The trend of the future is likely to focus more on better technology with world class safety standards. Usage of telematics and electronic fault diagnostic systems is also likely to become a trend in crane design and usage. Over the next few years, the Indian market is likely to follow global best practices and specification standards for lifting equipment as is seen in construction, earthmoving and other industries, says Somnath Bhattacharjee, President - Material Handling Solutions and Equipment & Project Solutions Business, TIL. Excerpts from the interview.
How do you view the demand-supply scenario for mobile cranes (including pick-and-carry) now and in the last couple of years?
The mobile crane segment in India is largely dominated by cranes with pick-and-carry duty within the RT, AT and truck crane range. The market is passing through a difficult time and short-term demand has been impacted adversely with the sales of material handling equipment that include mobile cranes contracting considerably, by as much as 33 per cent during July-September 2012 compared to the corresponding period last year. The crane demand, which includes higher capacity mobile as well as crawler cranes, itself witnessed a significant slowdown. This decline in demand is primarily driven by slower execution and clearance related issues in the infrastructure and power projects which have a large potential for higher capacity cranes.
Despite the current material handling equipment demand scenario, the domestic economy enjoys a positive long term outlook, with significant investment in infrastructure development slated to happen under the 12th Five Year Plan. Along with this, further structural changes in the key government policies are likely to improve the demand outlook.
The market size for mobile crane is estimated to grow steadily by 20 per cent in the coming years. Though pick-and-carry cranes up to 15T capacity enjoy a major share of demand, the requirement for higher capacity mobile cranes with advanced features is growing, due to continuous change in heavy-lift sizes, besides growing customer preference for mobile cranes with better safety features and technology.
Could you provide a split of the mobile crane market: pick-and-carry, all/rough terrain tyre-mounted cranes/crawlers/truck mounted cranes?
Smaller capacity pick-and-carry cranes enjoy around 90 per cent of share in the mobile crane market and the rest of the demand is for truck and truck- mounted crawlers and rough terrain cranes. However, when the application is more specialised and involves a higher load, longer reaches and severe ground conditions, higher capacity mobile/crawler cranes are used.
The developed markets are dominated by the slewing type of mobile cranes while in India it is predominantly pick-and-carry cranes. What is your take on this?
India has been the only country where low-cost, tractor-mounted pick-and-carry cranes are more popular than slewing type mobile cranes. This is primarily due to the absence of proper regulatory standards for mobile cranes in India.
However, the current market trend in the crane demand in India shows a shift, albeit slow, towards higher capacity cranes with better design features, safety standard, quality and reliability. As the growth in infrastructure moves to the next level, the size of lifts is undergoing a significant change which is driving the demand for higher capacity yet safer, better quality cranes.
Tell us about the range of cranes offered by TIL.
TIL has been a pioneer and an established market leader in manufacturing, engineering and distribution of mobile cranes in India for over five decades. TIL designs, manufactures and markets a comprehensive range of equipment for material handling, lifting solutions with integrated pan-Indian customer support and after-sales service. Over the years, TIL's equipment range has always been recognised as state-of-the-art and sets the industry standard in specification, quality, durability, safety and total cost of ownership. TIL's technology partnership with world leaders reaffirms our commitment to always provide best-in-class products and services to our customers. Our fully integrated and purpose-built manufacturing facility at Kolkata delivers top-draw design, manufacturing and product technologies. This facility has rolled out more than 5,500 cranes in capacity range of 15 to 100 MT lifting capacities. TIL has always taken the lead in India to manufacture various types of cranes by introducing new technology, viz, industrial, truck or rough terrain cranes. The range of crane products offered through the TIL distribution channel includes mobile cranes (industrial cranes, truck-mounted cranes, rough terrain cranes, and all terrain cranes), lattice boom crawler cranes, lorry loaders, and tower cranes.
Our products incorporate the use of the latest drive line components, state-of-the-art hydraulics and load-bearing structures made out of micro alloyed roller quenched high tensile steels. These products set a benchmark by way of enhancing safety, fuel efficiency, reliability and operating comforts. In addition to our indigenously manufactured range, TIL also offers to its customers a complete range of mobile and lattice boom crawler cranes in association with Manitowoc and Grove USA. This range represents lifting capacity up to 450 MT in the mobile crane segment and 1,600 MT for lattice boom crawlers.
Although the Kamarhatty factory remains our flagship plant, the only purpose-built mobile crane manufacturing facility in India capable of building structures that can withstand a load up to 100 MT, in a bid to enhance productivity and augment product portfolio, TIL now has another state-of-the-art factory at Changual in Kharagpur, West Bengal for manufacturing a wider range of material handling equipment, crushing and screening machinery and road making equipment.
What is your take on the existing safety norms and regulations?
Cranes are mobile machines carrying out heavy lifts and therefore, requires high safety consciousness for everyone associated with crane use. The existing safety regulations prevalent in India need to be benchmarked with global standards to improve safety in crane operations and reduce accident rates, especially with smaller capacity cranes which are built on tractor chassis.
Major causes of crane accident in India are overloading, unavailability or failure of safety devices on the crane, faulty slinging, poor crane operation knowledge due to lack of training and awareness, failure to level the crane properly and most importantly, noncompliance with safety norms and lack of proper maintenance. At TIL, safety is a key priority. Each of our cranes is fitted with safe load indicators (SLI). If anyone is trying to lift a load beyond the rated capacity, SLI cuts the system off, thus ensuring safety. Along with stricter regulations and better design, another important factor is to have trained operators capable of safe operation of cranes, thereby preventing accidents. At TIL, we conduct year-round trainings and development programmes for crane operators to sensitise the crane owners and operators on safe operational practices.
/How do you address the issue of lack of skilled operators? Tell us about the training programmes initiated by TIL.
The construction industry in India has a large demand-and-skill gap in area of skilled operators and technicians. The government can definitely play a major role by increasing the number of technical institutes; however, construction companies can also tackle this situation better by setting up more of their own training programmes to impart skills and technician training. This in turn, would help bridge the gap that exists in the Indian CE industry.
At TIL, we believe that the customer's machine gives better return on investment when it is put to skillful and safe use. Therefore, operator training programmes form an important part of our round-the-year training and development initiatives. The professionally developed training modules are designed to elevate the operators' proficiency to higher levels, fully optimising our customers' return on investment.
TIL's dedicated team in the training department creates a range of training modules that include pre-operational inspection training, technical sessions on operating practices and load charts among others. These are great value differentiators tailored to hone the technical capabilities of the operators, improve customers' machine utilisation, productivity and uptime. The modules include customised training, both at our factory as well as at the customer's sites. These programmes are conducted periodically and a calendar is published well in advance and given to all the customers.
How do you differentiate your product from the competition?
For our customers, the uptime of the crane is directly proportional to revenue and profitability. Therefore, product quality and reliability is most important in our product development. TIL's engineering team is continuously engaged in product engineering and development in order to adapt the products better to market and application demands. TIL cranes are known for improving operator's productivity and comfort, improved fuel economy through better driveline match and providing state-of-the-art safety features with competitive load chart and specification, besides its quality and reliability. TIL-make cranes are built on superior technology and design and are supported by its pan-Indian aftermarket network which is equipped with maintenance, trouble-shooting, repair and overhauling of the cranes.
How do you view the growth potential in another three years?
Construction and material handling equipment demand is cyclic in nature and has significant co-relation with the macro economic cycle. While on the one hand, economic activities have experienced a decline and slowdown in the last few quarters in India, underlying demand in all the core sectors in India still remains quite strong. As the economic reforms get further underway with key policy changes, equipment demand in construction, the infrastructure and mining sector is likely to bounce back. In our view, the current demand decline of equipment is a typical cyclic phenomenon and we clearly see an annual demand growth of 15-20 per cent for the next 3-5 year period as the GDP growth rate starts improving. At TIL, we continue to focus on product engineering, new product development and customer satisfaction initiatives in order to remain competitive. This economic slowdown also allows us to intensify our initiatives towards operational excellence which will eventually help us to reduce and optimise costs across all our functions.