There is more to knuckle booms than steel and hydraulics

By Alex Dahm08 January 2009

Making the Fassi F950AXP knuckle boom work are 265 litres of hydraulic oil, flowing at 100 litres pe

Making the Fassi F950AXP knuckle boom work are 265 litres of hydraulic oil, flowing at 100 litres per minute and at 32.5 MPa of pressure

The time when loader cranes were systems of just welded steel and hydraulics are long gone. Electronics, in the form of control systems, have become an integral part of modern knuckle boom cranes, and Italian manufacturer Fassi Gru Idrauliche SpA sees them as key to its future.

"The big potential is to improve electronics for safer operation and ease-of-use. We can also use them to get more performance," said Mario Ferrari, marketing manager for Fassi, based in Albino.

Exemplifying that potential is the company's current design concept, called Evolution, which is the basis for designs of models spanning 17 to 150 tonne-metres. At the heart of Evolution, first seen in the iron as the F260BXP at the SAIE 2005 exhibition, is electronics. Evolution comprises computer controller, digital (hydraulics) distributor, remote control, advanced dynamic control (ADC), and integrated machine control (IMC) - all linked by CanBus.

The latest model using the Evolution concept is the F950AXP, launched in May 2008 (see box). Its five versions, the F950AXP.24, .25, .26, .27, and .28, offer lifting capacity ranging from 22 tonnes at 3.5 m of horizontal reach to 3.135 tonnes at 20 m, in standard configurations.

Fassi says Evolution's ADC feature provides three levels of safety. One is based on the relative position of the booms. Its most apparent application is to prevent the outer boom from "doubling back" on the lower boom when it is vertical. Another level is the restrictions on the travel of boom ends, based on load and position in the work envelope. Third is control of movement speed at the extremities - none and maximum - of load.

ADC's control of speed, based on load, also improves performance. By limiting speed at high loads to reduce shocks and other transient loadings, Fassi maximises the capacity rating for any given crane structure.

As safe as they are, adoption of electronics "is a matter of the generation of the user," Ferrari said. "Younger users are more comfortable with electronics, while older users want the familiarity of hydraulic controls and often want all three modes of operation."

Export views

Tony Henderson, managing director of 600 Cranes Australasia Pty Ltd, the dealer for Fassi in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, echoed Ferrari's point. He said that both the "...company and its customers were initially sceptical about the value of electronics," and that their introduction to the market involved a lot of training.

Now, however, electronics are accepted. The radio remote feature, for example, is in every unit at the F170 level and above that the company, based in Rowville, Victoria, sells. It delivered around 600 Fassi cranes, which arrive in shipping units as subframe, front legs, and crane, in 2007. Most common is the 60 tonne-metre model.

"More and more customers like the remote control feature," Henderson said. "It makes their job easier. It keeps operators from fouling the crane against themselves, particularly when setting up."

Such technical sophistication in loader cranes is less attractive in India. "Cheaper cranes can do the job," said Manoj Agarwal, divisional manager - marketing, at manufacturer Escorts Construction Equipment Limited in Faridabad, India. He said the company, which was founded in 1995, will sell approximately 20 Fassi cranes in 2008, compared to the "many hundreds" of pick-and-carry models that are the bulk of its crane sales.

Agarwal said that potential demand in India for Fassi's technologically sophisticated cranes is "...maybe 100 units, when the economy is developed." He said there are about 300 Fassi cranes in India, most used by municipalities and electrical power companies.

The greatest market opportunity for Fassi, according to Ferrari, is in Eastern Europe. "China doesn't exist for Fassi and the Far East market is small. Europe is still our strongest export market. We hope the US and the rest of the Americas will be, too, because potential is so big. We have been pushing there for 20 to 25 years. But the mentality of the end user is not changing as quickly as we hope."

Commenting on other changes, for example, continuing growth in the reach and lift capacity of knuckle boom cranes, Ferrari says they are not encroaching on the bottom end of the mobile crane market. "Mobile cranes and knuckle boom cranes are two very different products."

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