Choosing a tower crane is increasingly about safety and productivity features, as customers seek to lift more with less power, upgrade to a higher capacity economically, and safely use multiple cranes at space-constrained project sites. The Indian tower cranes market is populated by overseas brands such as Comansa, Liebherr, Manitowoc and XMCG, and Indian brands such as Action Construction Equipment (ACE). The segment is "relatively small but growing and very competitive," according to Ajay Mandahr, CEO, Escorts Construction Equipment. VG Sakthikumar, Managing Director, Schwing Stetter India doesn't expect any change in the number of players in the tower cranes market, in the near future.
"With the growing application of precast construction techniques, currently, builders and developers are the major demand drivers of tower cranes in India," opines Pradeep Sharma, President, ACE.
Mandahr believes that precast construction is picking up with the implementation of RERA and the pressure on developers to complete projects in time. As a result, "Comansa tower cranes in the capacity range of 12-25 tonne (the range for the Indian market starts at 10 tonne), which are well suited for precast construction where the average panel weight is about 6-8 tonne, are gaining traction."
"While we usually prefer tower crane of 10 metric tonne or more lifting capacity, for projects making use of precast construction technology, we prefer tower cranes of higher capacity for lifting elements weighing more than 2-3 metric tonne in a 50 m radius," affirms G Boopathi, Director- Planning, Uniqcore Constructions India. "A tower crane with a precast foundation option (chassis type) can be quickly mobilised and help cut the foundation cost."
"ACE's 12 tonne and 16 tonne tower cranes are the first choice of players in the precast segment engaged in affordable housing projects under Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana as well as in industrial projects," says Sharma. "At such sites, the cranes perform multiple operations such as loading, unloading, and lifting of material with higher efficiency, speed and accuracy."
"In the last one year, Schwing-XCMG tower cranes of capacity 25 tonne have been used in precast construction in Hyderabad," observes Sakthikumar.
Customers are increasingly prioritising safety and hence, manufacturers are responding with newer safety features. "We prioritise site safety followed by productivity," says Sandip Shah, AVP-Head - Contracts & Procurement, Omkar Realtors.
"Traditionally, one of the most basic safety features was the safe load indicator," says Sakthikumar. However, "Now the focus is on various limit switches which helps the operator to work within a stipulated working area and prevent operation if the crane is overloaded and avoid accidents occurring from misuse of the machine."
For instance, Sakthikumar describes a slewing limit switch which stops the slewing movement of the jib after it takes 1.5 turns in the left or right direction, to avoid damage to electrical wires and excess torsion. A hoisting limit switch stops the hoisting movement when the hook block approaches the trolley and the ground. A trolley limit switch stops the trolley movement when it approaches the jib end. A moment limit integrated with an overweight limit switch ensures that the operator does not exceed the specified load at the respective radius.
Some new safety features in ACE tower cranes are safe load indicators, anemometers to check the wind speed while working on skyscrapers, a dynamic braking system which is used to avoid free fall of loads during the hoisting brake failure, and an anti-collision device to avoid accidents at sites where two or more tower cranes are working in proximity of each other.
Research and development (R&D) in safety features is ongoing at Liebherr. "Liebherr has recently introduced fibre hoisting ropes, an innovation in tower crane industry, which are maintenance-free and more economical than steel ropes as no lubricant is needed and the low friction doesn't necessitate the pulley to be replaced," shares Krishna Kumar, Divisional Head- Tower Cranes, Liebherr India. "Also, fibre hoisting ropes are more durable and lightweight so the user gets higher capacity (higher lifting load as the dead weight of the steel rope is more than the fibre rope), easier to handle and hence faster to erect than steel ropes."
Comansa products are manufactured to European standards FEM 1.001 and EN 14439, which are by far the most stringent norms, according to Mandahr, and are frequently updated for performance and safety to deliver the highest value proposition to customers. Some of these features include the auto changeover of hoist rope falls from 2-4 falls and vice versa, in 5-6 minutes with the operation of a switch, to allow customers to handle multiple load variations at construction sites.
Shah looks for tower cranes with safe load indicators to help the operator lift optimum weights, safe access to the operators cabin, a gangway with toe guards along the jib, trolley travelling limiter, hoisting limiter, fail safe braking system, effective braking system of the in luffing drum, a mast with resting platforms, aircraft warning lights, variable frequency drive (VFD) for jerk-free operations, SIPLUS CMS for the early detection of mechanical damage and anti-collision devices to enhance safety and productivity.
"In safety features, we look for digital load display, a load limit switch, anemometer for wind speed detection, an aviation lamp, lightning arrestor, etc," says Boopathi. "We look for cranes with anti-collision devices,"
says Shekar Bhogaraju, Chief Planning and Development Officer, Ozone Group.
Nowadays, "customers look to handle greater loads with the same crane so that they can avoid investing in a higher model," says Mandahr. To this end, Comansa offers tower cranes with the power lift feature, which allows the crane to handle an additional 10 per cent load moment.
"We prefer cranes which offer a higher lifting capacity with less power consumption," affirms Bhogaraju. "Additionally, we evaluate the noise emission and prefer models and cranes with low decibels and at least 140 ft jib length as well."
"Schwing-XCMG cranes have super plus technology which can increase the lifting capacity by 8~15 per cent by reducing hoisting speed," says Sakthikumar. Schwing-XCMG tower cranes also feature a load adaptive control system, a patented technology that automatically identifies the weight value of the load and intelligently controls the lifting speed, heavy load with low speed, light load with high speed, high efficiency and energy saving.
A VFD is seen as a safety feature as well as a productivity-enhancing feature. "A VFD in a crane improves productivity by allowing better operator comfort, faster, smoother maneuvering and power saving,"observes Boopathi. "Our tower cranes are equipped with a variable frequency drive for smooth and jerk-free operations," says Sharma.
Omkar Realtors has considerable experience in slum rehabilitation authority (SRA) projects, wherein the speed of working of the tower crane helps meet the delivery timeline. To boost productivity, the developer opts for tower cranes with variable speeds. "The tower helps reduce time consuming and laborious jobs in a larger circumference," says Shah.
"Terex has recently launched a new telematics platform T-Link that will help customers to monitor and check cranes data and behaviour," says Zac Tan, Tower Cranes Sales Manager, Terex Tower Cranes. "It is an important step to help customer to analyse crane productivity and to increase maintenance efficiency.
We strive to keep to a minimum cranes downtime."
Some brands such as Liebherr cater to every possible requirement of tower cranes. Liebherr's vast portfolio spans 24 metric tonne to gigantic 4,000 metric tonne cranes in different models-bottom slewing cranes, cranes on crawler tracks, luffing-jib cranes, flat-top cranes, hammer head cranes, mobile construction cranes, Derrick crane, etc.
Terex is another provider of a wide range of tower cranes. "Since we have a large range of products, from small self-erecting to big luffing jib cranes, we are able to provide multiple solutions getting requests from different markets and applications,"says Tan.
Schwing-XCMG has an extensive portfolio of tower cranes, spanning hammer head tower cranes (5 tonne to 25 tonne), flat top tower cranes (5 tonne to 63 tonne) and luffing jib tower cranes (6 tonne to 125 tonne). However, "based on the trends in the global market for tower cranes, Schwing-XCMG is focusing on heavy-duty flat-top cranes," says Sakthikumar.
What's special about the flat-top technology is it "allows a large number of cranes to be installed at a single project site," explains Mandahr. "Since the jib of these cranes can cross over each other with minimum height difference, customers spend minimally on the extra height required in hammer head tower cranes. Comansa pioneered the flat top tower crane technology."
Flat top models of Schwing-XCMG tower cranes have been upgraded recently and launched with better tip loads and efficient control systems. Schwing-XCMG latest tower crane offerings are the flat top models XGT6515-10, XGT6515L-10, XGT7020-12 and XGT8039-25. Schwing-XCMG's new S (safe, smart, strong and selected) series tower cranes are safer, reliable, advanced, intelligent and efficient.
"The market for tower cranes is extremely buoyant," says Sharma. After seeing unprecedented growth in the last few years, Sharma expects demand to soar in the next few months, and grow well in the next few years with the new Narendra Modi-led government's focus on speedy infrastructure and urban development. "We are optimistic about the potential for tower cranes in the medium to long term," says Mandahr. "The best is yet to come."
"The short term market scenario is good and we daily operate accordingly having a vision for our internal growth," says Tan.
Sakthikumar lists infrastructure investments that the government has lined up to make India a five trillion-dollar economy as key opportunities that Schwing Stetter India will tap to grow its tower crane market. These include "irrigation, ports, ready-mix concrete, metro rail, real estate, community building and power projects including nuclear, thermal, solar, wind, hydro and gas based plants. Additionally, Bharatmala, rural roads, Sagarmala, Jal Marg Vikas, affordable housing, industrial corridors and dedicated freight corridors got a major push in the current Union Budget, and will also yield possibilities."
In general, Mandahr says housing projects especially those under the government aim to provide housing for all, industrial projects, defence projects, Smart Cities and other infrastructure sectors are spurring the demand for tower cranes and will continue to do so. Last year, Comansa implemented a special project with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
"In the coming years, we expect new projects to grow the market for tower cranes, and gradually, major construction companies may also switch to using tower cranes for lifting materials instead of more conventional methods," opines Kumar. With the agrarian economy getting a boost, Mandahr expects greater mechanisation at construction sites and hence greater demand for tower cranes.
Rental is also a promising line of business for ACE with a fleet of more than 150 tower cranes working across the country at residential and commercial real estate development sites, in power plants, chemical plants, cement plants, metro construction, bridges and flyovers, dams, etc.
According to Mandahr, "Rental companies prefer cranes with modular designs such as the Comansa range of tower cranes; this minimises the cost of capacity enhancements, as the same crane can be configured for the next higher capacity simply by replacing the appropriate module."
The growing emphasis on safety and productivity features bodes well for the tower crane segment; it makes for greater differentiation among vendors, a sign of a mature market.
"We usually prefer tower crane of 10 tonne or more lifting capacity with a boom length of 50-60 m for their versatility," says G Boopathi, Director-Planning, Uniqcore Constructions India.
"We choose between a luffing jib crane and a crane with a horizontal boom depending on the available space," says Shekar Bhogaraju, Chief Planning and Development Officer, Ozone Group. "We prefer a luffing jib crane when we work in confined areas where the structure under construction is close to adjacent buildings."
At Omkar Realtors, the load factor determines the choice of crane. "When we need to lift low loads at multiple locations within one premise, we prefer mobile tower cranes," says Sandip Shah, AVP-Head - Contracts & Procurement, Omkar Realtors.
"To lift larger/heavier loads at fixed locations, we may opt for internal/external tower cranes. Based on our past experience, we generally prefer a tower crane with a maximum lifting capacity of 5 tonne/6 tonne. However, in some cases, we have also opted for tower cranes with capacity 10 tonne/12 tonne, for advanced and rapid construction with tunnel forms.
"Based on the trends in the global market for tower cranes, Schwing-XCMG is focusing on heavy duty flat top cranes."