Lighter chassis and higher capacities influence truck crane design

By Euan Youdale21 June 2010

The 40 tonne capacity Manitowoc Grove TMC540

The 40 tonne capacity Manitowoc Grove TMC540

With new engine exhaust emission regulations and increasing competition from China, the challenge for truck crane manufacturers is on to develop new models with lighter chassis and higher capacity.

In the truck crane sector models based on standard commercial vehicles are becoming a more popular option than the traditional truck crane with dedicated carrier. This is particularly noticeable on machines with lifting capacities below 50 tonnes that cover large distances and a number of jobs in any one day.

An example comes in Manitowoc's 40 tonne capacity TMC540 truck mounted crane. The machine was launched at the Intermat 2009 exhibition in France and shown more recently at the Bauma exhibition in April 2010. Primary target markets include Germany and France. The TMC540 is mounted on a Scania chassis, a popular choice in CE markets, says Rubens Olivas, Manitowoc global product director for truck cranes, boom trucks and industrial cranes.

One of its selling points is the lower value of the Euro against the US Dollar, explains Olivas, making a USA-built machine more attractive.

In addition, the 40 to 45 tonne capacity truck crane category is becoming increasingly popular in Europe, says Olivas, as machines of this capacity usually fall into the taxi-crane category and are required to travel long distances. "Customers are penalized with all that technology built into an all terrain vehicle that they do not need," Olivas continues.

Total weight fully equipped and with full counterweight comes in under 32 tonnes to allow unrestricted and permit-free road travel in Europe. At the moment the TMC540 is only available on a Scania chassis, but Manitowoc is considering making it available on any carrier the customer chooses.

Alternative

Link-Belt showed its 90 US ton (81.6 tonne) capacity telescopic truck crane HTC-8690 and its 70 US ton (70 tonne) capacity truck terrain HTT-8675 Series II at Bauma. "Customers are telling us that they are looking for a simple, low cost solution as an alternative to all terrain cranes," confirms Rick Curnutte, Link-Belt manager, telescopic boom cranes. "We've had a lot of interest across the European Union, but especially Great Britain, Spain, and Norway, to name a few. The main reason is the operational simplicity of truck cranes and the low maintenance costs associated with the truck crane design."

Asked if truck cranes are winning sales over all terrains, Curnutte answers in the positive. "In the lower tonnage range that our trucks compete in, yes, no question. The reasons are, as I mentioned, operational simplicity and low maintenance costs."

This type of truck crane has been popular in North America for some time. Manitowoc's TMC540 is a European version of the TM500E2 sold in the USA. The model for Europe has the longer 31 m box boom of the two options available on the US version.

A further development in the US market is a shift in interest from the truck crane to 40 or 50 tonne capacity boom trucks. For this reason Manitowoc offers North American customers both types in the same class. They include the 45 and 50 US ton capacity National boom trucks, NBT45 and NBT50, plus the TM500E2.

In compliance

The differences between European and USA requirements are significant when it comes to truck cranes, explains Rick Curnutte, "Firstly, emission requirements are different, which means different engine packages. North American emission requirements are more restrictive. Beyond that, both compliances have issues that make each chassis vastly dissimilar."

Despite the blurring of the line between lower capacity boom trucks and truck cranes, the trend for the latter is for more lifting capability, says Curnutte. "Our latest truck crane, the 140 US ton (120 tonne) HTC-3140, is a prime example."

Demands for more capacity, however, has been accompanied by the continued requirement for ease of mobility. For example, the HTC-3140, explains Curnutte, has counterweight that breaks down into pieces that weigh less than 12 tonnes, allowing the crane to be moved with more components on a single truck load.

Jay Barth, product marketing manager at Terex truck cranes, says higher capacity cranes are driven, in part, by a continual demand for more efficient construction methods. "This has led to building components that are much larger and weigh more," he says. "As the construction industries evolve to heavier components, so do the cranes required to lift them. This has led to a significant change in the demand for higher capacity truck cranes," Barth continues.

On the road

Road travel is at the top of most customers' minds, and Barth says the ability to easily comply with road regulations while travelling is a big request. "Customers want easy set-up at the jobsite and easy return to road transport when the job is complete," he says. "The ability to move quickly from job-to-job in a cost-effective manner is key to truck cranes."

The easier a truck crane is to use, the lower the costs and the set up time. "In the future, I believe we will see cranes with higher capacities, longer booms and a higher level of technology," explains Barth. "New pin-boom systems will be developed as the need for higher lift capacities requires that booms be stronger and, at the same time, weigh less."

Looking around

China has been stepping up its exports of truck cranes in the last three years, especially to emerging markets, including the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and other Asian countries, for example, Vietnam and Mongolia. "We have also seen the impact of these exports. Customers are not always getting the support they expected," says Olivas.

Manitowoc's joint venture with Tai'an Dongyue Heavy Machinery in China sees the western manufacturer competing directly in China.

The concern for Olivas is that main competitors in China are partly state-controlled, meaning they receive government support. "It is very difficult as a public company to win on volumes of scale. The way we can distinguish ourselves is with quality and service. Our strategy is to establish ourselves as a solid manufacturer and, while doing that, we are looking at exploiting other manufacturing there of products for other parts of the world - it would be silly not to."

Olivas estimates that sales of truck cranes in China are more than 20,000 units a year, while in North America, Japan and Europe the figure is somewhere over 350 units in total. Figures from the BICES exhibition in Beijing, China, last held in November 2009, back up this estimate. Show organisers put China's mobile crane market at somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 units a year, but the actual figure could be higher. Sales of all terrains and crawlers combined, hardly reaches 4% of this figure.

Staggering figures

"The Chinese market is staggeringly bigger than the rest of the world - it is counted in thousands compared to hundreds in the rest of the world," says Olivas. The financial gain, however, does not reach the same lofty heights. "In terms of volume, the Chinese market is number one for truck cranes. But, due to the amount of competitors and the type of customers in China, it is very cost driven. So, volumes are big but it is not as profitable a market as other regions of the world."

China has an advantage over much of the West, however, in an economic rise that has continued despite the crisis in the rest of the world. Chinese crane and construction equipment manufacturer LiuGong opened a new crane factory and relocated its operations in late 2009.

The 330,000 square metre site is in the Bengbu Economic and Development district of Anhui Province. It has a 53,600 square metre factory and 3,600 square metres for offices. Activities include steel fabrication, cylinder production, assembly and painting of wheeled mobile and crawler cranes. The manufacturer forecasts that its crane production capacity will reach 10,000 units a year by 2015. Recent launches for this new-to-cranes manufacturer include 25, 50 and 70 tonne capacity truck cranes. Expansion plans include the addition of models from 8 to 130 tonnes capacity in the truck crane range, among other types.

East to west

Chinese manufacturers have been turning their sights to the Western Europe export market for a number of years. At Bauma 2010, Zoomlion announced, what it claimed to be the first Chinese-manufactured truck crane to be aimed specifically at the European market.

The 35 tonne capacity QY30V is an upgraded version of an existing model with the same model name. It has a 40 m main boom, increased from 34 m, and an underslung jib with a space-saving twin winch, which is another new feature.

It has an American Cummins engine, says Peter Issit, managing director at UK Zoomlion dealer Crowland Cranes, which helped with the design of the new crane.

The crane will be officially launched in the UK in July 2010. It will be presented with the 80 tonne capacity QUY80 crawler crane.

As the expansion into the west by Asian manufacturers continues, the future also holds challenges for western manufacturers with new legislation, namely Tier 4 engine emission standards being phased in from 2008 to 2015. As Curnutte suggests, the technology required to meet these standards seemingly flies against the requirement for lower weight vehicles. "Emissions equipment will add weight to all cranes," he says.

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