While the market for rough terrain cranes is still ‘rough,’ producers are optimistic that improvement is on the horizon.
First in, last out. That’s often the way it goes for rough terrain cranes. These cranes are efficient workhorses on bridge, roadway and other infrastructure projects, and they have been a “go-to” tool in the energy industry, including oil and gas, petrochemical, wind and power plant projects.
While rough terrains are mainstays in the fleets of all the major North American crane rental houses, the market for these machines is still lagging behind other classes. “Challenging” is the word most manufacturers of rough terrain cranes use to describe the market.
“2017 has definitely been a better year than 2016,” said Paul Cutchall, product manager of rough terrain cranes at Grove/Manitowoc. “Everyone is optimistic that 2018 will be better than 2017. The biggest challenge OEMs face is that end users are waiting until they actually get the job before they place an order for the crane. Then they want it tomorrow, which is hard to plan for.”
The Terex RT100 US has a capacity of 100 tons. It has a maximum system length of 210 feet.
Many factors have affected the RT market, one being the ability to sell and export aging crane fleets. This process has been hampered by the combination of the strong dollar and weak economies in the export markets, according to Ingo Schiller, president of Tadano America.
“The availability of low sulfur fuel outside of North America and core Europe restricts the flow of used cranes out of North America,” Schiller explained. “The geopolitical risks also tend to make buyers more cautious and deliberate with their money.”
He said re-rental activity between rental companies has increased, and oftentimes companies will rent cranes from competitors to cover deals as opposed to buying new cranes.
The quantity of cranes that entered into the market from 2004 to 2009 are now about 10 years old, according to Schiller.
“These cranes are still in service and many owners are finding that they are able to extend the useful life of their cranes by a few years,” he said. “All of these elements reduce but do not eliminate the demand for new cranes. It is a buyer’s market and those shopping are being more thoughtful and systematic in their purchasing process.”
This is more demanding on OEMs and on the sales channels, but it is the right thing for customers to do, Schiller said.
“The rough terrain crane market in North America is just beginning to emerge from the latest down cycle,” said Jeff Bust, CEO of Broderson Corporation. “Rough terrain crane shipments have always been closely correlated to oil prices. When oil prices dipped in August/September of 2014, this triggered the current down cycle we see now.”
Today there is a glut of used rough terrain cranes in the North American market.
“When the oil and energy utilization rates drop, rough terrain crane rental fleets are repositioned to other applications and replace new crane orders,” Bust said. “Used equipment values also drop making it more economically attractive to buy used instead of new and less economically attractive to sell used cranes and replace with new cranes. A dip in oil prices caused a perfect storm of negative market factors for rough terrain crane manufacturers that takes several years to pass through. Once equilibrium is reached, the rough terrain market begins to recover even if oil prices don’t. I think that is the stage in the market cycle we are in now.”
Randy Spike, product manager for rough terrain cranes for Liebherr USA, is keeping a close eye on the rough terrain market. Liebherr recently introduced two new RTs to North America, and the first units are expected to be delivered in early 2018.
“The market remains soft with rental rates and utilization levels down from previous highs but the market is gaining strength,” said Spike.
Suresh Natarajan, director of rough terrain product management for Terex Cranes, agreed that the rough terrain market is slowly gaining momentum.
“The rough terrain market in North America continues to be challenging, though there are signs of the market beginning to stabilize with the increasing oil rig count,” he said.
Link-Belt RT product manager Brian Smoot believes the crane market as a whole, including the RT class, is on a steady, modest climb.
“The transportation and general construction sectors are starting to come back and see more work, which is having a positive effect on the crane industry as a whole. More of course is needed, but it’s starting,” he said. “We at Link-Belt Cranes experienced a healthy surge at ConExpo in March and have enjoyed a significant push in RTC orders. Having your new introductory models available to ship at or soon after ConExpo is critical.”
Another factor negatively impacting RT sales is the infringement from other crane classes, including telescopic crawlers, all terrain cranes and even tower cranes and telehandlers.
“Telecrawlers are an emerging market and will, on occasion, replace some work that RTs would normally do,” said Jay Shiffler, vice president at Tadano America. “There are clearly cases where the telecrawler is the better lifting tool over the rough terrain crane, but for most of the work at these job sites, the rough terrain crane remains the correct choice. In most cases the price difference between the two products would not lend the telecrawler to being a direct replacement product for a rough terrain crane. RTs are cost effective and efficient lifting tools.”
Broderson’s Bust agreed. “I think both telecrawlers and ATs are infringing more and more on rough terrain crane applications,” he said. “This is especially true in the higher capacity ranges, 100 tons and above, because the rough terrain crane’s typical mobilization costs jump up with the larger units and the economic trade-off against using a telecrawler or AT is weighted less in favor of a rough terrain crane. Since many of the large rough terrain crane manufacturers are concentrating on larger capacity units, the rate of infringement by telecrawlers and ATs is further magnified.”
Tower cranes are also replacing RTs on more job applications than in the past, Bust pointed out.
“The larger telehandlers and newer boom trucks have taken away most of the smaller rough terrain crane applications,” Bust said. “Other equipment designs are competing for rough terrain applications to a greater degree than we have seen in the past.”
Infringing on the market
Daniel Pitzer, managing director for Liebherr USA, said end users are trying out a variety of cranes in the place of rough terrain cranes.
Broderson’s best-selling unit is the 20-ton capacity RT400, introduced at ConExpo. Broderson also recently introduced the RT500, a new 25-ton rated cab-down rough terrain crane.
“For some applications where pick and carry under full load is important, telecrawlers have a clear advantage over RTs,” Pitzer said. “On the other hand, RTs are faster and easy to operate. ATs are static on their outriggers and I wouldn’t compare them to RTs and telecrawlers. Now that we are going to have all three product categories in our portfolio, plus crawler cranes, it is up to the customer’s preference and the actual lifting requirements to choose the right tool that does the job the safest and in the most cost efficient way.”
The thought process toward rough terrain cranes could be changing, Cutchall said.
“Personally, I think RTs are looked at more and more as a commodity,” he said. “They are now considered more like aerial work platforms. It’s another tool. It’s becoming exceedingly difficult to sell the features and benefits of these machines, aside from boom length and capacity.”
Broderson now offers three rough terrain crane models, all of which are cab down (neck breaker) designs, Bust said.
“Our bestselling model now is the RT400, which we introduced at ConExpo and started producing in the first of 2017,” he said. “The RT400 is a 20-ton rated crane.”
At ConExpo Broderson also introduced the RT500, a new 25-ton rated cab-down rough terrain crane. RT500 production deliveries will start in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Until the RT400 was introduced, the only rough terrain crane Broderson offered was the 15-ton rated RT300. The RT300 was first introduced in the mid-1990s and Broderson still delivers a number of these machines each year.
“Broderson RT crane products are niche products,” said Bust. “We only produce smaller capacity cab-down rough terrain cranes. We design and build our products to be reliable, easy to rent, easy to operate and simple. We aren’t a big company, so our connection and communication with customers, service techs, parts managers and users is direct and straight forward.”
A global force
Tadano America’s best-selling unit is its GR1000XL. Tadano has produced more than a 1,000 of these machines globally, according to Schiller.
Tadano America’s GR1200XL fills the gap between the GR1000XL 100-ton and GR1600X 160-ton models.
Tadano introduced the 120-ton GR1200XL at ConExpo and the machine has been well received, Schiller said.
“We have a solid backlog and expect the first units to arrive in October of this year,” said Schiller. “This crane fills the gap between our GR1000XL 100-ton and GR1600X 160-ton models.”
The attributes of the GR1200XL include its long 187-foot 3-inch pinning boom complemented with a 58-foot 1-inch bi-fold jib. It’s the largest 2-axle RT in the Tadano product range and was specifically designed for the North American market. It has a strong and light high tensile steel formed boom that features a single telescopic cylinder. The crane has a 184-foot lifting height and a maximum 144.3-foot working load radius. Extra reach is provided by a jib that extends the lifting height to 241 feet with a boom only load radius reaching to 153.8 feet.
“The low overall travel height and self-removable counterweight also make it convenient and easy to transport,” Schiller said. “Tadano has also enhanced our asymmetrical outrigger with slow stop feature, now termed Smart Chart, to include expanded lifting area and improved charts over the outriggers.”
With conventional cranes, outriggers extended to their maximum length provide uniform, circular rated load capacity footprint over 360 degrees of slewing angle. However, with Tadano’s newly developed Smart Chart, a safety device and control system, the crane can achieve a square-shaped rated load capacity footprint, with extended “corners” over the outriggers that increase the load radius depending on the degree to which the outriggers are extended, Schiller said.
“Foremost, Tadano has the reputation as the leader in designing and manufacturing safe, high-quality and efficient cranes,” Schiller said. “The result is that our products are proven to be the lowest cost cranes to own or rent and operate over the service life of the machine or term of the project. Tadano builds quality cranes and we are easy to do business with.”
Historically, Grove’s best-selling RT has been in the 60 to 70-ton class, the RT765E-2 and the RT770.
“That’s our 65 and 70 tonners and still seems to be the premier tonnage class everyone seems to want,” said Cutchall.
Grove’s latest model is the GRT8100, an 80-ton machine that is a little brother to its popular 100-ton GRT8100. Both cranes share the same carrier and superstructure, Cutchall said. The difference is tonnage and boom length. Cutchall said reception to the GRT880 has been strong.
“For the first 10 units that went out, we had team members go out to talk to the end user and answer questions about the machine,” he said. “Our ‘Voice of the Customer’ feedback was very good.”
This new model reflects everything the company has learned in the last decade of crane design, Cutchall said.
“For example, customers will find the GRT880 more reliable than previous generations of cranes, thanks in part to the advances brought by our Product Verification Center (PVC),” Cutchall explained. “Each component has undergone extensive component validation and prototype testing and with that knowledge, we’ve been able to improve our rough terrain cranes from the ground up.”
The 88-ton GRT880 features a 135-foot boom that is lighter than other cranes in its class. The crane has a reach of 200 feet and maximum tip height of 223 feet. The boom is lighter and longer than its predecessor, but has the ability to lift heavier loads across its load chart.
One big factor that distinguishes Grove rough terrain cranes in the market is the commonality across the RT product line.
“Commonality is the biggest factor we sell and promote through our distributors,” said Cutchall. “While we will always work on increasing our load charts and capacities, commonality is a great selling point. The end user can crawl into a 30-ton or 130-ton RT and both of them are identical in terms of operations. Operators can feel comfortable running our smallest to largest crane. That distinguishes our cranes verses the competition.”
Pitzer said it’s too early to say which of Liebherr’s two new RTs will sell the best. “Both Liebherr RT models (LRT 1090-2.1 and LRT 1100-2.1) were officially introduced to the worldwide market at ConExpo and were extremely well received,” he said. “The enthusiasm from the customers has continued in the months since the show.”
Simple and safe
Liebherr’s new LRT 1090-2.1 and LRT 1100-2.1 were designed based on repurposing a popular phrase, said Pitzer.
“In this case KISS – Keep It Simple and Safe,” said Pitzer. “We are offering the safest rough terrain cranes paired with Liebherr’s well-known quality and reliability to our customers. No dealerships are involved, all direct sales and service to the market.”
He noted that the VarioBase is a standard feature on the new LRT. VarioBase allows infinitely variable asymmetric outrigger positions, which are automatically taken into account and load capacities are adjusted accordingly, providing greater performance and flexibility. The LRTs are 12 feet 8 inches tall and 10 feet 10 inches wide. Their curb weight is less than 121,000 pounds with complete equipment including ballast or under 88,000 pounds without ballast or equipment.
Pitzer said the LRT 1090-2.1 and the LRT 1100-2.1 can be quickly and easily assembled. The outrigger pads remain inside the width of the vehicle and do not have to be removed for transport. The counterweights weigh 30,800 pounds. The lifting capacity of the LRT 1100-2.1 is around 15 percent higher than that of the 100-ton model which features 26,500 pounds of counterweights. The LRT 1090-2.1 features a 154-foot telescopic boom. Its telescoping system consists of a two-stage hydraulic cylinder with a rope extension mechanism. Similar to the 110-ton model, the boom can be extended easily with either the strong or long telescoping modes. The extension mechanism on both crane models has been designed for high telescoping lifting capacities.
A second winch and the rooster sheave are included as a standard feature on the basic machine for two-hook operation. As an option a 34.5 to 62-foot double folding jib can be installed on the telescopic boom.
Terex’s leading selling crane is the RT 555.
“We are seeing a trend over the last two years towards the larger classes, but this model has remained popular,” said Natarajan.
The latest model in the Terex RT line up is the RT 100US.
“Key attributes of the RT 100US include versatility with a longer reach, a 154-foot boom and 56-foot jib, industry first synchronous boom mode, the most compact crane in the 100 capacity class at less than 10 feet wide and an ergonomic cab,” said Natarajan. “We are bringing in our DTI (Demag Tech Inside) features, including IC-1 control with intuitive and smooth controls and industry leading diagnostics adapted for the RT market needs. A flat deck and full length ladders make the crane easy to access and service.”
The RT100 US has a capacity of 100 tons and a maximum system length of 210 feet. The overall length of the crane is 46.2 feet and the carrier length is 29 feet. It features three boom modes and a two-part folding jib. Four steering modes provide excellent maneuvrability, Natarajan said. Terex is working to further distinguishing its rough terrain crane range.
“We are developing a range of global products that combine the innovative technical talent of our Italian and U.S. rough terrain crane engineers and the competency center based in Germany,” he said. “This enables us to keep our RTs simple, reliable, easy to operate, easy to service and provide a high return on investment to our customers.”
Easy and strong
Link-Belt’s best-selling model is its 110RT. Smoot said the company’s RTs are known for their ease and simplicity.
“Several factors play a part in distinguishing a Link-Belt crane from others in the market including Pulse 2.0, our new cab design, longer booms, capacity for each respective class, operator comforts and transport,” Smoot said. “Our best seller is clearly our new 110-ton 110RT. Its main boom length of 164 feet and market leading capacities make the 110RT very popular for both general construction and the bare rental market. The 110RT’s strong chart and ease of transport have allowed us to enjoy a strong backlog in a challenging market.”
Link-Belt’s most recent RT introduction is its new 75-ton 75RT. With a 142-foot full power boom, new operator’s cab and 24-volt electrical system, the 75RT offers remarkable control, reliability and capacity performance, Smoot said.
“This new crane is a completely new innovative design, while incorporating Link-Belt’s signature RTC safety features,” he said. “The 75RT unveils our new PULSE 2.0 RCL system. PULSE 2.0 is the next in line system to Link-Belt’s current market leading design that debuted six years ago.”
The new PULSE 2.0 provides operators with a 10-inch color display to see integrated RCL & ECM data, as well as provides advanced diagnostics and monitoring features. Wi-Fi-enabled system updates and telematics take service and ease of maintenance to a completely new level. PULSE 2.0 is also the first RCL system in Link-Belt’s product line to offer Variable Confined Area Lifting Capacities. V-CALC allows operators work with a multitude of common sense RT practical combinations and the ability to view real-time 360 degree charts when job sites do not allow fully extended outriggers.