Larger prefabricated modules bring demand for higher capacity cranes
By Euan Youdale14 December 2009
The trend towards larger prefabricated modules is pushing demand for higher capacity cranes. There is some cause for concern, however. Euan Youdale reports.
It is a well written fact that more high capacity cranes are being produced to meet the demands of an increasing number of heavy lift projects with bigger prefabricated modules.
One of the advantages of heavier lifts for rental companies are the higher margins that they bring, especially in these times of reduced rental rates for standard lower end jobs.
Roderik van Seumeren, CEO at international heavy lift and transport specialist Mammoet, however, warns that dangers lie ahead for rental companies in the heavy sector, unless changes are made to alleviate problems at the lighter end of the market.
Van Seumeren goes onto explain that the reaction to increased crane prices from manufacturers - up 30% from 2000, he says - has also accelerated the move by rental companies into higher capacity cranes.
"In the last few years there was an escape to larger cranes and equipment because there is a chance to earn more, there is a margin in that equipment, but for how long?
"It is nice to have some big equipment, but you have to know how [to use it], operationally and engineering-wise and you need a network," comments van Seumeren.
"So do we shift the problem or do we solve the problem? That is the challenge of our industry. I am wondering where it will go? Will price fighting happen with large pieces of equipment?" We have to ask our clients for the money that we deserve. That starts with a 30 tonner," van Seumeren continues.
The problem has been exacerbated by increased leasing rates. "The way we leased cranes in the past will not be the same in the future - it will completely change. Fully financed, fully leased cranes will not happen in the future," explains van Seumeren.
This will also put pressure on medium-sized crane rental companies with 10 to 150 cranes in their fleet, van Seumeren adds. "The overheads are too much, the rates are not good and the banks will play with different rules than they have in last 20 or 50 years."
The best chance for survival, says van Seumeren, is to be a small company with few debts and overheads or to be a giant, like Mammoet, that can offer separate large-scale project management services where rates are more open.
The promise of ever-larger projects and prefabricated modules will also test the manufacturers of heavy lift cranes.
The largest crawler cranes are already heading towards the limits of what is possible, according to some in the industry. Largest built so far is the 3,250 tonne capacity Terex CC 8800-1 Twin.
Two of the largest in production are the 2,300 tonne capacity Manitowoc Model 31000 and the 3,000 tonne capacity Liebherr LR 13000, to be launched at Bauma 2010.
ABG Cranes in India is discussing the possibility of a 3,000 to 5,000 tonne crane to erect vessels in a series of new nuclear power plants in the country, with a total output of 30 - 40,000 MW. The company is in preliminary talks with Terex Demag, it says, concerning the new lifting device to tackle heavy loads at long radius.
Options include a crawler crane, explains Saket Agarwal, managing director of ABG Cranes' parent company ABG heavy Industries.
"It is not yet decided. We could go for a ring crane. It depends on how much demand is there. If there are a number of projects coming together, then we might go for the more flexible [crawler] solution but, if there are only one or two projects, then we would go for a ringer arrangement."
Wolfgang Beringer at Liebherr-Werk Ehingen in Germany, however, believes crawlers up to 5,000 tonnes capacity would be an unlikely development in the near future.
"For conventional crawler cranes - ones that can drive with a load - we presently do not see this happening. The problem for larger cranes would be the economic efficiency due to the small number produced. For these special lifts, stationary lifting solutions are available, like ring lifters."
Peter Libert at international heavy lifting and transport specialist Sarens says the move to modular construction is driving the development of high capacity tower lifting devices. "There is a huge trend towards modular construction and heavier modules."
An example is the Koniambo project in New Caledonia (see linked article for full details). To cater for the trend Sarens has a range of tower systems. The SarLift offers 20 towers of 75 tonnes capacity each, while the SarTower incorporates eight 100 m high towers with 1,000 tonne capacity.
Then there is the company's biggest and newest unit, the Multi Lift Tower (SMLT) with a 12 x 12 m footprint. There is 800 m of SMLT available and it is being used continuously across the world, says Libert.
Big projects mean 2009 financial results for Sarens are forecast to be very good, adds Libert. This is thanks to the number of ongoing projects with a one to two year lifecycle that were started before the economic downturn.
"For this reason 2009 will be a very good year, similar to 2008 which was a record-breaker."
The increase in large modules has also played a major role in developments at Italy-based heavy lifting and specialized transport services company Fagioli.
In October Fagioli visited Liebherr-Werk Ehingen to mark its purchase of a 1,350 tonne capacity LR 11350 crawler crane. The machine has a maximum load moment rating of 22,748 tonne-metres.
It follows a visit to the factory last year to celebrate the purchase of a 750 tonne capacity LR 1750 crawler.
According to Paolo Cremonini, Fagioli Group director of operations, the LR 1750 has only had six days of inactivity in 2009.
Fagioli was established in the 1950s as a forwarding and heavy transport company. In 2002 it decided to compete on an international level.
"The challenging engineering and construction market poses significant challenges to the construction of major plants on budget and on schedule, maintaining a top level standard of HSE and quality performances.
"Inventive ways to deal with this challenge include the embracing of modularisation techniques," says Fabio Belli, Fagioli managing director.
Fagioli is meeting the approach of big contractors, says Belli, to modularise and pre-assemble all equipment, including piping, cables and supporting structures in dedicated fabrication yards. "The modularisation process has great advantages in terms of costs, safety, quality performances and time to complete the plant."
These advantages include reduced lead time and exposure to adverse weather conditions, along with less risk compared to handling multiple units, reduced costs and an improvement in quality and safety, explains Belli.
Before these large-scale projects can take place, the transport, lifting and installation activities are studied. An example of a module-based job done by Fagioli is the Adriatic LNG re-gasification plant built in Algeciras, Spain.
Fagioli transported, lifted and installed modules up to 5,000 tonnes. It won the company the SC&RA rigging job of the year award, among other awards.
Fagioli places such importance on its ability to provide these integrated services, including planning and logistics through to forwarding and heavy transport and lifting, that Alessandro Fagioli, president, has called it an "organisational revolution" within the company.
As previously mentioned, bigger lifts mean cranes in the 400 to 1,000 tonne capacity range are becoming standard. This is recognised the world over, not least in China. At the BICES exhibition in November, Chinese manufacturers launched a range of high capacity models.
Zoomlion's QUY450 dominated the company's stand in Beijing. The 450 tonne capacity crawler crane, with its 343 kW Volvo engine, has a deadweight of 360 tonnes with a basic boom. With a heavy duty (HD) boom the crane can lift 400 tonnes at 6 m while with a Light Duty (LD) boom it can lift 207 tonnes at 9 m.
With a HD luffing boom the figures are 140 tonnes at 14 m while a HD fixed boom can lift 90 tonnes at 16 m. With the Superlift boom, performance goes up to 450 tonnes at 8 m and with Superlift LD and luffing booms the figures are 207 tonnes at 18 m and 225 tonnes at 14 m.
Designed with wind turbine installation in mind, Sany showed its 650 tonne capacity SCC6500WE. It has a 102 m main boom with a 12 m fixed jib extension. The crane can lift 120 tonnes to 90 m and the undercarriage is hydraulically adjustable to give a footprint width of 7 to 10 m (23 to 33 feet).
Earlier in 2009 Zoomlion released details of its new 1,000 tonne capacity crawler crane. The first QUY1000 is undergoing testing and will be delivered to Shanghai Construction Company at the end of 2009.
Western manufacturers have also been busy in the heavy lift segment. Link-Belt announced a 600 US ton (544 tonne) super lift attachment for its 548 crawler at its CraneFest '09 event in the USA.
The 548 crawler was unveiled at ConExpo 2008, but will now have a 600 US ton capacity super lift option, which includes a super mast, super mast and telescopic tray and super mast with wagon attachment. The super lift is being tested in Japan.
The 548 also has a new 25 foot (4.6 m) auxiliary offset top designed for additional load-to-boom clearance that is required on vessel placement and wind energy applications.
Maximum tip height on the 548 can reach 470 feet (143 m), or with its standard boom, anywhere from 79 to 315 feet (24 to 96 m).