The evolution of equipment and manufacturers in the SC&RA
By Mike Chalmers24 March 2023
As part of SC&RA’s ongoing recognition of its members and their contribution to the Association’s 75th anniversary, this month spotlights the evolution of manufacturers and equipment through the lens of SC&RA’s Diamond Sponsors: Link-Belt Cranes, Trail King, Tadano, Kobelco Cranes and Liebherr.
SC&RA membership for Link-Belt Cranes (Link-Belt) goes all the way back to 1967. According to Director of Product Marketing, Pat Collins, who joined Link-Belt in 1979, the company already had plants in Europe and Mexico at that point. And while they would’ve been an established name, he maintained, Link-Belt certainly wasn’t alone.
“It was strictly North American crane manufacturers at that time – and it would’ve been a somewhat crowded field in the sixties,” he indicated. “We would’ve been viewed as one of many, albeit a recognized name in cranes.”
Collins explained that Link-Belt was heavily focused on lattice crawlers and lattice trucks in those days, and then things took off when the FMC Corporation purchased the Link-Belt Company in 1967. “They invested millions of dollars in plant and product expansion, and we saw an explosion in product development – from a very traditional line to new segments: hydraulic telescopic cranes, large crawler cranes and tower cranes. So, the seventies for us was a big moment in our history – from growth globally to product lines, factories and even workforce.”
In the years that followed, Collins saw both the industry and Link-Belt transition from mechanically driven cranes to conventional powertrain to all hydraulic platforms. For Link-Belt, new areas of work also took shape. “The power plant work was really emerging,” he acknowledged. “The late seventies and early eighties – oil, gas and power – nuclear power plants were on drawing boards everywhere. There was tremendous growth, which catapulted large cranes and tower cranes. But certain setbacks like Three Mile Island, the onset of inflation and rising costs put a damper on what many thought would be a runaway construction equipment era.”
Moving through the eighties and nineties, Collins noted that the advent of monitoring systems, and the refinement of load-moment systems provided for a new wave of reliability, accuracy and hardware. “Everything went from pretty basic to more and more sophisticated,” he said. “And that was a march over time, but then it started happening industry-wide, along with the arrival of higher-strength materials, greater capacity and lighter transport weights. Link-Belt was always about being mobile and efficient in transport, and then new materials started to emerge into the new millennium – including the arrival of technology – computerized systems. The machines have only become more sophisticated and more precise – allowing for a whole new level of crane design.”
An SC&RA member since 1981, Trail King Industries (Trail King) knows a little something about progress. “Over the course of its history, Trail King’s track record has added many personal company milestones and record-breaking hauls,” said President Joe Kolb. “The introduction of the hydraulic detachable gooseneck was key for us. And in 1986, the company would be witness to its first super trailer Schnable set-up. Ten years later, we built our largest trailer to date – a one-million-pound autoclave hauler.”
In the early 2000s, added Kolb, Trail King identified an emerging market need: trailers to transport wind turbine blades. “The Trail King ‘EFX’ Extendable Blade Hauler was born – with a capacity of seventy thousand pounds and the ability to haul two blades at once. The EFX was the game-changer the wind energy industry needed.”
Kolb considers Trail King’s relationship with SC&RA a key factor in the company’s growth. “We’ve always been, and will remain, a custom manufacturer, but when we first joined SC&RA, we were focused on ag-related equipment,” he pointed out. “As we developed the gooseneck, our focus shifted to address construction-related applications to meet the needs of the commercial and specialized hauling markets. Over the years, more players have entered the competitive landscape, and innovation is moving faster than ever.”
Lifelong relationships have been a priceless benefit along the way, Kolb added. “As well as the industry knowledge gained through these contacts – which has provided Trail King with the guidance and understanding for innovative product enhancements that we, in turn, are able to offer back to the industry.”
Dean Barley, President and Chief Operating Officer for Tadano’s Pan-America Operations, agrees, and believes that SC&RA has remained a stabilizing force for its members. “The Association has helped us, over the years, to build the right business. We joined in 1987, and since then have gathered feedback and opinions, and have truly appreciated what SC&RA provides our industry – from the meetings to general conversations (formal and informal). From safety to advocacy to innovation, it’s one of the most important Associations we’re connected with, and it’s vital to us, and I’m sure many others, that we stay close to SC&RA.”
Just after joining the Association, Tadano acquired Faun AG (currently Tadano Faun GmbH), a German crane and specialized vehicle manufacturer, in 1990. The company continued to make progress into the all-terrain crane segment, eventually becoming incorporated in the U.S. in 1993. In 2008, Tadano acquired a telescopic crawler crane manufacturer that would then become the Tadano Mantis Corporation.
“Then, in 2019, we really had several things to celebrate,” explained Barley. “We opened our next-generation, state-of-the-art Kozai factory in Japan; we also acquired the Demag mobile cranes business from Terex Corporation; and we celebrated one hundred years in business – which all leads to the One Tadano that we are today. So, we certainly changed a lot over the period before joining SC&RA, and especially afterward.”
An SC&RA member since 1992, Kobelco Cranes (Kobelco) was, at that time, just introducing crane products into the North American market.
“We were an established crane manufacturer in Japan that had marketed its products in the Far East since the 1930s,” explained Greg Ballweg, general manager, Kobelco. “But our initial product offering here in North America was limited to just two models: our 55-ton CK550, and our 80-ton CK800. Joining SC&RA at that time gave us the chance to network with other industry companies and begin to establish our brand awareness here and become part of the crane and rigging community.”
Over time, Kobelco expanded its product line and steadily grew its market share in North America, becoming one of the first crane companies to incorporate hydraulic-over-hydraulic control systems in crawler cranes.
As Kobelco and the industry continued to evolve with the times, Ballweg saw the trends moving in the direction of faster assembly and disassembly, ease of transportation and safety technology. “We continued to look at the market and ask ourselves, how can we be better and different?” he noted. “That said, since many of our customers are SC&RA members, we’ve been able to strengthen our affiliation and support with these companies over the past thirty-one years.
Celebrating 30 years of membership this year, Liebherr joined SC&RA just one year after Kobelco, in 1993, and like Kobelco, has used its membership in a variety of ways to further its education, optimize its products in a market-oriented manner and collaborate with industry colleagues while exchanging essential experience.
Brian Peretin, General Manager Sales, Mobile and Crawler Cranes Division – Liebherr USA, emphasized that the company’s commitment to the Association is as strong as it’s ever been. “We really believe in SC&RA and plan on continuing our involvement in support of its members. SC&RA advocates the concerns of the industry with worldwide committees and political decision-makers, as well as authorities, and in doing so, the Association maintains a valued dialog with manufacturers like us.”
Reinhold Breitenmoser, Regional Sales Director – Liebherr-Werk Ehingen, GmbH – echoed Peretin, “Liebherr appreciates that SC&RA always represents a community of like-minded people who are working towards common goals with the aim to move forward.”