Truck cranes on the open road

By Alex Dahm08 January 2009

A prototype of the Tadano TM-35100 was shown at ConExpo in March. The truck-mounted crane has a four

A prototype of the Tadano TM-35100 was shown at ConExpo in March. The truck-mounted crane has a four-section synchronized telescopic boom with a fully extended length of 100 feet (30.5 m)

As expected, some of the biggest developments in the truck crane sector have come from the US. Link-Belt introduced the HTC-3140LB 140 US ton (120 tonne) hydraulic truck crane at the ConExpo exhibition in Las Vegas, in March. Designed as a simple, cost-effective heavy lift crane, the HTC-3140LB provides unparalleled capacity and transportability to what will be the largest truck crane in North America, says the company.

The crane's six-section boom is 195.3 feet (59.4 m), with a maximum boom tip height of 204 feet (62.2 m).There are also three fly jib attachments, including one that hydraulically offsets from 2 to 45 degrees.

"The HTC-3140LB is undergoing extensive testing and we are very pleased with the results. We expect to finish testing later this year and for this crane to be in customers' hands in the first half of 2009. Response from our customers has been overwhelming. Although we have not formally accepted orders, we have a long list of customers," says Rick Curnutte, product manager, telescopic boom cranes.

Biggest sellers in the Link-Belt range are the 90 US ton (81.6 tonne) HTC-8690 and the 75 ton (70 tonne) capacity HTC-8675 Series II. "These cranes have the typical Link-Belt formula of great capacities and easy mobility. That formula is why any crane sells well and these two have sold better than any thing else in the segment," comments Curnutte.

He adds that the truck crane market is stronger than ever for the larger capacity models, while the lower end, typically three axles, has slowed dramatically due to the difficulties in the US housing market.

"Because of the mobility of truck cranes, we see a bright future for them. No other type of crane offers the same combination of mobility, capacity, and simplicity. The true truck crane market will move to larger capacities in the future, though, as boom trucks, knuckle booms, telehandlers, and various other lifting alternatives, saturate the lower end of the market. As loads get heavier, so does the requirement for capacity. The challenge is to provide more capacity without sacrificing transportability," says Curnutte.

Staying strong

An example of the type of boom truck becoming ever more popular in the US market could be the new 40 ton (36 tonne) capacity boom truck from Elliott Equipment. The 40105, launched at ConExpo, features 105 feet (32 m) powered main boom with a 115 foot (35 m) tip height and a 32 to 49 foot (9.8 to 15 m) two-piece jib. There is also a load moment indicator and wide area definition system.

"We have worked extensively with users of this equipment to give them the features and ability to lift and do more with this product than with any other unit in its class," says Jim McKeown, Elliott vice president sales.

Overall, the US market remains strong, according to Curnutte at Link-Belt and, he believes, it will stay that way for the next 12 to 18 months. "We're keeping a close eye on the housing market but, since that typically uses lower capacity machines, the truck cranes may not be affected as much as some other types of equipment."

If the truck crane sector in the US is still booming, then the world's biggest market China is exploding. Sales of mobile cranes - those being truck, all terrain and crawler cranes - for the first six months of 2008 was ahead of the total construction machines average of 24% in the country. And they were second only to excavators, which was about 35%. According to Off Highway Research (OHR), in the first six months of 2008 sales of mobile cranes in China were 12,060 units, 93% of them being truck cranes. This is 36 % up on the 9,290 units, for the same period in 2007. Full year sales of mobile cranes in China in 2007 were up 30%, to 18,250 units, and the OHR forecast for 2008 is 21,500 units, decreasing to 20,500 for 2009, 19,000 for 2010, 20,000 for 2011 and 21,000 for 2012.

Joint ventures

Manitowoc Cranes will launch three new Dongyue truck cranes, manufactured at its Manitowoc factory in Tai'an, China, at the Bauma China exhibition in November 2008.

Gilles Martin, executive vice president for Manitowoc in Asia-Pacific, says the launch of the truck cranes is a message to the market. "Although the new truck cranes from Manitowoc Dongyue are currently for the Chinese market only, by launching them at Bauma China we are sending a message that we are on the road to building international-quality truck cranes at this facility," he says. "This show is a great opportunity for our customers to learn about our intentions in the truck crane market in China and beyond."

Manitowoc signed the joint venture with Tai'an Dongyue Heavy Machinery Co., Ltd. earlier in 2008. The new business and products resulting from the partnership are known as Manitowoc Dongyue.

Other major truck crane manufacturers are starting up joint ventures in China. One of them, the B.Q. Tadano JV, has been manufacturing for several years in China and three models were shown at Bauma China in 2006.

These were the 25 tonne GT-250E on a new three axle carrier, a 35 tonne GT-350E on a four axle FAW (First Automobile Works) carrier and a 55 tonne GT-550E on a Nissan carrier built by Tadano in Japan.As is typical among Chinese manufacturers, the smallest model in the range is an 8 tonner, then there is a 12 tonner, followed by the larger ones shown. Models of 25 tonnes capacity and above account for 50% of production, the manufacturer said.

Investment

Terex Cranes set up a joint venture with China-based truck crane manufacturer Sichuan Changjiang Engineering Crane Co., Ltd., based in Luzhou, Sichuan Province, China and acquired a 50% stake in the business. Changjiang Crane is a leading producer of on-highway truck cranes in China, with a product range from 8 to 160 ton lifting capacity.

China is the biggest mobile crane market in the world, says Christian Schorr-Golsong, Terex Cranes marketing director, who says that some 12,000 truck cranes are sold in the country each year. Most are between eight and 100 tonne capacity, with a vast majority of those in the 8 to 10 tonne range. "We wanted to have a grip on that market and to have a partner," he said.

The venture is undergoing a reorganisation to fit both manufacturers. The plan, says Schorr-Golsong, is not only to sell Changjiang cranes, which, according to Schorr-Golsong, is the third most popular brand of truck crane in China, but to also supply Terex products in China.

"We see it as a long term investment. If you want to go to China and make a quick buck it will never work. You must be ready to invest money to build up knowledge."

Schorr-Golsong says it is likely there will be steady growth in the Chinese truck crane sector, but rules out any further booms.

Currently, Chinese regulations generally limit foreign enterprises from owning more than 50% of domestic companies that produce on-highway vehicles, including truck cranes. If and when regulations permit, Terex has the right to acquire the remaining 50% of Changjiang Crane.

Alternatives

The popularity of truck cranes in China is in direct contrast to the quantity sold in Europe, where the product takes second place to all terrains and knuckle booms by a long way. According to Schorr-Golsong that situation is unlikely to change, although there has been an increase in numbers sold in the continent.

"Truck cranes are becoming more interesting to some operators because of the long delivery times of all terrains, so they try to find alternatives. Also truck carriers are easier to get hold of. The smaller capacities are more economical because the fuel consumption is low, and easier to maintain. People think they can save a little money."

Schorr-Golsong adds, however, that while the percentage increases might be high the numbers could, for example, reflect 40 truck cranes sold by a manufacturer, rather than the previous figure of 25. "So if you take these numbers as total figures, then it's still a niche business."

Schorr-Golsong estimates the European truck crane market at about 150 units a year.

"There might be an increase, but it goes up and it goes down. Some people use truck cranes and then have a problem getting them on a construction site, so go back to all terrains. I do expect a sales increase but I do not expect doubling of numbers. Some 10 to 12% is a possibility.

"There is an increase in numbers from PPM, there's no question of that. But I never know if that demand is because there is a lack of availability of all terrains or because of fuel costs."

As far as Link-Belt is concerned, the European market has its own housing market issues, but is still a target for the US manufacturer. "The combination of the strength of the euro and the dollar and our simple, cost-effective designs make our products very attractive," adds Curnutte.

Busy in the UK

UK XCMG truck crane distributor Cannon XCMG has a different view on the potential of the European market. William Cannon, managing director, suggests that many operators have bought all terrains, only to end up using them on a level surface, which are, increasingly, a feature of modern work sites. "They are realising that maintaining an all terrain fleet is not viable any more."

Even in the UK, where the construction industry has hit the ropes, Cannon says, "There has been a slow-up of wheeled loaders and other construction machinery, but I do not see a slow-up in crane sales. We have had a lot of phone calls for demonstrations. The only reason I can see for the success is that it must be do with already approved jobs - government jobs that have already been identified. There's a very active truck crane market. I know from enquiries from the UK and Ireland that truck crane users are very busy."

Cannon, which also distributes XCMG's range of construction equipment in the UK, has sold eight truck cranes since it started at the beginning of this year, according to the managing director. The models sold range from 50 to 100 tonnes capacity and include QUY50s, QUY70s and a QUY100. They will be used in steel erection, such as bridges - a job traditionally carried out by all terrains, says Cannon.

"I am amazed to sell that amount, if we sell another three this year that will be fantastic business. And we hope to expand further next year through reputation."

The attraction of the CE-marked XCMG truck cranes, adds Cannon, is their cost and availability.

Looking out

While Chinese manufacturers are raising their game to try and match more established Western and Japanese manufacturers, Russia's truck crane market is still very much self-contained. On the other hand, the domestic market is huge and has relied on truck cranes, particularly 25 tonne capacity models, for decades.

Manufacturers in the country are now producing larger capacity machines and are looking to develop the technology. An example is Russia's second biggest truck crane manufacturer, Kudesnik. It has two plants, Galich, based in central Russia, some 500 km from Moscow and Klintsy, in Bryansk.

In 2007 Galich produced 1,324 cranes, while Klintsy produced another 1,004.

Together, both plants have about 35% share of the truck crane market in Russia.

While truck crane producers in Russia have limited technology to work with, they are constantly updating their methods, producing new models and keeping a watchful eye on the export market.

Kudesnik's latest model is the KC-65719-1K. It is a 40 tonne capacity crane mounted on a commercial truck chassis, KamAZ-6540. It has a four section telescopic boom, with a length of 11.2 to 34 m and a 9 m jib. There are four hydraulically telescoping beam outriggers and vertical jacks with independent movements. Maximum speed in transport position is 60 km/h.

"We have exported them to CIS countries such as Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Ukraine," says Alex Yarovoi, sales manager. "Crane capacities are going up in Russia, because of new construction technologies. Every year producers of mobile cranes create new cranes with higher lifting capacities for new job sites."

Yarovoi adds, however, that Russian components are still relatively low quality, "That's why plant workers are always looking for foreign components from Europe, especially from Germany and Italy."

Despite this, Klintsy will be able to produce a U-profile boom in November 2008 and already produces hydraulic cylinders, metal fabrications, slewing gear, among other components, in its plant. The company also offers a considerable number of service centres throughout Russia and CIS, totaling 29.

Although there is still some way to go for the Russian truck crane export market, there is a will to increase quality and exports.

*For more on truck cranes in Russia, see Market focus: Russia in the July 2008 issue of IC.

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