Future challenges for loader crane manufacturers
By John Henry Bowman13 June 2022
2021 provided a 90-year record in the loader crane industry. Despite the covid crisis, all manufacturers reported record order intake and sales revenue. John Henry Bowman reports.
Higher than expected global demand has put pressure on manufacturers to deliver on 2021 orders. Global component shortages, supply chain challenges, and the cost of raw materials threaten the industry, and have created worldwide shortages and extended lead times for commercial vehicles.
New reports of first quarter profit warnings are making their way into the market and the Russia-Ukraine war is destabilising vital areas. The overall expansion rate continues to be constrained.
All manufacturers faced the same challenges, limited by a combination of raw material and component shortages, supply chain delays, and worker shortages.
Prices rose at an increased rate – one of the highest in a decade – as a result. Although these supply constraints showed some signs of easing, they will likely be exacerbated again by the Ukraine war, as will the upward pressure on prices.
A key variable in the performance of loader crane producers is components and raw material costs; profitability in 2022 will depend precisely on the speed at which any increase can be passed through to customers.
Increasing customer expectations, capacity constraints, and the covid pandemic have created the perfect storm of challenges – both positive and negative. Simultaneously, supply chain management has moved from the back office to the board room as more and more dealers and customers experience heavily extended lead times, price increases, and unknown delivery dates, which contributed to the record order intake for all loader crane manufacturers in 2021.
Worldwide commercial vehicle production is suffering from a shortage of microchips, which has extended delivery times for new trucks to 8 to 10 months in many countries.
2022 will see Atlas celebrate its 103rd birthday. Although also faced with component shortages, today the range consists of 90 loader cranes. The range is slim and safe and has a reputation for durability and reliability.
World’s largest loader crane
The global fight for the title of the ‘world’s largest loader crane’ continues. Global markets, expectations, and requirements vary according to countries and the local road legislation. Global manufacturers have targeted specific markets to get their slice of the cake.
The Italians versus the Turks is where the title of largest loader crane sits today. The number one challenge is that we are faced with axle load limitations on commercial vehicles to which these cranes are fitted. While the Turks lead the way with lifting power, they lack lightweight engineering.
In Europe, Cormach cranes lead the way, with Effer and Copma not far off. Palfinger and Fassi are all close, with cranes very similar in capacity and reach, and have a multitude of technology and combination options.
Next generation of heavy lift cranes
Large loader crane launches provide a pathway to transform the next generation heavy lift cranes. Aside from the crane itself Hiab is also spearheading advanced installation methods.
Hiab IQ.1188 HiPro and the Effer 1000 have new boom design profiles to optimise the power to weight ratio. These improved boom profiles create a smaller crane frame that can be installed on a smaller truck, with the associated payload benefits, or a larger crane can be mounted.
Smaller trucks use less fuel and are easier to manoeuvre in tight centres. Hiab FrameWorks brings the industry closer to competing in the mobile crane market with its new system, a CE-certified package using Hiab manufacturing capabilities.
Designed for fully automated production, including robot welding and advanced cataphoretic dip painting, it creates a long-lasting subframe with high torsional rigidity, Hiab says. With up to 40 per cent greater stability, this modular system minimises design work and cuts installation time by 75 %.
The subframe is bolted on using an attachment kit, with no welding involved. Nor is any lateral plating needed on the truck chassis.
The future of crane performance
Pioneering the future is Palfinger’s in-house installation centre and Paldrive, its turnkey solutions. In the Palfinger Mounting Competence Centre (MCC), the crane and vehicle become one unit. In recent years more than 800 complete crane and hook loader installations have been built on vehicles at the Lengau site in Austria.
The MCC provides stimulating input for optimising the bodywork and its quality. After all, the interfaces between the vehicle, loader crane, and all mounted components are decisive factors when it comes to the optimum performance of the overall concept. Palfinger’s Paldrive offers its customers completely mounted vehicles.
The manufacturer has a range of new vehicles, demonstration and training trucks of different types, models, and performance categories. The advantages of the Paldrive concept are quick availability of the vehicles and the total price for trucks, cranes and mounting.
Middle East Expo
“Connecting minds, creating the future” is the tagline of Expo 2020 in Dubai which opened after a one-year delay. From October 2021 to March 2022 more than 190 countries presented their future solutions for business, science, and research to an international audience.
“Palfinger is committed to the claim ‘shaping the future together,” states Palfinger CEO Andreas Klauser. “That is why we are taking this opportunity to present Palfinger as a global, innovative, and future-oriented company to select customers and partners from the region,” he says.
Australia’s largest loader crane
Maxilift Australia has delivered Australia’s largest knuckle boom loader crane. Pioneering the crane industry to new heights, the company has completed multiple deliveries of big Effer cranes and the recent supply of an Effer 2255, Australia’s biggest loader crane. It is easy to see why Maxilift Australia is leading the market in the big crane sector and working towards market share leaders.
It is a formidable team run by founder Bob Davis and daughter Kymberly. “Knuckle booms with a high tonne-metre capacity are more advantageous, flexible and compact than other mobile machines. The advantage of a knuckle boom is that it can be installed on a standard 8x4 or 10x4 truck chassis and work within the legal road axle regulations.
“The engineering is quite complex, but the advantage is that 90 to 210 tonne-metre knuckle booms can work in a very narrow space compared to a mobile crane. This brings about many benefits when dealing with occupational health and safety, site establishment, additional staff resources and, most important, the time taken to do the job.”
Easier machine operation
With the use of a fly jib, the crane can lift over multi-storey buildings, allowing loads to be lifted onto and into buildings. These cranes are available with an array of accessories, making it a true one-man operation.
With zero tail swing on the Effer 2255 adjacent traffic can pass freely and safely. These truck cranes are more compact than traditional mobile cranes, making them easier to manoeuvre into tight locations.
The configuration of a knuckle boom crane allows the operator to reach an extreme radius without the vertical extension of a mobile crane. There has been an increase in these types of crane in cities like Melbourne, where traffic is heavy and streets narrow.
Communication is greatly improved between the machine and the operator. By using the display on the remote control for real-time information sent to the operator, they can work with a clear view of the working area, making it safer.
Significant R&D investment has brought the digital crane world to a point where nothing is impossible as manufacturers feature telematics monitoring systems. While data-driven monitoring is helping deliver economical productivity, and safety benefits to individual machines, fleets and businesses, continuous investment in R&D continues to pave the way for green energy, digitalisation, and the ‘internet’ of cranes has become the way of the near future.
Like most manufacturers, the entire digital processing system is based on new connectivity that manages data and provides information to create value for the customer and the system itself.
The most crucial include maintenance, a fundamental process in guaranteeing the correct functioning of the crane, operator safety, and the maintenance of the crane’s value over time.
Digital solutions from Palfinger make handling easier and reduce initial training time on the device, the company says. The company’s fleet management solutions provide an improved overview of device use, while integrated communication systems optimise data exchange between fleet managers and crane operators.
This improves the reliability of device use planning and reduces time-consuming, manual co-ordination, and administration activities. A key topic when it comes to support solutions is preventive maintenance, which helps to prevent expensive repairs and maximises device uptime.
Elsewhere, HiConnect enhances the productivity of Hiab customers’ businesses through connected Hiab equipment. The technology provides real-time insight into equipment utilisation, operation, and condition.
This data can actively optimise performance and safety and avoid unnecessary downtime. Web-based dashboards with clear and straightforward overviews provide status monitoring, service planning and help improve the operation of each unit and operator.
Advanced diagnostic systems will help optimise Fassi crane maintenance, while a collaboration with Volvo sees Fassi leading the charge with its “Drive by Fassi” technology. Operators can “drive” Volvo Trucks via their Fassi V7 radio control unit from outside the cabin.
Together with the Exster interface developed by Volvo Trucks, the technology is part of an integrated system developed in collaboration with Volvo Trucks Italia, which has already collaborated with Fassi in the creation of the FX-Link, a system that provides two-way communication between crane and truck.
Another option is the PM Power Tronic Advance. With real-time diagnostics, this system offers immediate response time with data transmission protocol Canbus 2.0, allowing full integration of innovation.
Challenges for manufacturers
Overall, the industry has seen significant growth.
The challenges are no longer production orders but rather productivity, managing costs and the supply chain. Global cyberattacks are also causing havoc. Customer service and support will be vital to building loyal customers and growing market share.
Engineering and technological advancements in 2022 will continue to evolve and establish heavy-lift loader cranes that offer credible solutions, which will continue to eat into the mobile crane market.