Clean-energy projects, such as offshore wind power, are expected to boost demand for large lattice-boom crawler cranes, says a product manager for a leading crane manufacturer.
Among the cranes suited for that work is the recently announced LR 12500-1.0 from German manufacturer Liebherr, said Jim Jatho, the company’s product manager for lattice-boom crawler cranes.
“The main industry where we currently see demand for the 12500 is offshore wind,” Jatho said. “Based on conferences I’ve gone to and people I’ve spoken with, the U.S. will see a boom in offshore wind development.”
In 2021, President Biden set a target of deploying 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030. That’s enough to power more than 10 million homes. The White House says reaching the goal will take over $12 billion of investment and employ more than 44,000 people.
“The U.S. offshore wind market is just developing. The first major projects are set to award contracts imminently, and our crawler cranes are particularly well suited to this market,” said Dan Ives, an engineering, sales, and support analyst for Buckner HeavyLift Cranes.
Buckner has the world’s largest fleet of Liebherr lattice-boom crawler cranes, Jatho said.
Buckner’s fleet has grown to more than 150 Liebherr lattice-boom and teleboom crawlers, including 30 lattice-boom LR 11000s and attachments.
Buckner has laydown yards in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas. In 2022, the company bought a 3,300-USt Liebherr LR 13000, which Buckner describes as “the largest conventional crawler crane.”
In summer and fall, about 80% of Buckner’s fleet is booked in the onshore wind energy market, Ives said. “In a typical year, 70-75% of the newly installed wind power capacity is topped out by a Buckner lattice crawler crane,” he added. Last year, for example, Buckner provided two LR 11000s to the Escalade wind project in Texas.
Joining the Space Race
The wind market has a seasonal element, though, with marginal demand in the winter. “We are countering by continuing to diversify into new markets,” Ives said. “For example, Buckner is becoming a dominant player in space exploration infrastructure. Our cranes have erected large launch complexes around the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, with much more to come.”
Liebherr’s Jatho, who used to work for Buckner, also noted that SpaceX and Blue Origin have used Liebherr lattice-boom crawlers.
He said engineering firms have been asking about specs, such as the weights and ground-bearing pressure of the new LR 12500-1.0, which can lift up to 2,750 USt. “The conversation often ends with them telling us that this is the perfect crane, and with us telling them there aren’t as many in the world as they need.”
Nuclear power plant construction and petrochemical work are two more potential uses of the LR 12500-1.0.
At present, the slightly larger 3,300-USt LR 13000 is the Liebherr most suited to that work. However, only six currently exist, and at least two are already working on nuclear power plants.
Each LR 13000 takes 18 months to build. In comparison, said Jatho, Liebherr expects to build two to four LR 12500-1.0s each year.
Jatho expects that many will unload wind tower components from barges, then reload them onto ships that will take them for assembly on offshore wind-power projects.
Busy Trend Anticipated
“The primary driver for crawler cranes in the past several years has been onshore wind projects,” Jatho said. “So most of the lattice-boom crawlers we’ve brought into the U.S. in the past several years have worked purely in wind configuration.”
Jatho added, “Erection companies and component manufacturers all expect the second half of this year to be very busy, and the trend to continue.”
The most popular Liebherr crawler crane in the U.S. wind industry is the 1,000-USt LR 10000, Jatho said. Like Liebherr’s other big lattice-boom crawlers, it is made in Ehingen, Germany.
Liebherr makes smaller lattice-boom crawlers (maximum capacities from 110 to 441 USt) in Nenzing, Austria.
Liebherr covers a wider range of lattice-boom crawler sizes than most manufacturers, who tend to focus on one end of the capacity spectrum or the other.
Tadano, for example, has seven models ranging from 440 to 3,525 USt. They are the former Demag line that Tadano bought from Terex in 2019.
Unlike, the slightly lower-capacity Liebherr LR 13000, Tadano’s CC 88.3200-1 has a twin-boom system. Liebherr’s Jatho said the CC 88.3200-1 isn’t a traditional crane, describing it as a “built on a ring platform that just happens to have crawlers attached.”
However, Tadano’s website describes it as a “real” mobile crane “able to travel on its crawlers under full load.”
“One of the things that we look at with larger cranes is offshore wind,” said Allen Kadow, Tadano’s sales specialist for lattice-boom crawler cranes.
Kadow believes the wind industry has leveled off in recent years. However, both he and Liebherr’s Jatho are optimistic that the green energy parts of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill will give wind a boost.
“Over the last 10 or 15 years, crane manufacturers have met the needs of the wind market,” Kadow said. “So there are quite a few of those cranes in rental fleets and with the construction companies that have won the wind-farm work.”
Other manufacturers, such as Link-Belt and Kobelco, have focused on relatively smaller lattice-boom crawlers.
Link-Belt offers seven lattice-boom crawler models with maximum capacities ranging from 80 to 300 USt. The newest and largest model is the 300-USt 348 Series 2, unveiled at the company’s CraneFest in 2018.
Pat Collins, Link-Belt’s director of product marketing, said the company’s products cover 75% to 80% of the market for lattice-boom crawlers, including lifting, foundation work, and pile driving. “It’s probably a bigger cross-section of users than the mega cranes,” he said.
Collins confessed that he would never say Link-Belt crawler cranes wouldn’t be used on wind energy projects. “But most of those crawler cranes are much bigger,” he said.
Collins said infrastructure work was also busier than he expected, even before the infrastructure bill passed. “As the result of the infrastructure work and the restarting of projects delayed by COVID-19, crane sales are once again climbing,” he said.
Collins also noted that distributor rental fleets want to hang onto equipment leases because they’re concerned about being able to get new equipment.
Like Link-Belt, Kobelco offers seven lattice-boom crawlers. Their maximum capacities range from 80 to 330 USt.
The company plans to launch a new 200-USt model at ConExpo 2023.
Jack Fendrick, chief operating officer of Kobelco Construction Machinery USA, says the market is uneven. “Some segments are up, and others are down. The overall market is flat,” he said. Fendrick attributed that to “uncertainty about the economy under the current administration.”
Short-term impacts of the pandemic came mainly from state inspectors not being able to approve projects, but that subsided in late 2020, he said. “The pandemic’s indirect impacts have come from the economic slow down created by pandemic policies,” he added.
Nevertheless, Fendrick expects increased infrastructure spending, particularly on roads and bridges, to boost demand for crawler cranes.
Buckner also expects the infrastructure plan to boost demand for lattice-boom crawler cranes. In fact, the company is already seeing more requests for road and bridge project proposals.
Boom Assembly and Disassembly Improved
“All the manufacturers have really improved how fast you can assemble and disassemble the machines, including their booms,” said Scott Thompson, vice president of equipment and support for Scott-Macon Equipment.
Lattice-boom crawlers are also low maintenance, said Thompson, whose job is getting cranes moved and maintained. “The manufacturers have done very well in their designs. I’m impressed with the maintenance numbers,” he said.
Scott-Macon is a dealer for Link-Belt, Kobelco, and Tadano.
It also operates a rental fleet that includes six lattice-boom crawlers, all in the 110-USt range.
“I think five of them are now moving drilling rigs in western Texas,” Thompson said, adding that the market is steady, “but not the boom of a few years ago.”
Two New Manitowocs
Manitowoc’s 17 lattice-boom crawlers have capacities from 80 to 2,535 USt.
The company’s two newest lattice-boom crawler models are the 110-USt MLC100-1 and 165-USt MLC150-1.
Both save setup time because their self-assembly hook lets the operator install the crawlers and counterweight without assistance, said Manitowoc.
A sheave mounted in the boom butt enables self-assembly without installing the boom top, and increased maximum height lets the assembly hook lift components from trailers of various heights.
Both cranes also shorten setup time with a button-style rope termination, gantry-raised counterweights, and a boom cap, jib butt, and jib struts that ship as an assembled package.
To make transportation easier, the cranes are designed to minimize the number of loads that need a permit.
Their other features include a wider cab, larger windows, and Manitowoc’s Crane Control System, which works with the company’s new diagnostic code app.
“A big component of The Manitowoc Way is listening to what customers want,” said Brennan Seeliger, product manager. “They asked for reliable crawlers that go to work faster than competing cranes, and these new models meet that need.”
Chinese manufacturer Zoomlion just introduced a 300-USt lattice-boom crawler to the U.S. market.
Josh Flowers, sales manager for crawler cranes, said the U.S. market is thriving. “The crawler cranes are bouncing back from recent times, due to the increase of wind energy and industrial projects,” Flowers said.
“Also, the increasing demand comes from the crawler crane’s ability to lift extremely heavy objects at heights and lengths far greater than a typical all-terrain or rough-terrain crane,” Flowers added. “Rental houses are major buyers.”
Tadano’s Kadow said the market for lattice-boom crawler cranes is split fairly evenly between rental houses and construction companies. “Large contractors will often buy big cranes rather than rent them,” he said. “When the contractor owns them, it can control how they’re scheduled.”
Liebherr’s Jatho noted that bigger cranes are often beyond the buying power of rental houses and also have limited demand.
For example, the LR 13000 is considered a “project crane,” Jatho said. “You need to be almost a global company with your own contracting abilities in order to really use one and not have it sit idle.”
Jatho added, “The new 12500 is envisioned as likely being the largest crane a rental house might own. The thinking is that the 13000 is a global crane and the 12500 could be a continental crane that someone might own and keep busy just in North America.”
How Much Bigger?
Lattice-boom crawlers have certainly gotten bigger in the last couple of decades.
“When I started working with cranes in about 2000, a 300-ton crane was pretty large,” said Kadow. “Now, it’s kind of like a taxi crane, compared to the bigger ones out there.”
How much bigger can they get?
“Theoretically, they can get as big as you want,” Kadow said. “The real issue is at what point do the time and cost to ship and assemble a crane become prohibitive?”
Kadow didn’t have the answer, but he’s looking forward to how lattice-boom crawlers evolve. “I think it’s exciting to see where we’re going to be in two years, five years, 10 years,” he said.