Bay Crane owns two Kobelco CK1000 crawlers that it uses on projects around the Northeast

Bay Crane owns two Kobelco CK1000 crawlers that it uses on projects around the Northeast

Adding a bit of nostalgia to the Link-Belt CraneFest event last month, a flagship LS 98 was a part of the show, chugging, clicking and puffing its way to its rightful place on center stage. The old machine garnered almost as much attention as the new 298 Hylab crawler and TCC 450 telescopic crawler cranes, among others, the company was proudly introducing.

The juxtaposition of the old and new made a statement, reminding the hundreds of crane industry professionals of the long and proud heritage of the crawler crane product, a market mainstay that continues to hold its own among the sleek, elegant marvels of modern-day crane design. Once again, crawler crane manufacturers are enjoying their day in the sun, as this crane class continues to enjoy strong demand, with backlogs approaching a year for some models.

Christian Schorr-Golsong with Terex Demag says that for the first time in a long time, demand for crawlers is strong globally. “At the moment the demand is coming from all around the world, especially Europe and Asia, and especially China, are showing strong interest in buying large cranes.”

Allen Kadow, manager of product marketing for Manitowoc Crane Group, concurs: “The market for crawlers has recovered here in the Americas, but it's on the rise worldwide. That hasn't happened in a while.”

In North America, crawler cranes are working in virtually every construction sector, with the highest demand coming from petrochemical plant renovation and construction, power plant construction and bridge and highway work, says Bill O'Rourke with Essex Crane Rental, a national lattice boom crawler crane provider that operates in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and select parts of South America. “In all of the areas we work, we are busy, but now the concentration or the majority of our work is in the lower half of the USA,” he says. “We have had excellent utilization within the petrochemical, power and building markets.”

The market is so strong for crawlers that some crane rental business owners claim there is a crawler crane shortage in the US. Testament to this is that Link-Belt had to “borrow back” five crawlers from its customers in order to show off its crawler crane range at its CraneFest event last month.

“At the end of the week we will be loading these cranes up to get them back to their owners to get them back on the jobs they are needed on,” says Pat Collins, lattice boom product manager for Link-Belt. “It was very hard for us to get all these cranes here at once. These cranes are already slated to be working on jobs next week.”

Other signs of a crawler crane shortage are the robust sales of and incredible prices for used crawlers. Ritchie Brothers, the largest equipment auction company in the world, has achieved records in every area of its business over the past year, especially in the area of crane sales. Last spring, Ritchie Brothers sold a 2000 model Liebherr LR1800 for approximately $3.7 million. Last summer, the company sold several crawlers for prices that were higher than when they were new.

Voice of the customer

While the market for all classes of crawler cranes is strong, at this juncture, there is a perceived need in the market for a 230 ton capacity crawler, as evidenced by Link-Belt introducing its 298 Hylab last month. The company says the machine's capacity and design was based on VOC, or “voice of the customer.” The 298 Hylab fills out Link-Belt's crawler crane line the between 200 and 300 tons, and also provides the replacement answer for all the aging 230-ton crawlers in fleets around the world, says Collins. (See details about the 298 Hylab in the News section, page 6)

Patterned after the recently introduced 218 HS, the new 298 is destined to be a “market legend,” says Collins, who with his engineering team designed the machine to be a market leader in its class. “The 298 HSL brings pin-point controls and bullet proof reliability to the table,” he says.

Essex Crane's new Liebherr LR1200SX crawler crane performs dockside load out services for an offshore oil service company in south Louisiana

The 298 HSL's counterweight removal system (patent applied for) removes the hydraulic cylinders and integral frame in one piece with the counterweights to reduce the main transport load weight, Collins explains. Counterweight pin releases are within easy reach for one person, expediting the assembly/disassembly process. The 160,000 lbs (72 574.78 kg) of upper counterweight was designed for easy handling and blended load-outs. The main unit transports at less than 88,000 lbs (39 916.13 kg), he says.

Terex American also has a 230-ton crawler in production, the HC 230, which is planned for a release in the second quarter of 2007. Terex American spokesperson Wendy Knowles says the new crane will bridge the gap between the HC 165 and HC 275. “The HC 230 is a versatile addition to our offering,” she says. “Terex American crawlers have many uniform features that create excellent serviceability - a service tech can be trained on one of the machines would be able to apply the knowledge to be able to service any of the other crawlers. The operators' cabs and interfaces on all the American crawlers have the same look and feel. They are all easy to transport and to erect at the jobsite.”

The new HC 230 crawler will be the first newly designed machine to come out of the Terex American division in more than a year. However, sister company Terex Demag has introduced five crawlers in the past 12 months, including its CC 2400-1, CC 5800, CC 6800, CC 8800-1 and the CC 8800-1 TWIN.

Terex Demag's Schorr-Golsong says that the crawler crane in the highest demand from his company is the CC 2800-1. “This crane has set a standard in the 600 metric tonne class and is highly asked for around the globe.”

Knowles says that for Terex American, the largest selling crane is the HC 275, the largest crane in the Terex American product range. “In North America, the largest regional demand for this crane comes from the Gulf Region - the areas we see demand from are the oil and power industries and the road construction industry, bridge work.”

Manitowoc is working to produce the Model 14000, a 220-ton capacity crawler that fits in between the company's Model 777 and Model 999. The company expects to start taking orders for the machine by February of 2007. “This crane will be geared to the contractor,” says Kadow. “Of course rental companies will be really happy with it too.”

More new models

Manitowoc has been responding to worldwide demand for its crawlers as well, working diligently to decrease backlogs that range from six to nine months. Crawlers most in demand are the company's Model 999, Model 2250, Model 16000 and Model 18000. “With those four models we basically cover the lifting capacities between 250 and 750 tons,” says Kadow.

Kobelco Cranes is also amid an effort to introduce a new crawler to the American market in 2007, probably larger than the 230 ton capacity, however. (See the Interview with Jack Fendrick on page 17)

Kobelco only produces crawler cranes and is developing a loyal following, with crane rental companies and contractors impressed with its reliable product line, says Jack Fendrick, general manager of sales. “Kobelco's commitment to quality is seen in every aspect of our cranes, from our boom thickness, to our winch speeds,” says Fendrick. “Because of this singular focus we are able to form very close relationships with our dealers and end users.”

Crawler crane rental is big business across the US, with rental rates for these machines climbing. Essex Crane Rental keeps tabs on the types of jobs the company bids using a custom software program that catalogs rental inquiries. Using this data, the company can assess market demand and compile reports on the types of jobs in which crawlers are requested and the applications required.

Over the past year, Essex has seen a rise in the need for heavy duty crawlers that can perform duty cycle work. To meet demand in this market, Essex deviated from its norm, buying several Liebherr crawler cranes. “Throughout 2006 we have been adding new Liebherr 1200SX (275-ton) and Liebherr LR1100 (115-ton) crawler cranes to compliment our Manitowoc crawler fleet,” says O'Rourke. “We found that the LR1200SX best suited the needs of our customer base demand. Liebherr was receptive and cooperative to making modifications to adapt their standard LR1200 to the American market for Essex Crane and as a result the LR1200SX has been well received by our customers. The LR1100 crawler likewise has been well received and fills a position where a ‘strong' 100-ton class unit is required yet providing high mobility, quick assembly/disassembly and state of the art controls and features.”

The market for the heavy lifting capacity crawlers has also picked up, especially stimulated by the wind-power market, in which the high capacity and high reach cranes are needed to set towers and turbines for the windmills, and by the power generation market.

Bill Lampson, president of Lampson International, says the market for his company's Lampson Transi-Lift mobile crawler crane system is the strongest that it has ever been. “We presently have approximately 30 machines, ranging in size from 350 ton capacity up through 2,600 ton capacity,” says Lampson. “The Transi-Lift offers tremendous advantage for the very large lifts that require or can take advantage of the mobility of the Transi-Lift Crane.”

Known for its technologically astute all terrain line in the US, Liebherr Cranes has been making its mark in the USA in the wind power market, selling its LR 1400/2 to companies that are chasing the wind business throughout the US and Canada. Terex-Demag and Manitowoc cranes are doing their fair share of erecting the tall and extremely heavy turbines as well. Terex-Demag's CC 2800-1 NT is its wind power specialist, while the Model 16000 is Manitowoc's leading wind tower crane. The Manitowoc 999, the Link-Belt 348 and the Kobelco CK2500-II are among the more popular cranes for setting the lower sections of the turbines.

Phoenix-based Marco Crane has purchased four 300-ton capacity Link Belt 348H5 crawler cranes over the last two years. “These cranes have been all over the West, working on windmill projects, refineries, ship yards, hanging steel, setting tilt up walls, building water treatment plants, and building bridges,” says Kelly Hadland of Marco. “We have focused on the 348 Link Belt because it is the largest crawler crane that can ship without having to separate the rotating bed from the car body. We also own one Manitowoc 2250 crawler crane. This crane spends most of its life lifting pre cast concrete tilt up walls. Our crew has dialed this in, and can build it up in less than four hours. We own luffing jib attachments for each model crane as well.

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