Rough and Ready

Rough terrains are the workhorses of the crane industry in many countries. Will North spoke to two manufacturers who are taking radically different approaches to these cranes.

For a long time, rough terrain cranes were simple beasts, squarely aimed at the lower capacity end of the market. Today, as the range of capacities offered by these cranes widens, the question for manufacturers is whether to focus on cost or on performance.

Zoomlion has recently started selling a range of rough terrain cranes around the world, through dealer Global Crane Sales, who also helped design the new cranes. Uri Toudjarov, VP of Global Cranes Sales, takes the view that the attraction of the cranes will be their price competitiveness.

Toudjarov says, "When the market is not good, people look for ways to cut costs and get a better return on investment. Rough terrains are a commodity: a 30-tonner is a 30-tonner, you can't rent it for more just because you paid more for it. People who would have looked to buy a used crane are now looking at buying a new crane from us."

For Manitowoc, the best approach is to find novel ways to meet customer demand. Neil Hollingshead, Manitowoc Cranes' global product director for all terrain and rough terrain cranes, says, "Customers said they wanted a bigger machine with a longer boom. Our new RT9150E, with a capacity of 150USt (135t) is the world's biggest rough terrain. The superstructure and boom design are from the GMK5130-2. It marks a coming together of all terrain and rough terrain technology: it has a twin lock boom, extending to 60m.

"All of the RT9150Es will be built at Shady Grove. The team there worked with our engineers at Wilhelmshaven [home to Manitowoc's all terrain range] to get a fantastically strong crane with a really long boom.

"It's going to be sold internationally. It will be doing refinery and power generation work, the sort of jobs that an all terrain would be used for, but in confined spaces where it will be staying for a while."

Zoomlion's new rough terrains will be focused on lower capacities than Manitowoc's giant. Toudjarov says, "We have four models of rough terrains: they're rated at 35, 55, 75 and 100t internationally, and 40, 60, 80 and 110USt for the USA.

“The way we see it, when the market was going well, manufacturers increased prices unreasonably. That gave an opening to us. We can sell at 30% less than many of our competitors."

The point for Toudjarov though isn't to slash prices at the cost of features. He says, "We often have $10,000-$20,000 worth of extras on the crane as standard, where others only let you pay for them as options. We're designing these machines with more technical features, but selling them for less.

"All of the machines are ANSI-certified, and the CE-certification is following up shortly. They are all built to US and EU standards. We use Cummins engines, joysticks from Italy, hoses from Europe. We're using Western components, and assembling in China.

"There are three things that contribute to the cost of a crane: labour, material and overheads. Labour is far less in China. Materials, even when you’re buying the same components sold in the West, are cheaper. Our overheads are much less. That's how we keep costs down, by cutting our expenses."

Manitowoc too sees the competition between manufacturers as more complex than being a black and white choice between cost and features. The US-based crane builder has been focusing on using standardised and shared components, and lean manufacturing, to cut costs and order times. It is looking too to make itself more responsive to customer demand.

Hollingshead says, "We've just finished our PPP (pre-production partnership) programme for the RT9150E. We put the crane out with customers, get them to work it hard, and get feedback. It's something we’ve always done, but with PPP we’ve made that testing more formalised. The crane on show at ConExpo will be the first off the line in serial production.

"The RT9150-E will only be built in Shady Grove, but it uses design technology from Wilhelmshaven for the boom and upper. Design and technology under [senior vice president of global engineering and innovation] Andreas Schwer has become more international. This is one of the first cranes to come out of the global engineering group Andreas set up two years ago."

Manitowoc isn’t fixated solely on the highest capacities. Hollingshead adds “The RT9150E shouldn’t discount the rest of the rough terrain range. We’re also launching the RT765E-2 at ConExpo. It's an upgrade of the RT760E, with a bit more capacity, a strengthened load chart, improved outriggers and a new cab. The RT760E was a market leader, and we’re building on that.

“The new cab will go on all of our rough terrains, and truck mounted cranes from the same family of cranes built at Shady Grove. It's similar to the all terrain cab, but not exactly the same."

One area where Western manufacturers like Manitowoc have built an impressive reputation is for after sales service. With call centres staffed by specialist technicians in the US, Germany and China, Manitowoc can answer customers enquires 24 hours a day, anywhere in the world, and generally ship parts the next day.

For Chinese manufacturers, service has not been at the heart of their reputation in quite the same way. That's a problem that Toudjarov wants to fix. He says, "All parts and service support is coming out of our Houston location. We've built up a big parts warehouse there. Anyone who buys a crane from us won't ever need to deal with a Chinese speaker. We have American service technicians serving the US, and English-speaking technicians around the world."

What does the year ahead hold for these two manufacturers? On this, at least, they agree: a recovery is underway. Hollingshead says, "There are general signs that the market for rough terrains is picking up. Earth moving is: that normally comes first, then rough terrains. We've seen some rough terrain sales pick up in the Middle East, and now some in the US.

"Generally, worldwide, rough terrains are picking up. Rough terrains are generally one that picks up first, and the signs are positive.

"The price of oil going up has helped. A certain amount of optimism is coming back.

We're getting some replacement sales. People who wouldn’t have bought anything for a couple of years, now seem to think it is the right time to buy."

Toudjarov agrees, "We're selling them all over the world, and have a healthy backlog right now. We're hoping to add a lot of orders at ConExpo. We're seeing demand from all the traditional rough terrain markets: North America, South America, Africa and the Middle East."

"The majority of canes we sell, around 80%, go to rental companies. We recently sold one of the big 100t machines to a rental firm in the US; we've also sold that model to an end user in Africa, a large landowner who will be using it in the sugar industry.

"We know the rental industry well. The reason we will be successful is that in the past five years, rental rates haven’t gone up, but crane costs have. A company like us can provide good returns, with a crane that is cheaper but has a lot of features."

Story: Rough and Ready - A service from Cranes Today