It was back in the 1970s that Garden State Engine and Equipment (GSE&E) became a distributor for knuckle boom cranes, importing among the first articulating cranes into the US. At that time, there were just a few knuckle boom cranes in all of North America. Relatively inexpensive labor and fewer over-the-road weight restrictions contributed to the reluctance of American companies to use truck mounted articulating cranes, according to Paul Baldasarre, GSE&E president.
“Not many people knew of knuckle booms and we had a lot of work to do to open up the industry,” says Baldasarre. By demonstrating the advantages of the knuckle boom, including time savings and labor reduction, Baldasarre says GSE&E quickly developed a market for this method of material handling and delivery. GSE&E became the largest knuckle boom dealer in the country and is noted for the development of sales for a product that was in its infancy, he says.
For GSE&E, the leading markets for articulating cranes in the US include building material supply; concrete block, brick and patio block suppliers; precast concrete supplies and foundries; farm equipment dealers; municipal governments; landscape contractors; mechanical contractors; tree service companies; cemetery vault and headstone dealers, steel erectors and concrete form handling.
“There are basically six ways of unloading material from the bed of the truck at the jobsite,” says Baldasarre. “Of those six ways, the knuckle booms are the fastest growing product chosen by customers.”
Although the knuckle boom crane has been offered in North America for more than 40 years with limited success, the features and design of the cranes are making good inroads in the loader/unloader field and are finally being accepted for the North American market, Baldasarre says. The economy, especially in the eastern part of North America, has helped with the acceptance and sales of these cranes.
He says new designs and technologies have given articulating cranes an edge against competitors. “The customer likes the idea of the knuckle boom folding behind the truck cab, or on the rear of the truck chassis, leaving the flatbed open space for payload, regardless of payload height,” Baldasarre says. “The capacities and boom lengths of the modern knuckle boom cranes, along with the reduced weight of the knuckle booms, make other types of unloading equipment obsolete. The serviceability of a knuckle boom crane, compared to the telescopic crane, is much easier, especially with the innovation of the automatic greasing systems now offered.”
Safety is another attribute of the knuckle boom crane, Baldasarre explains. “The current overload protection systems of the modern knuckle boom cranes can better protect the life of the crane from damage and abuse and also protects the operator, personnel and the surrounding environment from damage and injury,” he says. “Because the knuckle boom can articulate around and over buildings, the boom does not have to rise to the same height as a telescopic crane.”
Easy to learn
In addition, articulating cranes are easy to learn to operate. “Now that the fully proportional radio remote control systems have become very reliable, operating the knuckle boom safely from a remote location, where the operator can see the surrounding areas, makes this system a very desirable option that can be installed with the original purchase, or can be added as an after market option,” says Baldasarre.
For several years, just a handful of knuckle boom manufacturers were marketing their products in North America, most notably Iowa Mold Tool (IMT), Cormach, National, Terex and Palfinger. But over the past decade, several European manufacturers have entered the market, including Autogru PM (produced in Italy); Cargotec Inc., (marketed as Hiab and produced in Sweden), Fascan International Inc. (also known as Fassi and produced in Italy), Fischer Crane Co., (also marketed as Amco Veba and produced in Italy) and Effer Cranes.
Produced in Garner, IA, Iowa Mold Tool has steadily increased its product line in North America. John Cheshier, director of material handling sales, says the most common markets for articulating cranes in North America are building suppliers including wallboard companies, brick and concrete block companies, roofing companies, utility companies, railroad construction, mining companies and equipment dealers.
“There are seemingly endless niche markets where knuckle booms are enjoying a growing presence,” says Cheshier. “Delivering goods on barges and a variety of other marine applications; fire rescue; vehicle recovery; residential waste removal, such as retrieving discarded appliances; landscaping; and delivery of large items such as propane tanks, monuments, vaults, electrical transformers, etc. It seems we're discovering new markets for articulating cranes every day.”
Cheshier says the market is growing. “We would definitely agree that the North American market for knuckle booms is growing and that our product line is part of this growth,” he says. “The main factors that I would attribute this growth to are better products and the wider variety of available models, increasing acceptance of knuckle booms in the North American market, and the growing number of markets we're finding to sell this type of crane into. We're seeing articulating cranes with greater reach and capacity than ever before, which enables us to meet more customers' needs. For example, the IMT line of knuckle booms tops out at more than 516,000 foot-pounds and more than 110 feet of reach.”
The design of knuckle boom cranes varies according to manufacturer, although the concept is basically the same. “Our customers are drawn to knuckle boom cranes because they are designed with hi-tensile, six-sided boom technology that has reduced the boom weight without compromising the lifting capacity,” says Cheshier. “This translates into more useable payload, which ultimately translates into dollars.”
Like larger boom trucks or other cranes, safety is still an important factor for the knuckle boom buyer. IMT offers a Rated Capacity Limiter system that the company says is a popular feature. “It is an integrated electronic system that prevents the operator from exceeding the safe lift and reach parameters of the crane,” says IMT's Cheshier. “This gives our customers peace of mind because they know that they cannot damage the crane by over-lifting as long as the outriggers are properly deployed.”
The main benefit of a knuckle boom over a telescopic truck crane is that the truck has a payload. “It's multi-functional: With one piece of equipment, you can place payload on the truck bed, haul it to the job site, and then place the payload where it ultimately needs to go,” says Cheshier. “That's not the case with telescopic cranes, which are designed to be stored over the truck bed, leaving little room for product transportation. An articulating crane is stored tightly in a ‘figure four’ position, leaving plenty of bed space for payload. Another advantage of a knuckle boom over a telescopic crane is the fact that it can operate so low to the ground. This means it's perfect for avoiding overhead obstructions, which is a particular advantage for any company doing street maintenance that would need to avoid traffic lights and power lines (also a concern in residential applications). Another factor to consider is ease of operation.”
The basic principles of operating a knuckle boom and a telescopic crane are very similar, and in reality, operating a knuckle boom is no more difficult than operating a stick boom. “Both units have four basic steps of operation,” Cheshier explains. “With a telescopic crane, it's boom up and down, boom extension, rotation, and winch activation up and down. With an articulating crane, it's main boom, outer boom, extension, and rotation. A fifth winch activation step would be necessary if the articulating crane had one; otherwise, they both have four functions.”
Changes in state and federal regulations related to operator certification are helping stimulate sales of smaller articulating cranes. Laws are mandating operator training and/or certification for the operation of cranes with more than 25 feet of reach or more than 15,000 pounds of lift. Knuckle boom cranes are known to be operator friendly and safe, giving more customers reason to look again at their attributes.
While smaller articulating cranes may not cranes have they are typically used on job sites where vertical reach is not a major concern. New designs, however, have extended the capacities of articulating cranes. In the past, the rule of thumb was that if the reach requirement exceeded 25 feet, the task would be relegated to a telescopic crane. Not so today. More prospective users are realizing that these machines can achieve an 80 foot reach and longer.
Giancarlo Manzano, export area manager at Effer Cranes, says his company has made the most impact in Canada where the brand is distributed by DEL equipment. “We have recorded significant sales in the US and Mexico,” says Manzano.
Effer's presence on the North American market dates back to the early 1970s, Manzano says. “So we have really seen the market for articulating cranes grow year after year,” he says. “The main advantage of knuckle booms remains the cargo space that they leave on the truck.”
The improving qualifications of truck drivers and crane operators also helped to spread the use of articulating cranes, says Manzano. “They are not seen any more as a ‘complicated thing’ to unfold and fold down before traveling, but are now perceived as a common machine that nobody should be scared to use.”
As far as design appeal, Manzano says “The weight of the crane remains the key element when looking for an articulating crane (as the heavier it is, the less payload is available on the truck). Effer achieves a good weightto-power ratio, thanks to the use of very high tensile strength steels (all Swedish), and to the accurate design of the booms with hexagonal or, on larger models, its exclusive decagonal boom profile.”
Charles Letford, product manager for the crane division of Palfinger, says his company has found strong markets for articulating cranes in the major material handling industries, including precast concrete, blocks and bricks, truss and roofing, utilities, pole handling, forming and utility contractors. Letford says Palfinger's market share is also growing. “We as manufacturers are more aware of the markets and end customers' needs,” he says.
For the Palfinger line, customers are most interested in light weight, high lifting capacities, overload protection, and radio remote controls, Letford says.
Fischer Crane Company based in Bolingbrook, IL, is a major player in the distribution of articulated truck cranes in the US, selling the Amco Veba line, manufactured in Italy. Michael Fischer, president, told ACT last summer that growth is due to better acceptance of knuckle booms and also from being able to offer a quality product with strong customer support. “Years ago, many more prospects had to be educated as to the ability of knuckle booms to solve their material handling concerns,” he says. “Most often now when a knuckle boom is offered, the client is familiar with the use of this equipment even if it is not their application.”
Knuckle boom cranes are designed to lift in a horizontal plane, which distinguishes their capabilities from telescopic cranes. If a telescoping crane needs to hit the same spot with a significant load capacity it must be operated at an increased boom angle, necessitating a longer, heavier boom. Many of the newer models of knuckle boom cranes are “double jointed” and can bend a few degrees back on themselves, a nice option for placing loads through an opening, such as a window or doorway, where the second section of the boom can be raised “backward” by up to about 15 degrees, in relation to the first section.