The whole idea of having to recharge batteries has served to suppress demand for electric powered cranes. But European directives restricting noise and hydrocarbon pollution inside buildings has meant a gradual increase in interest in electric power for factory and warehouse applications, particularly in Italy, Germany and the Benelux countries. Tightening safety regulations on using forklifts with lifting attachments is a further boost for manufacturers of electric cranes.

Six years ago electric cranes accounted for just 10% of Europe’s industrial crane sales. Today the figure is nearer 50%, according to John Valla, president of Italian manufacturer Valla, which specialises in electric powered industrial cranes. As well as various small models, Valla produces three larger models, the 250, 350 and 450, with capacities of 25t, 35t and 45t respectively. It manufactures about a dozen of these a year, and virtually all are electric powered.

Valla pioneered the electric powered concept, developing its first battery operated crane in 1969. Since then, according to John Valla, the company has shipped thousands of units around the world.

More recently another Italian manufacturer, Ormig, has moved into the market. Ormig introduced its first electric industrial crane in 1997, the 9tmE, a battery powered version of its 9t-capacity 9tm diesel-powered industrial crane. Then came an electric version of its 33t-capacity model and in recent months it has added the mid-range 22tmE, first shown at the Movint logistics show in Milan, Italy last October. Ormig says that electric cranes now account for more than a third of its industrial crane sales.

The latest manufacturer to offer an electric crane is another Italian company, Marchetti, whose 12t-capacity Trio mobile crane is now available in electric form as the MG 12.28 Trio Elektra. Marchetti claims that several orders have already been taken.

The fact that all three manufacturers are Italian is no coincidence. According to Ormig’s marketing director Gian Paolo Aschero, not only are Italian end-users subject to European health and safety directives, there are domestic laws further outlawing the use of diesel powered cranes inside buildings.

Aside from the general benefits of pollution-free operation (at point of use), there are certain applications where an electric crane might be the only answer, food processing for example, and other clean-room type environments such as high technology manufacturing.

John Valla sees the European market for electric cranes increasing steadily at 2% to 3% per year or by about 20% over the next five years.

In the USA, however, it appears to be a different story. Neither of the two biggest manufacturers of industrial cranes, Broderson and Shuttlelift, have them in their manufacturing programmes. Shuttlelift’s sales manager Ken Davis says the company has no intention of designing electric models at the moment because he so rarely receives enquiries for them. Broderson has offered an electric model, the 2t-capacity IC-20-CE, for the last 15 years but has rarely been called upon to actually build any, according to marketing manager Steve Burton. One model that was sold is still being used 10 years later in the construction of military satellites. John Valla reckons that the small market that does exist in the USA is controlled by his company.

Electric power undoubtedly has an image problem. Detractors point to poor running time and high gross vehicle weight with consequent higher ground pressure. But battery life is not a major issue for most applications. Pick and carry cranes are not likely to be asked to work the duty cycle hours of a forklift. For most models, an eight hour shift can be obtained from a single charge, should it be needed. It is more likely, though, that the crane would be called on for specific lifts rather than general fetching and carrying work. Valla’s biggest customer base for its larger cranes is machinery installation and removal contractors.

And the weight issue is barely relevant to cranes. The extra weight of the battery means less counterweight is needed. Ormig’s 33tmE electric and the equivalent 33tm diesel version, for example, are virtually the same weight.

There is also the question of cost. Initial purchase costs might be higher than for an internal combustion engined version but operating and maintenance costs can be 20% lower per year than a diesel or LPG equivalent, according to John Valla. Fears of expensive battery replacement should also be a thing of the past, Valla maintains, because of five year warranties that he says will soon be extended to six, or even eight years and batteries sometimes last as long as 12 years anyway.