All the talk of zig zag economies and perilous fiscal cliffs hasn’t thrown the world out of balance for the major manufacturers of equilibrium cranes as Ray Dykes reports…
A year ago they were hopeful of a stronger performance in 2012 and for some, despite the worldwide economic gloom this year has been a brighter, more encouraging experience. It’s hard to take the wind out of major manufacturers like Belgian-based E-Crane Worldwide and its subsidiary E-Crane International in the United States (part of the Indusign NV Group), who both report a stronger year and ooze confidence amid busy order books.“We have nine crane orders in progress all at the same time,” says E-Crane International President, Mark Osborne, in Ohio. In Belgium, E-Crane Worldwide International Sales Manager, Bas Tolhuizen, reports 16 cranes sold in 2011 and a further 15 in 2012, but for a higher cost per unit value because of the cranes selected. There’s no doubt who is leading the balanced crane market in sales these days with the sales picture for 2013 looking strong “with plenty of opportunities for us to supply our machine.” Unfortunately, there are others in the equilibrium crane business who are still limping along while one balanced crane maker is currently doing some strategic navel gazing after continuing dismal sales figures for this market segment in bulk handling, and might even pull out of the balanced crane sector altogether.
What are they?
Balanced or equilibrium cranes are purpose-built for bulk handling of everything from grain to coal and limestone to scrap metal. The machines use a unique parallelogram-style boom that gives a direct mechanical connection between the counterweight and the bulk load.They work in near perfect balance throughout their lifting range and are seen as a “green alternative” to conventional cranes because they make gravity work for them instead of against them. Balanced cranes are electrically-powered and prove light on energy use; they can also cut loading and unloading times by up to 50%; and there are significantly reduced maintenance demands for the machines, cutting operating costs. For one of the best known of the larger manufacturers, Seram Group based in Perpignan in France, the year hasn’t gone as well as expected and there was a noticeable reduction in buyer interest and activity in the second half of 2012. Seram still feels the global economic crisis has would-be buyers more cautious, just as they were throughout 2011 and so far this year, and a spokesperson says the market is still difficult.The French company, which invented the balanced crane concept in 1973, is basing its continued success on the new crane market in the oil industry where its balanced cranes are proving popular for offshore oil platforms. The business was enough to encourage Seram to hire seven more staff recently to serve the encouraging offshore markets.
Another bright “hot spot” during the year for Seram has been the revamping of existing crane fleets throughout the world, as owners try to eke out more life from the cranes they already have. As for 2013 and beyond, Seram is in a hold and see pattern and hasn’t been getting too many positive readings about the world market conditions and floundering global economy. The company can’t escape the feeling that more difficult times are still ahead. Another maker, German-based Sennebogen Maschinenfabrik GmbH, still enjoys a solid reputation among the market leaders, but has had little to say about any recent contract successes. In the spring of 2012, Sennebogen completed the delivery of a one of its 880 EQ balanced cranes to Redpath Sugar in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. On the north bank of Lake Ontario, the Redpath Sugar site deals in year-round business despite the cold season when ice closes the dock for several months.This means there has to be a boost in activity in the good months, and Sennebogen’s 880 EQ had no trouble outperforming the two old cable cranes it replaced with an initial performance of 600 tonnes an hour.With a capacity of 8,000 kilograms of sugar per cycle, the 880 EQ now moves nearly twice as much as the previous two cranes put together, according to Sennebogen.“We have definitely made the right decision with the Sennebogen 880EQ,” says Redpath’s Manager for Engineering Projects, Jonathan Dunn.“We planned to increase our productivity by up to 50% by investing in this new machine. I am sure we will reach this goal thanks to the outstanding performance.” In another notable but earlier sale, Sennebogen’s new sales and service partner for India, Forsenia Engineering Pvt Ltd, delivered an 880EQ D series with 33m boom on a crawler chassis to the Krishnapatnam Port Company Ltd for bulk material handling.
With market dominance in recent years, E-Crane is the name in balance cranes around the world. With multiple sales successes in Europe, North America and Asia, it’s difficult to keep up, but the following is a summary of a few of the market leader’s more notable recent contract successes. E-Crane Worldwide recently completed installing a 2000 series crane with 38 meter reach and 30-tonne capacity for Van Heyghen Recycling (Galoo Recycling Group) in the
Port of Ghent, Belgium’s third busiest port, and the new crane can serve up to Panamax-sized vessels. The rail-mounted machine is identical to another E-Crane supplied in 2009 as the port is relying on E-Crane to lead its steel exports to the world, says Bas Tolhuizen in Belgium. The E-Cranes replace rubber-tyred mobile harbour cranes and have given 100% higher loading rates so far. Another 38m reach rail-mounted E-Crane in Indonesia is moving coal and gypsum for Holcim at a cement grinding mill. And Swedish company Malarhamnar AB, has installed its second E-Crane, a 1500 series with 32m reach, which is being used to unload Handysize vessels. A 700 series floating E-Crane was shipped to S Alam Sugar Refinery in the City of Chittagong in Bangladesh and commissioned late in 2011 and has been averaging 260 tonnes an hour ever since unloading sugar. In Finland, the Port of Kokkola, purchased a 2000 series, rail-mounted E-Crane for unloading iron ore, zinc concentrate and coal. With an outreach of 35m, the crane can move up to 1,300 tonnes per hour.
E-Crane International USA is a powerhouse on America’s inland waterways and recently sold a floating 1500 series to Mulzer Crushed Stone in Evansville, Indiana; a 700 series pedestal model to Nucor in Jackson, Mississippi, for use in general recycling duties feeding auto bodies into a shredder; a 1500B series on crawlers for coke unloading duties near New Orleans, Louisiana; and American Electric Power – E-Crane’s largest single customer with eight machines in operation – has bought yet another E-Crane this time for unloading limestone at its Clifty Creek Power Plant project near Madison Indiana. One unique project in Seattle,Washington sees two E-Cranes mounted on a single barge for Cal Portland to service a highway tunnel boring project involving loading and offloading on barges. Mark Osborne believes it is a first for the company.With over 70 E-Cranes in service in North and South America, no wonder E-Crane is currently looking to hire service technicians.
As well as introducing two new models this year in its popular, smaller 700 series, E-Crane has also made important advances in the control system interface to allow both clients and E-Crane technicians wide access to what’s going on with each machine. Known as EMM or Electronic Machine Manager, the data collection technology gives real time production statistics, cycle times, running hours, plus any faults occurring and so on, all collected and available via the Internet. One option also allows real-time video streaming of the E-Crane while in operation. EMM saves clients time and money in reduced downtime and maintenance thanks to the advanced trouble shooting capability. In fact E-Crane service engineers can remotely connect to any equipped machine from anywhere in the world to trouble shoot, resolve problems, and help in crane repairs if necessary. One glowing client testimonial from an operator of a floating E-Crane terminal handling coal and limestone in Alabama underscores E-Crane’s simplicity of use and numerous advantages. “I have much happier and more productive crews now.They like the E-Crane so much they really want to take care of it.” And to add to the pluses, the client PowerSouth Energy Corporation adds: “The E-Crane system has cut our unloading time in half, cut our maintenance time dramatically, simplified operation, and reduced our costs substantially.”
Meanwhile, E-Crane made a move to help it secure its market lead by acquiring Polish steel fabrication company Famaba earlier in 2012. “With this acquisition we now have everything in hand and won’t have to outsource our steel structures,” says Tolhuizen. “It was a very important move for our future and gives us the ability to have readily available steel structures at excellent prices.” Famaba will operate as an independent E-Crane unit with 275 employees and depending on the market could lead to further expansion of E-Crane’s Adegem Belgian manufacturing facility.
Source: World Port Development December 2012, pages 26, 27, 29