The heavy-duty mobile cranes market has come out of a sluggish performance in the past few years and is moving towards growth, thanks to the momentum in manufacturing and infrastructure segments.
The construction market in India is the second largest in Asia-Pacific Countries (APAC) region and is expected to become the fastest growing market in the region by 2025. Many heavy construction projects in power, flyovers and bridges, metro projects and industrial projects have raised the demand for heavy-duty mobile cranes in the recent past. The demand for mobile cranes is expected to grow, especially higher tonnage cranes used in several application segments.
According to Ajay Kumar Somani, Director - Mobile Crane Division, Liebherr India, The current market size of hydraulic mobile cranes, leaving pick-and-carry cranes is about 200 cranes, which includes market of all terrain cranes of about 35 cranes. 'The market for all types of crane is looking quite optimistic due to metro projects, road construction and also wind mill industry,' he asserts.
Prem Naithani, Director for Sales and Crane Care, Crawler & Mobile Cranes, India, Manitowoc Cranes, joins in, 'The market is improving a lot and the future is looking bright. There are many opportunities coming up for all manufacturers.'
According to Anil Bhatia, Vice President - Sales & Marketing, TIL Ltd, the growth of the mobile crane market has been quite sluggish in the last few years, especially the high capacity cranes being the most affected. The decline of depreciation allowance for wind energy and the slow progress of thermal power projects have also adversely impacted this sector. However, he is optimistic to add,'With adequate government emphasis on core sectors such as power, cement and steel, and renewed focus on manufacturing and development of road networks, the market for mobile cranes is expected to grow significantly. Furthermore, the government's plans to bridge the massive infrastructure deficit in the country will far outweigh all other unfavourable factors. With the government removing all bottlenecks to speedy project approval and execution, construction equipment manufacturers are certainly optimistic about the future.'
From a rental market perspective, Kunal Gala, Director, JNK Lifters Pvt Ltd comments, 'The market is improving as a lot of mobile cranes are being imported these days, especially used cranes. There are many Chinese cranes also in the 50-100 tonne range. Used cranes being imported are of above 100 tonne. Crane buying scenario was good till March this year. The wind power sector is slightly down in demand. Also, with the onset of monsoon, there is a dip in buying cranes. We feel that by September, the market will bounce back. However, other infrastructure projects such as roads, railway projects and metro projects have provided good demand for cranes.'
Given the ever-changing market situation in India and in absence of reliable statistics in public domain, it is hard to determine the exact market size. However, Manoj Chaudhari, CEO, Shethia Erectors & Material Handlers Ltd gives a ballpark figure of (tyre-mounted) hydraulic mobile cranes market at about 1,500 cranes and Rs 1,200 crore rental revenue per annum, excluding pick-and-carry cranes. According to him, the current market scenario is not good in short term, but remains positive in the long run. He explains the reason, 'A short-term negative outlook is mainly due to two factors: one, the Reliance J3 project at Jamnagar is nearing completion, resulting in de-hiring of hundreds of cranes; and two, a sudden drop in demand from wind power sector because of a sharp reduction in power tariff. However, I believe that this is a temporary phase and the market is expected to bounce back by end of the year.'
According to Somani, refinery expansions and renewable energy sector drive demand for mobile cranes, while at present, the most promising are Metro and road projects. Wind mill erection sector, which was looking most lucrative few months back has gone tumbling down due to power tariff going down to Rs 3.46 per unit from the existing rates of above Rs 5. This is demanding reduction in manufacturing cost as well as erection cost. Power plant sector is almost silent now and no notable movement in nuclear power sector also.'
Bhatia hails the government initiatives in infrastructure and construction segments for driving the demand of mobile cranes. 'With the government's focus on infrastructure, the crane business is showing gradual signs of improvement. The sentiment seems to be changing from recovery to growth. Energy has been the primary market driver, supported by infrastructure, mining and construction sectors getting back on their feet. The potential exists for a radical change in the material handling and lifting industry. Large scale capacity additions in nuclear, thermal, wind power, refinery and other industrial projects in the country have led to a growing demand for cranes.'
Gala sees more demand coming from roads and highways, bridges, railways and metro projects. 'Our cranes are already working at railway projects for bridge erection and such operations. Also, we have demand for cranes from refineries,' he adds.
According to Chaudhari, infrastructure and wind energy are expected to drive the demand growth of cranes in the coming years. He elaborates, 'India is a massive country with tremendous scope for infrastructure development. Also, we still have many states suffering from power shortage. The government is focusing on rapid infrastructure development with an ambitious investment target of about $ 375 billion in the next three years and about $ 450 billion in the next five years. Also, the government is encouraging investments in renewable energy where wind energy is one of the key drivers. India has set a target of 60 GW wind power by 2022 against the current installed capacity of about 32 GW.'
Rentals play a major role in the mobile cranes market. However the market is largely fragmented, barring a few big players. Major share of rental market comprises used cranes while brand new cranes are very few. However, the trend is slowly changing as many contractors involved in big ticket projects are now preferring new cranes with advanced features. Some of the leading rental players are seen buying brand new cranes. Shree Dinesh Crane Services recently bought a new 600 t Sany SAC6000 all-terrain crane which is currently at a refinery construction site in Gujarat. JNK Lifters has bought cranes from Liebherr and Kobelco.
Says Naithani, 'A large proportion of our customers operate exclusively in the rental market, and the fact that they are requesting newer cranes reflects the buoyant market.' However, according to Somani, the demand from rental market will be more for used cranes. Demand for new cranes is not expected in large numbers. Bhatia sees an excess supply of units as opposed to repressed utilisation, in turn leading to falling hiring rates - despite wages, operation and maintenance costs, fuel costs, and bank interest rates for procuring new or used equipment remaining the same. However, he is optimistic about the rental market, as with the government's continued emphasis on infrastructure, the demand for cranes has now begun to improve. 'We can see a lot of new players entering the market as many customers have started asking for newer cranes with longer service lives and lower energy consumption, as opposed to 7-10 year-old vintage cranes acquired by way of auctions and imports. That is quite encouraging for crane manufacturers because apart from the obvious safety issues that these old cranes present, they are also one of the major hurdles to the introduction of new models by domestic crane manufacturers, with upgraded technology and increased productivity,' Bhatia observes.
According to Chaudhari, the demand from rental market has continuously grown over past years and more or less, a similar trend is expected in future also. Gala feels that despite the rental rates are a little low, due to demand from infrastructure projects, the overall rental market is good.
Product development and innovation has been key in any equipment segment to meet the emerging requirements of the user industry. Manitowoc has a major presence in the 300 t segment as Naithani elaborates, 'We're doing well in the 300 t segment. Here, we have the GMK6300L, which has a main boom length of 80 m and a maximum tip height of 120 m. Its total gross vehicle weight is 72,000 kg. Notable features include a seven-section full-power MEGAFORM™ boom with TWIN-LOCK™ pinning, a MEGATRAK™ suspension system with independent hydro-pneumatic suspension and hydraulic lockout on all wheels, and a Mercedes OM 502 LA eight-cylinder engine.'
He also expects demand for the GMK6400 to rise in the next few months. With a 400 t maximum capacity, the GMK6400 has a main boom length of 60 m and a maximum tip height of 137 m. Its total gross vehicle weight is 72,000 kg. The crane features innovations such as a removable outrigger box, a self-rigging auxiliary hoist, and a similarly self-rigging MegaWingLift™ attachment which increases an already impressive capacity by near 70 per cent in certain configurations.
Somani elaborates on the innovations associated with Liebherr cranes, 'We have equipped most of our mobile cranes with VarioBase, which allows cranes to operate in congested area by extending outriggers partially and utilising crane capacity in each direction as per extension of each outrigger. Also in few cranes, we have VarioBallast where increase of ballast radius is possible to use full capacity of crane and also to reduce tail radius in restricted sites. We have a software to control the working area so that collision with surrounding structures can be avoided. Our new model LTM 1450-8.1 is having a big demand and order booking is over 100 units even before first crane is supplied in the market. This crane can travel with 85 m telescopic boom maintaining 12 tonne axle load and also has both VarioBallast and VarioBase. This is an ideal crane for taxi job.'
TIL has been a pioneer in providing high technology material handling and lifting solutions for many decades. Says Bhatia, 'The company sets the industry standards for quality, durability and value, offering the most comprehensive range of hydraulic mobile cranes manufactured by its state-of-the-art plants in Kolkata and Kharagpur in West Bengal. This includes a 15t PnC crane, industrial cranes of up to 20t, rough terrain cranes from 20t to 75t and truck-mounted cranes from 20t to 80t. Rough terrain cranes are provided with features such as all-wheel steering, all-wheel drive, earthmover tyres, torque converter transmission, multi-speed forward and reverse gears, good gradient capability, etc, which make them exceptionally manoeuvrable in slushy and unmade construction sites. These cranes can drive from the super cab which allows for great positioning and generally will permit a smaller capacity crane to get into the jobsite and do a lift that normally a larger crane would have to do from a greater distance, i.e. high manoeuvrability and versatility with reduced turning radius. The rough terrain crane is used for building bridges, operations in power and chemical plants and refineries and for large-scale construction projects. Truck cranes on the other hand are characterised by high speed for greater inter-site mobility. Drive configurations are like a commercial vehicle - 4x2, 6x2, 6x4, 8x4 etc., depending on the requirement. Wheels and tyres are also like a commercial vehicle. Large wheelbase and better suspension offer limited off-road mobility. Large decks can accommodate a greater number of people. These cranes are popular with the hiring segment. TIL has recently launched longer booms in its range of truck cranes for maximum reach and optimum lifting performance, with U-shaped cross sections providing for a natural cradling position for the boom sections.'
Major rental players are also gradually innovating their fleet with the induction of new cranes. Chaudhari elaborates, 'In the past six years, almost all our expansions have been in brand new cranes. Our fleet consists of multiple units of latest models of German make Liebherr cranes in the heavy capacity category, whereas majority of smaller capacity units up to 100 tonne are brand new cranes from Sany, China. Application wise, I can say that, with our current fleet, we are able to cater to almost 90 per cent of market needs, i.e., we are able to cater to all our target sectors, viz. infrastructure, wind (turbines up to 3 MW capacity), thermal power, refinery and petrochemicals, oil and gas, metals and minerals etc.'
JNK Lifters has about 25 cranes of up to 300 tonne in its fleet. Telescopic cranes range from 30 to 300 tonne, while crawler cranes range is up to 260 tonne. 'We bought a Liebherr LTM 1250-5.1 mobile crane at the bauma India 2016,' informs Gala.
Safety is foremost important factor, especially in the operations of heavy duty mobile cranes. Though, there are no clear safety guidelines in place from the government or other agencies, as per the industry sources. 'The only statutory obligation is to inspect/load test the crane once in a year. However most of the customers nowadays have their own guidelines specific to their projects, standards and procedures,' says Chaudhari.
According to him, one of the major risks which is often overlooked by many users is condition of ground/sub-soil on which the cranes are positioned. If the ground is not developed enough to sustain the pressure exerted by crane (the pressure can be calculated for each load case), it runs a risk of ground failure which can cause the crane to topple. Another major area of concern is wind velocity. Though each crane is fitted with anemometer, which measures the wind speed and displays for the operator, this is always real time and not predictive. So, in case of sudden gusty winds, it is possible that operator may not get sufficient time to stop and wind up. Apart from above, the cranes are safe as long as safety guidelines are followed and safety devices are not bypassed.
With regard to safety features, cranes have really evolved a lot. Explains Chaudhari, 'The modern cranes come with a host of safety features which are able to prevent incidents of overload, overhoist and avoid many unsafe acts. Safe Load Indicator or Load Moment Indicator on cranes is a fully integrated device which not only measures, records, and displays all important working parameters, but also alarms and then cuts off operation whenever the parameters cross safe working limits.'
Says Gala, 'New machines come with safety features inbuilt and the machines are far more efficient compared to old used machines. In the older machines, we put external safety features such as SLI for safe operations. Our operators are experienced enough to handle safe operations of old cranes.'
Emission compliance and new technologies
Environment regulations are becoming stringent with the government focussing more on bringing in latest emission norms. It is important to comply with these norms as Naithani explains, 'Emission compliance is especially important. Customers in India have been asking for Tier-IV engines, so we can see that there's an increasing demand for cleaner technology. This is in line with the movement within India towards the use of cleaner fuel that produces less pollution, and we are beginning to see the fruits of increasing awareness among customers.'
Somani has a different view as he comments, 'Role of technology is very important, however, in India we are still quite relaxed on emission norms of such equipment, safety points, manufacturing standards etc. Awareness in market on these aspects need to be increased.'
Chaudhari says that technology
is already at the advanced level for cranes. 'There will always be scope for small innovations but I don't expect a phenomenal change in technology in cranes. One can expect improvements like Vario Base, Vario Superlift tray, counterweights or more real time and elaborate data recording and analytical electronic gadgets as far as technological advancements are concerned, but not something which can drastically change the way cranes are today.'
On emission compliance, he says, 'Emission standards of course are on improving path. As of now, cranes and construction equipment comply with BS-III. If I am not wrong, Supreme Court has exempted the construction vehicles from complying with the migration order from BS-III to BS-IV, however it could be only for time being.'
There is always requirement for new products and technologies with the emergence of bigger projects and stricter time lines to complete the projects. The trend is changing from cost towards quality. Says Somani, 'With changing attitude of using more and more sophisticated equipment to achieve international quality, Metro projects and road projects are using mobile cranes for lifting and placement of girders. We have introduced in Indian market use of crawler crane with telescopic boom for such jobs where crane can travel with load and also uses Teflon pads on crawler to avoid damage of roads. Due to its quality to travel with load, it can work at lower radius and do the work of a much higher capacity normal mobile crane which can lift load only on outriggers. The first crane of such type is working at Nagpur in Metro project owned by NCC, Hyderabad.
According to Chaudhari, there is nothing new for mobile cranes as far as application is concerned. Depending on the market situation, the sector-specific deployment varies, however, the hydraulic mobile cranes are considered useful in all sectors which have lifting needs. 'Going further, there will be new opportunities in infrastructure sector (road, metro, ports etc). Other areas could be defence sector which is expected to be receiving sizeable investments and shut down jobs in existing process units.'
Naithani elaborates on the factors that can pose a challenge, 'India is a highly price-sensitive and price-driven market. What that means is that customers are always demanding more features and benefits in a price-competitive package. For manufacturers, the challenge then is to find ways to deliver on these demands while maintaining business profitability. Also, within the industry, there is a demand for efficient after-sales support. Companies which can meet this expectation would definitely benefit in the long term.'
Somani sees import of used cranes of quite old age and in poor condition as a major challenge. He insists, 'There should be some method to certify condition of cranes each year and also to check actual date of manufacturing. The end-users have to be careful in selecting quality products.'
Reflecting the same concern, Bhatia says, 'Unrestricted import of used cranes is a major challenge facing the industry today. We come across old vintage hybrid-make cranes, which would often result in unfortunate accidents and cause untold hardships to the end-users. In these cases, the importer has no knowledge of the history of the equipment as these are picked up through auctions or used crane marts. Such products are a reason for frequent accidents resulting in the loss of operators, property and delay in project schedules. These unwanted imports retard technological upgradation, increase energy consumption and also pose a serious threat to safety. Import of such equipment must either be restricted by government mandate, or at least subjected to an OEM certification prior to shipment.'
Chaudhari highlights transportation as a major challenge. He explains, 'Transportation of heavy cranes from one state to another has always been the biggest challenge for crane rental industry. One aspect was quality of available infrastructure whereas the other was difficulty in crossing state boarders. The infrastructure is improving over a period of time, however, it will take a lot of time to be on par with international standards. The other issue of inter-state transfers is expected to be largely resolved from July 1, 2017 when GST gets implemented.'
Lack of trained operators is another challenge he highlights. 'One of the other challenges is availability of trained and certified operators to operate the cranes. There is no dearth of talent in India, but unfortunately there are no training schools in India which can train, test and certify operators. I believe, some industry professionals are working on this and hope to overcome this challenge in future.'
He also points out some challenges in the rental sector, 'If we leave aside 4-5 organised players, the crane rental industry largely remains unorganised with a large number of players operating small fleets. One of the major challenges is to unite them, not to form a union but to work on a common agenda with an objective of taking the rental industry to a recognised level and in common good interest. The Crane Owners' Association of India is working on this, but has a long way to go.'
Gearing up for excellence
Major players are always concerned about the market presence with products having the right technology and solutions that can fulfill the customer requirements. Says Naithani, 'Innovation and technology are key differentiators for Manitowoc. Customers are always looking for cranes with innovative technology that deliver ever-greater levels of efficiency, safety, reliability and durability. So, we are continually striving in this respect. There are a lot of exciting developments in the pipeline and we look forward to sharing them with customers in due time.' Somani elaborates, 'We at Liebherr are very concerned on new developments. Our R&D is very strong and we are always in touch with customers to understand their requirements to bring new features in our cranes. This is a continuous process followed religiously.'
According to Bhatia, TIL has chalked out elaborate growth plans and is cashing in on the rapidly growing opportunities in India and abroad with its wide portfolio of products.
Rental players are also in the race to innovate and improve their fleet. Says Gala, 'We will be buying one more mobile crane from Liebherr of 450 tonne capacity next year.'
Chaudhari comments, 'Our future plans shall be to further optimise our fleet in terms of capacities and types so that we are able to offer some value to our customers instead of plain rental. The expansion shall of course depend on market needs and long term prospects.'
With many large size projects in the pipeline, the demand for heavy-duty mobile cranes will go up in future. At the same time, some of the ongoing projects are getting completed soon and de-servicing of cranes will create some imbalance in the demand-supply scenario in future. Considering these trends, the growth of heavy-duty mobile crane market will depend on fast take off and execution of projects.
Roads & Highways
Ground condition: If the ground is not developed enough to sustain the pressure exerted by crane (the pressure can be calculated for each load case), it runs a risk of ground failure which can cause the crane to topple.
Wind Velocity: In case of sudden gusty winds, it is possible that operator may not get sufficient time to stop and wind up.
- Sudheer Vathiyath