The fast lane

15 April 2008

For the most part, US boom truck manufacturers did not spend significant time bringing new products to the market in 2006. Terex didn't introduce one new model in 2006 and Manitex only introduced one. While National, Elliott, Altec and Tadano did introduce several new models to the market, the manufacturers spent most of their time last year focusing on getting product out the door, filling backlogs that spanned more than a year in some cases.

As 2007 dawned, most backlogs were down to a few months and manufacturers had a chance to take a deep breath and start thinking about what they needed to do to meet market needs in the future. To assess the direction of the boom truck market, manufacturers must determine demand. For the most part, ACT discovered that “bigger”is the buzz word in the realm of boom trucks.

What's hot

Randy Robertson, sales director for Manitex, says the 28 and 30-ton models are selling strongly, mainly in oil field and general contractor applications. The larger S series, rear mount Manitex models in the 38-and 45-ton capacities are being purchased by owner operators, oil field service companies and mining companies. Manitex is coming of one of the best years ever in the company's history, he says.

Terex's boom truck product manager Chad Brandenburg, based in Waverly, IA, concurs that the larger models are selling the best in the Terex product range. “Lately for us it has been the larger models,”says Brandenburg. “The 23.5 and 35-ton machines, in the last three or four months, those have been a little more popular than the 15 and 17-ton machines. The 15 and 17-ton machines are geared more toward the rental market. Hertz and United Rental are now getting into their spring buying season so those model sales have picked up. By later in the spring, things will probably even out with all models selling about the same pace.”

For Terex, the rental market and the oil and gas markets are strong buyers of boom trucks. Many boom trucks sold to the oil field companies have special requirements and require customization, a request that is not a problem for Terex, he says. “The housing market has slowed down but the rental market picked up as several of these companies sold machines out of their feets and now they are needing to replenish their fleets.”

Dave Hill, director of marketing services for Altec, based out of Birmingham, AL, says his company's success in the boom truck market can be attributed to how the company has developed its product line, “essentially from large capacity down. We have had good success with the 35 and 38 ton cranes, and I think this was a natural development because of our strong connection with the electric utility market. Th at's where we've had the greatest success.”

In particular, Hill says the transmission sector of the electric utility sector, has been especially good this past year. Besides the electric utility sector, Altec has strong ties to the tree care segment, selling its 26 and 35-ton machines with great success to this sector. “And like other boom truck manufacturers, we've had successes in oil field, the building construction sectors and particularly where there's residential or smaller non residential building construction, selling our entire line from 18 to 38 ton capacity,”he says.

Hill says in 2006 the biggest development for Altec has been its new rear mount design. “This has been the newest design for us,”he says. “We have a 28-ton coming out in 2007 in the behind the cab mounting configuration.”

With the rear mount machine, Altec customers have found an advantage, “particularly on any building site when you can get the center line of rotation as close as possible to the work site, it gives you greater capability to use the higher capacity of the crane and that's what it tends to do for you,”he says. “We have also found in the electric utility sector there is demand for the rear mount crane because it allows them to get closer to the work site, such as a substation.”

Doug Twyford, vice president of sales for Elliott Equipment, says that Elliott boom trucks are selling well in all categories. “Right now, the 18-ton is selling well, the 24-ton, and the 30-ton are the most popular,”he says. “We&339;re seeing sales in a variety of markets-the general construction and roof truss business in the 18-ton area and then general construction, it's across the board. In the middle area of capacity there's a market for steel erection and there's a large rental market mainly in the 20-, 24-and 26 ton market.”

Tadano is the newest entry into the US boom truck market, bringing their first model out in 2004. Today the company has 10 models in its range. Tadano's Bryan Dammann, says, “The Tadano TM1882 tractor-mounted crane continues to be our most popular unit because of its strong appeal in the manufactured roof truss industry for hauling and plate setting roof trusses. The construction of single-family homes has been down recently but industry leaders have indicated housing construction has bottomed out and is on its way up again.”

Dammann says regarding Tadano's new TM20110, there is a lot of strong interest with tree service companies for a number of reasons, long boom length, continuous rotation, twoman work basket and radio remotes make this unit an ideal choice for the tree service professional.

He says Tadano's smaller units, the TMZR500XL series as well as the TM1052, continue to be popular with oil field maintenance contractors for use on what is termed “iron trucks.” “The iron trucks are used to transport pipe manifolds in and around the oil patch and the smaller cranes are used to of load these manifolds and valves and place them in position on the well head sites,”he says.

QMC Hydraulic Cranes is a custom boom truck manufacturer that produces cranes from 18 to 42-ton capacity. Mark Mason of QMC Cranes says that his company's 3630P model is their best selling. “It's the least expensive in our line yet it has the largest carrying capacity on the load bed (up to 22,000 pounds) and lifts 16,200 pounds over the side at an 18 foot radius,”he says.

Industries that are fueling the largest demand for boom trucks is split between the oil and gas sector and concrete pre-cast sector, Mason says. Unlike the other manufacturers, QMC sells its boom trucks directly to the customers and all its orders are COD. The company continues to have a strong order board with orders backlogged until later this year.

Supply shortages

Manufacturers told ACT that supply shortages continue to be an issue for boom truck manufacturers. “There's not enough capacity in the supply base for major components like rotation bearings, pumps and hoists,”Manitex's Robertson says. “With the new emission laws, trucks aren't an issue yet, but Manitex is positioned to ride out the difficult transition into higher priced chassis.”

Brandenburg says that Terex is also still experiencing some issues with getting parts, especially load blocks, winches and other long lead time items such as rotation bearings. Last year Terex Waverly started a plant renovation that included the establishment of new manufacturing philosophies, including lean manufacturing. Th us far the RT assembly line at Waverly has been redesigned and the boom truck line is also undergoing a conversion for more efficiency.

Truck trends

Twyford concurs that the single biggest issue for the boom truck market is related to the new truck emissions requirements. “This has caused the manufacturers to have to wait on the truck builders to build their final guidelines on what their new units are going to be configured like,”he says. “And we still have some truck manufacturers who have not given clear guidelines to builders like ourselves on just where all the dimensions will finally be, and I think that's because it's a little bit of a moving target for them. They are still finalizing their product development to assure they are compliant with the new regulations.”

Asked whether the issues wiThemissions and truck manufacturer compliance could cause a shortage of trucks, Twyford says he wouldn't anticipate that to be the case. “The only impact will likely be the price increase of the truck, and that will be carried to the end user.”

Terex's Brandenburg says that truck chassis related to the new emissions requirements may cause a lull in sales. “There are still a lot of the old emission standards out there,”he says. “When we switch to the new Tier 3 engines, customers will want to wait to see if they operate correctly.”

Additionally, he says that boom truck design will likely see some changes as customers keep asking for higher and higher capacities. “Here in the US, there will be a point that unless we can come up with lighter weight machines and chassis, the capacity of road and bridge laws will hold up design of larger capacity boom trucks,”Brandenburg says.

Twyford says depending on which way the construction market goes, up or down, could determine the next generation of boom trucks. “There may be some model shift from some of the smaller units to bigger units, the 30 and 40-ton capacity units and those that offer the longer reach,”he says.

In terms of permitting, with the cranes on boom trucks getting larger, manufacturers are addressing issues of making the units legal in some states. “We&339;re having to adapt to customer needs,”says Robertson. “You have the customers that need the trucks to be road legal [due to specific requirements] and you have those who will just buy an annual permit in order to use the boom truck on all roads. It's kind of a dynamic issue that is always changing with respective states' road laws.”

Robertson says that recently Manitex has been entertaining new dealer inquiries. “We have several prospective new dealers for the Manitex product,”he says. “We welcome it. Expanding dealer reach is a good thing; there is an ever growing and untapped customer base only reachable through an extensive and strong dealer network.”

As for what's to come for the boom truck market, Altec's Hill is optimistic. “What I'm seeing, the reports that have been published, indicate that even though residential building is down a bit-we all saw a boom in that area for a while-but in non residential construction there seems to be some hope that strong growth will continue. There are a number of new starts and sizeable projects that will likely keep that going. I think there's quite a range of categories within that non residential construction sector that allows for enough optimism that would allow shipments to continue at a decent level. No doubt as you get toward the end of 2007 the number of units may taper of.”

In 2006, National Crane added a new series to its line of boom trucks. The Series 1300H is a 30 ton capacity, stand-up control crane. It is the largest capacity National Crane that can be mounted on a three-axle truck, while maintaining an overall vehicle length of under 40 ft and carrying over 3 tons of payload.

Mike Herbert, senior project engineer at National Crane, says the crane is a brand new addition and enhances the company's product offering. “The 1300H the gap between the 1100 series and 1400H series stand-up crane models,”he says. “It has all the hallmark features of National quality as well as many innovative additions.”

One of the new additions is a patent-pending control console technology called “Easy Reach.”The console itself moves from one operator station to the other. Unlatching the spring assisted console allows for effortless movement into the transport and operation positions. According to Herbert, this feature will be a tremendous time-saver for operators. “When the operator has to move between the load on the ground and the controls on the truck, he doesn't have to constantly walk around the bed to reach the controls or climb over the payload to reach the ground,”Herbert says.

The Easy Reach technology also makes the 1300H the only stand-up control crane with pilot-operated hydraulics, which allow smooth operation and precise load control. Meanwhile, all of the valves are centrally located behind a hinged door that allows easy access for service. “Service technicians can open the hinged door and easily reach the crane's plumbing, hydraulics, gear box, and other components,”says Herbert. “We have worked closely with our colleagues at Manitowoc Crane CARE to ensure these new cranes are not only easier to operate, but easier to service.”

Manitex, with its 45-ton 4596T making waves as the largest capacity boom truck in the market, anticipates more manufacturers will explore the larger end of the market, bridging the gap between the boom truck, the truck crane and rough terrain crane.

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