


The heavy lift industry has always taken great pride in finding intelligent solutions to tough problems, and this positions us well to deal with the significant challenges – and opportunities – we face in the coming years.

There is some exciting technology and approaches emerging that will help to ensure cranes and other lifting equipment remain a critical component in helping the world to grow in a sustainable way. Indeed this has never been more important as we continue with the energy transition and support customers to deliver lower and zero-carbon projects.


In order to achieve our long-term goal of becoming No.1 worldwide in the lifting equipment industry, the Tadano Group will combine the collective strengths of all Tadano Group companies and, under the concept of One Tadano, synchronise group management while also pursuing the global optimisation of our production system to create the maximum possible synergy effect as a group.

As the shift to clean energy is accelerating, the Tadano Group has declared its goal of achieving Net Zero Carbon Emissions by 2050 and we are working to reduce CO2 emissions by setting long-term environmental targets.

One of our major initiatives is the ongoing development of the world's first electric rough terrain crane with zero CO2 emissions, which can work and travel on electric power. We aim to start commercialising this in 2023.


The Tadano Group's vision is ‘Pursuing Further Excellence for the World and the Future’. Through this pursuit, we contribute to the development of local and international communities, and we advance business activities that help protect the global environment. We also seek to maximise our corporate value in response to the expectations of all of our stakeholders.

At Tadano, we believe that high-quality lifting equipment can contribute to a better society and the prosperity of our customers, and we aim to maximise our corporate value while meeting the expectations of our stakeholders.

Wim Sarens, Sarens CEO
A Link-Belt 175AT shipment leaving Lexington, Kentucky, for San Diego, California. From there it will be shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii
Liebherr in Biberach is taking its tower cranes to the next level with fibre rope technology
Ton Klijn, ESTA Director
Gavin Kerr, Director Global Cranes, Mammoet
Toshiaki Ujiie, President and CEO of Tadano