As recently as 30 years ago, nearly every television was still black and white. Telephones were mainly used through operator controlled exchanges. A computer for a medium sized business was as big as the average room. The world has changed.

Loader cranes too have changed. Then, an 8tm lorry loader weighed 300kg to 400kg more than today. There are further changes ahead.

Rated capacity indicators and limiters are now mandatory on most categories of truck loader. Look at some of the things they can already do: • monitor, indicate/limit load moment • prevent overload situations and incorporate emergency stop functions • provide diagnostic facilities and management reporting information • be programmed via the truck’s engine management system, for example to control engine RPM while the PTO is engaged.

• be programmed to go into “test mode”, without the need to adjust valves • be calibrated to work in conjunction with fly jib or winch attachments • be programmed to warn of impending service intervals according to application, and other things such as oil temperature.

There are many more possibilities for this type of equipment. And a number of other potential product developments and demands may well become increasingly common over the next few years.

One specific issue is that demands for enhanced stability control will continue to increase. Stabiliser leg beams are getting longer as a result, although (most of) any weight penalties are compensated for by the fact that the high tensile steel used today has got twice the material strength of 10 years ago, with consequential weight saving benefits.

Possibly replacing the need for longer outriggers is the fact that the technology is available even now to have variable lifting capacity throughout specific areas of the loader’s slewing arc, to compensate for any “less stable” areas. The demand for this will undoubtedly increase, particularly with larger loaders; and systems will become more sophisticated.

The time is rapidly approaching when the norm for cylinder pressures will be set between 300bar and 330bar. Compare this with less than 10 years ago, when 200bar to 220bar was the norm. This will result in smaller cylinder dimensions, achieving increased speed with the same size of pump and perhaps a little less weight.

The demand for more hydraulic extensions on many categories of loader is increasing. Many manufacturers now produce loaders with between six and eight extensions and it will only be a matter of time before it is up to 10, which, at the moment, seems to be the theoretical (and practical) limit. As with stabiliser beams, it is only the high tensile steels that are available which makes this possible. On the other side, there is also the argument of course that the loader should be used for lifting a load, not the weight of all the extensions and a case was recently stated, whereby the weight of the boom configuration constituted 87% of the loader’s lifting capacity.

This requirement for more reach automatically creates a demand for improved speed when operating extensions. A number of manufacturers already produce an oil regeneration system, which recirculates the oil within the extension ram assemblies. The area of pressure is consequently reduced to the size of the piston rod, but speed gets the priority. Before long, the main barrier to continued increases in extension speed will perhaps be the seals used, although again, the technologies available are reaching new heights.

Safety issues continue to become more important. Legislation has greatly enhanced the safety available on loaders but one area where further substantial developments may be expected is with the use of radio remote control. The operator will soon be able to program the loader safety system via the remote control to permit different programmes for different types of lift and different hazard considerations.

Increased globalisation may see more outsourcing by manufacturers and co-operation agreements with third party component suppliers to keep costs down. This trend, however, is softened by concerns over the ability to monitor product quality. Each manufacturer will no doubt find its own solution according to its own particular circumstances.

The sales and marketing of loader cranes will also continue to evolve. Gone are the days (as recently as the late 1980s), where the negative sell and the front end price were the primary issues. Also gone are the days when a first time sale to an operator resulted in guaranteed future business. Although the purchase price is still a considerable issue, other factors such as maintenance costs, the price of spare parts, after sales support, training and residual values are now increasingly discussed topics at the point of sale.

There are now too many quality products and companies vying for market share to be complacent. However, with ever higher standards being demanded both by customers and safety authorities, barriers to entry in the manufacture of loader cranes are likely to rise and there will be more pressure for consolidation among the manufacturers.

Many loader manufacturers will soon find themselves in a position where they are unable to keep up with the accelerating demands that this initial foray into sophisticated technology will create. The telecoms and computing industries have learned that as soon as a new product or facility is available, it is already time to move on and reach new heights. In their cases, the need for much of this is consumer led, but in loader cranes it will inevitably be a combination of legislation and user demand.

Alan Johnson is managing director of HMF UK