The words bigger, taller and safer are all commonly used when it comes to discussing the future of hydraulic gantries. Like their crane cousins, gantries are finding that larger projects are demanding higher capacity capabilities.
Lift Systems, based in Illinois, launched a new 1,000 US ton (893 tonnes) capacity model at the ConExpo exhibition in Las Vegas this year.
The 34PT10060WT lifts 1,000 US tons to 31 feet (9.4 m) and 600 tons (536 tonnes) to 40 feet (12.2m) on a four point system.
Also new is the 4240SCTI, a 240 ton (214 tonne), self-contained gantry, with power drives and the Rolling Lift Link. It offers 10 tons (8.9 tonnes) per link with a low profile that is no taller than the normal link designed for the company's Mighty Mini Jacks. The new self-contained wedgelock design eliminates 350 components, for ease of use, says the company.
These machines join the Lift Systems range, including a boom-style gantry line of power towers and mobile machines, with the Mobilift, Twinlift and TF45/60.
Lift Systems also opened its new "international headquarters" this year in East Moline, Illinois.
Computer aided safety
Safety has become a vital consideration for all manufactures and operators of heavy lifting equipment. Lift Systems is continuing to install its CARL (computer aided remote lifting) system onto its products. The device is a synchronised lift and travel system and offers load monitoring. It will monitor side shift for synchronisation and has one lever control.
"It's been around for the last couple of years but, like anything, takes a while to take hold. But more machines are going out with it on them. There is more interest in safety now in the industry and this device keeps the load level when it is being lifted, keeps the jacks equal when they travel and will maintain the load as it travels across the beam," explains Brian Wagner at Lift Systems.
Expanding on the safety issue Wagner adds, "I believe the industry is safe but it can always be safer; it's something we will always strive for. A lot of it is instilled in training with operators to make them familiar with systems. Giving them easier operational control is certainly a step forward."
The popularity of gantries has grown with their capabilities and Wagner says the market share compared to that of cranes is increasing.
"We always think it's amazing that over the years we find people who have not seen or heard of hydraulic gantries. They certainly have their place in the market and in many applications are cheaper to set up, transport to site and use than conventional cranes, so we will constantly find markets," says Wagner.
While some people in the industry argue that this increase in popularity means the traditional label of ‘alternative lifting' should be dropped when describing gantries, Wagner does not wholly agree.
Rental company Fagioli recently told IC that "alternative lifting is a strange term and perhaps the time has come to eliminate it."
While Wagner agrees that gantry lifting has become more mainstream, it still needs to keep its own identity. "It is a more accepted method now, but to lump it in with a crane is not, I believe, the right thing to do. They need their own category. They were once a subset of the crane industry, or a tool of the trade, but they have eked out their own niche."
While the market is still strong in the US, says Wagner, the company is seeing more business coming from international markets.
"We are pleased with the way it's been going the last few years and we are making inroads overseas. In large countries like India, where we have a few units, when people see them being used they say ‘that's the way to do it.'"
Wagner adds that it is difficult to calculate how many gantries manufactured by Lift Systems are being used in the likes of India and China because many are transported in to the countries by rental companies based elsewhere. But, he says, there is definite growth in these areas, as well as in Eastern Europe.
Kevin Johnston, president of J&R Engineering, in Wisconsin, said exports at the company had increased by about 50% in the last 12 months, mainly due to the weak US dollar.
One is example is an order from China for a 900 ton (804 tonne) capacity gantry, which is due to be delivered in July. So far the company has sold about half a dozen into China, says Johnston.
The company has now been prompted to set its sights higher. It is currently building a four-legged, 1,300 ton (1,161 tonnes) capacity gantry system for a customer who will use it to take apart mining shovels. It has been ordered specifically by the customer, however, Johnston says it is in effect a standard piece of equipment and can be used for general purposes. "The loads that we are requires to lift are becoming larger and you can get more efficiencies from a larger unit."
While business is booming, one of the main concerns is the "runaway steel costs" which are increasing by 5 to 7% every two to three months, adds Johnston. This means the company will probably be forced to increase product prices in the near future. Although the problem is lessened somewhat for overseas buyers, thanks to the weak dollar, meaning gantries manufactured in the US are cheaper in the first place.
The high cost of steel affects just about all parts of gantry production, says Johnston, as cylinders, boom housing and even hydraulics are made from the metal.
Shipping delays are also affecting the industry, mainly due to the large increase in exports from the country brought about by the weak dollar. "US ports are backed up," explains Johnston. One example is a gantry that J&R Engineering sold to Taiwan. At the time of writing, in mid-June, the unit had already been waiting to be shipped for two weeks and was unlikely to leave the US until July.
Unsurprisingly, long lead times are also affecting gantry producers and customers, although they are not in the same league as those quoted by mobile and crawler crane manufacturers.
Johnston says delivery times have increased from about three to seven months for a high capacity gantry. While delayed components are part of the reason, he adds that increased orders means factory capacity is stretched.
This, Johnston forecasts, will continue into the foreseeable future, even though business in the US market, while still strong, is beginning to level out. "The gantry originated in the US and there are quite a few in the country, so there is not such a high demand at this point."
Following J&R Engineering's machines to the expanding export market is the company's technician, who travels the world training customers and helping them set up the equipment. Johnston says he was the first hydraulic gantry manufacturer to set up such a service in the 1980s.
"It makes life so much easier if people know how to use the equipment properly."
Johnston describes the future as "very promising," adding, "I don't see the dollar changing anytime soon."
One thing that will develop, however, is the capacity of gantries. While the company has already built larger specialised machines, Johnston foresees standard equipment increasing to 1,800 to 2,000 tons (1607 to 1,786 tonnes) capacity.