Industry gets a lift

Cranes and the issues surrounding them have never been so prominent in the Middle East. We look at some of the challenges as the industry moves into the modern age.

BOOM BOOM: Once assembled the mighty twin-boom crane developed by Al Suwaidi and ALE will be the biggest of the type.
BOOM BOOM: Once assembled the mighty twin-boom crane developed by Al Suwaidi and ALE will be the biggest of the type.

Cranes and the issues surrounding them have never been so prominent in the Middle East. We look at some of the challenges as the industry moves into the modern age.

Just about any jobsite in the region needs a crane. From putting up streetlamps on road building projects, to moving power station boilers and unloading container ships, the role of the device, of course, has never been in question.

However, maintaining and ensuring the safety of the operators are just two of the issues that need to be addressed when looking at cranes. Before you can do that of course, you have to get hold of one in the first place.

Delivery times

One of the main problems that site managers have with cranes - and especially tower cranes - is the lack of supply. All the major manufacturers currently have very long lead times.

"The outlook for delivery time of cranes in the US, Europe and Japan shows delivery times of between six months and two years plus" said Theo de Boer, Managing Director Industmarket.

"I don't have a solution, but I think people need to manage their project tenders so there is enough time to hire equipment and plan for a two year lead time."

He also warns of dangers in currency value over a long equipment lead time. "Two years waiting time means you should secure your currency for what you are buying," said De Boer.

There's no doubt there's plenty of business to be had. Rough figures from House of Equipment (HoE), a UAE-based construction equipment supplier, show the scale of the region's market, with this one supplier accounting for 160 tower cranes in a year.

And, judging by HoE's experience, demand comes by the dozen. This dealer supplies tower cranes from a Chinese manufacturer Fushun Yongmao, a business formed in 1996.

HoE deals with customers' need for speed by keeping cranes from the most in demand capacity range in stock on a speculative basis.

As a result HoE can carry up to 30 tower cranes in the 6-12 tonne range in stock at any one time, avoiding the long lead times that can plague projects.

"Where it is a common size, we know the market is hot for it and we always keep it in stock," said Manfalouti. "We don't wait for customer orders to come in, but take stock ahead of time."

In other capacity ranges HoE still experiences delays, but not on the scale of the two years De Boer warns of elsewhere in the world.
 

It's 18 to 24 tonne delivery times are approximately four to six months and 16 to 24 tonne luffing-jib cranes typically take 6-8 months.

"We are very busy and the volume of work we are executing in the market is tremendous, whether new deliveries, erection or dismantling, we're hardly covering our customer needs," said Waiel Manfalouti, general manager, HoE.

"Actually customers are not asking for one tower crane, but for six or 12 and they all need the equipment right now.

Used equipment

The impact of the burgeoning new crane market has affected the used market. De Boer recommends tracking projects regionwide, to keep an eye on what jobs are ending and therefore making cranes available.

Keith Lupton, director of Jebel-Ali based World Wide Auctions said "The big sellers of tower cranes are pretty occupied at the moment and are not putting them in auction. In point of fact tower cranes have never been big auction items as they always need to be at least semi erected, otherwise they look like an incomplete Mecanno set."

"The last one we had come from a site in Abu Dhabi. It was thirty years old and it sold for US $62 thousand."

I asked the owner if he still had the parts book and manual. He said 'For that kind of money I shall search the warehouse.' It came from a large company and they were just amazed."

The shortage in both used and new equipment is having an effect on the market, being felt by even the best resourced projects. The plant department of the Dubai Metro has shipped in some used mobile cranes.

Graham Larkin, plant manager said, "We are getting them from all over Europe; we just got one from Russia in fact."

"We currently have seven acquisitions on site and five in the yard, which is all we can get our hands on. We concentrated on three types and that was dictated by the market."

How old is too old?

Of course, it's an engineering certainty that wherever two surfaces meet, wear will occur. Just a short walk down any of the region's streets will reveal all sorts of machines dating from the last century.

This needn't be a problem so long as the machines are properly maintained and inspected.

Andrew Broderick, Health and Safety, Aldar said "You do get some very old cranes on site, but as long as they have been maintained they are fine. Some of the contractors keep their crane like their baby. We don't turn a crane away because it is old. As long as the correct inspections are carried out it is fine."
 

However, poor maintenance is far more commonplace on the worksites of the regions smaller developers.

Paul King, Operations Director, Gulf Erectors said "There is a lot of (poor maintenance) around here. There aren't enough people qualified, though it is probably wrong to say 'not qualified', but they are not qualified in the right aspects."

He added "Most manufacturers will stipulate ten or fifteen years before that the crane must be non-destructive tested. Ten percent of the tower should be X-rayed. and this is the British standard that should be followed. To me it is ridiculous putting up a sixty-year old crane that hasn't had any testing since the day it was made."

Safety

Lack of maintenance plays it's part in the number of accidents, but this is often to do with penny-pinching owners.

"The main issue is that of cost. At the moment, whoever inspects at the lowest price generally gets the job" said Rob McKenzie, Manager, Safety Plus.

"What we have in the UK is BS 7121. This means every crane has to be inspected at a minimum of 12 month intervals. A lot of companies do it here, but not all of them."

Waiel Manfalouti agreed "If you think short term, and unfortunately many companies in the market are, then they are trying to get as many jobs as they can in the shortest period of time to make profits as high as possible and are evading regulations," he said, adding;

"The majority of laws are there, but unfortunately some contractors are ignoring them because they can get away with it."

Equipment quality plays a part here. McKenzie adds, "The bulk of the equipment is coming in from the Far East... The problem is, we don't know what is of a good quality. I've been in China and I've been told that the equipment conforms to international standards. But does it really? We have subjected some to material analysis and it doesn't. I know that for a fact."

He added "The manufacturers all say their stuff is the best and then we go and find some of it is out by twenty-five percent!"

New designs

With so many cranes and engineers in the region, not to mention the amount of unusual loads that needed shifting, it was perhaps inevitable that the region would become a breeding ground for new designs.

One area where this is most evident is mobile cranes. The new style is to design the big lifters with a twin boom for shifting heavier loads. The new Terex-Demag C8800-1 Twin was handed over to owners Al Jaber at the end of last year.
 

According to the manufacturer the new design "opens up the widest possible range of deployment options for a reduced cost of ownership".

However, the behemoth with its 3200 tonne lifting capacity is about to be eclipsed by an even bigger double-boom, due to be making its debut at the Saudi Cranes and PMV Show in Damman on April 29th.

Heavy contractor Al Suwaidi in conjunction with British engineering firm Abnormal Load Engineering (ALE) have come together to create a giant semi-mobile twin boom known as the SK90, for use in the regions ports and oilfields.

Paul Sands, Director, ALE explained that despite the size of the crane, it should be relatively easy to move.

"It has been designed to be containerised" he explained.

"It can be moved around the world by ship very easily."

Sands added that the new crane might be used for applications such as lifting the giant boilers used in power stations, or that it could be used with a spreader for unloading container ships.

Of course operating a twin-boom crane requires a different skill set to a regular mobile crane.

A new training course is needed and port authority DP World have just introduced a simulator to train operators to use these tandem-lift cranes.

The device is the first of its type in the world. The simulator operates in a virtual real-time environment, giving the trainees the feel of a real twin-boom crane. In addition, people using the simulator can safely explore the controls.

Mohammad Al Muallem, Managing Director of DP World UAE, said: "Introducing the simulator reflects DP World's commitment to effective training of our people, both on safety and on improving productivity and efficiency."

"Our operators frequently handle valuable cargo and with this training we have a pool highly trained people." he said.

The future

There are great challenges to overcome in providing a safe working environment for operators, and in maintaining and running quality cranes.

Nobody knows for sure what is going to happen to the crane market over the coming months.

What is for certain is that the silhouettes of booms, gantries and luffing jibs will be on our horizon for a long time to come.

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