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Continuous innovation leads to arrival of first Liebherr unplugged

Austral Construction recently announced it was about to take delivery of its first Liebherr LR 1160.1 unplugged (160t capacity) 100 per cent battery operated lattice boom crawler crane. It will be the first to arrive in the country.

The unplugged series of crawler cranes have been in development for several years and momentum for the creation of the series has increased due to the changing emission standards in the EU. Over the last five to six years, Liebherr has had to change the engine tiers to not only comply with but to stay ahead of the emission regulations in developed countries. At the same time Liebherr has been developing the unplugged battery operated series of crawlers.

Andrew Wilder is the general manager of Liebherr-Australia. He provides background to the development process that led to the launch of the Liebherr unplugged series.

“Liebherr has the distinct advantage of manufacturing the majority of our engines in-house, so we can engineer an engine that suited our product and not rely on off-the-shelf OEM engines used in multiple machines,” said Andrew.

“The Liebherr research and development department are always looking for the next generation of machinery and technology. Based on customer feedback, increasing demand for zero emission job sites, and feedback from Liebherr offices around the world, the unplugged concept was born,” he said. 

Austral Construction

Established in 1979, then divested and sold to Keller Group in London, Austral Construction is well recognised for innovative marine piling and civil construction works.

Aaron Turner is the managing director of Austral Construction and Mark Johnson is the piling marine manager. Both Aaron and Mark have been with Austral for over 20 years. They provide the background to the purchase of the first Liebherr unplugged in the region.

“We own and operate a fleet of very specialist plant and equipment. The Liebherr LR 1160.1 unplugged will be the sixth Liebherr crawler crane we have welcomed into the fleet. We already operate two LR 1300s, two LR 1280s and a LR 1160 diesel powered crane,” said Aaron.

“We operate in many industry sectors, including mining and resources, and we service non-process infrastructure, including civil, structural, steel work erection, and building works. We also work in land-based and marine-based piling.

“Within our business, we have three ‘levers’ and we are working on these globally. One of these levers is sustainability, which isn’t just around environmental sustainability – it includes sustainability for us as a business, with a focus on operational excellence, reducing our carbon footprint, and training and developing our people,” said Aaron.

Selecting the LR 1160.1 unplugged

“We picked the LR 1160.1 unplugged as a result of lift plans and studies that showed it would be the most appropriate crane in terms of the configuration of our yard, including its footprint and reach plus its ability to load the trucks that come in and out of the yard,” said Aaron.

“Because the crane will be based in the yard, we won’t be using it all day every day. There will be times when we can charge the battery using solar power and not just off peak power, and we will be able to understand more about its capabilities and functionalities and how often we need to walk the crane and track it.”

Features and Benefits of the LR unplugged series

Andrew explains more about the features and benefits of the LR unplugged series when compared to the diesel equivalent.

“Besides the obvious environmental advantages, another distinct advantage of the LR unplugged series is that the lifting capacity, boom length options, etc. are 100 per cent the same as the equivalent diesel models,” he said. 

“Over many years, our diesel LR cranes have been tested and loved by customers around the world. We did not want to change this winning formula by producing a crane that was not up to the same high standard as our diesel LR range. Essentially, the diesel motor and tank have been replaced with an electric motor and batteries, everything else remains unchanged.

The LR 1160.1 features a 136m maximum lifting height and maximum lifting radius of 84m – the same as for the diesel version.

“The load charts and performance of the unplugged series remains the same as the diesel version. One could argue the overall performance is increased when factoring in overall cost of ownership, including fuel savings, reduced maintenance costs, reduced carbon footprint, and reduced environmental impact.”

Austral Construction is excited about the arrival of the LR 1160.1 unplugged and Aaron can already see numerous benefits with the battery powered crawler. 

“Obviously the crane provides us with the ability to reduce diesel usage and we don’t have to change filters or oils. It also provides us with the ability to, again, work with Liebherr-Australia and train our people on how to maintain and service the next generation of electric cranes,” said Aaron.

Competitive advantage 

The arrival of the LR 1160.1 unplugged will also provide Austral with a competitive advantage in the market, said Aaron.

“Once we have put the crane through its paces in the yard and we fully understand it’s battery life and functionality, we will look to move it onto projects in Melbourne’s CBD to demonstrate the benefits, including the lack of noise and engine emissions,” he said. 

As with its siblings – the 130-tonne capacity LR 1130.1 unplugged, the 200-tonne capacity LR 1200.1 unplugged, and the 250 tonne LR 1250.1 unplugged, with more models to come – the LR 1160.1 unplugged lattice boom crawler can be operated via a mains power cable, or untethered, on batteries.

On a full charge, the unplugged series averages approximately eight hours a day of crane operation, which should cover the majority of jobsites around the world, especially given that most crawler cranes are idle on site at least 50 per cent of the time. 

The unplugged series can also operate whilst ‘plugged-in’ too, providing around-the-clock utilisation if required. Based on average crane usage, Liebherr expects an average of 10 years on the batteries and, even then, 80 per cent should still remain of the original charge capacity.

The LR 1160.1 unplugged features a 136m maximum lifting height and maximum lifting radius of 84m – the same as for the diesel version. A maximum boom and luffing jib combination of 52.1m plus 83m can be achieved, giving a total of 135.1m. On main boom only, with a 52.1m boom at 27m radius, the chart shows it will lift 21t.

Aaron goes on to discuss the benefits of working with Liebherr and operating Liebherr equipment.

“The technology behind Liebherr equipment, including the engineering, design quality of fabrication and the aftersales service and support, are all excellent. We have elected to have Liebherr as a crane of choice for Austral Construction,” he said.

Business case 

Aaron discusses the business case for the Liebherr LR 1160.1 unplugged.

“We understand new technology is going to be more expensive. We have been prepared to pay the premium from both an environmental and market perspective. We made the investment because we think the unplugged series is leading-edge technology and to have the first one delivered into the country is pretty cool. 

“In terms of a business justification perspective, we will save in the vicinity of $80,000 a year. This is just in the purchase of diesel, servicing, and oils. When you look at the longevity of the crane and factor in a 12-year life, we will be saving over $1 million,” he said.

The unplugged series can also operate whilst ‘plugged-in’, providing around-the-clock utilisation if required.

Service and support

Mark Johnson talks about the relationship Austral has with Liebherr when it comes to service and support for new and existing cranes. According to him, Liebherr-Australia provides service and support second to none.

“When we purchase and commission a new crane, we have a Liebherr-Australia technician onsite to help assemble the crane and help to train our guys on the new crane,” he said.

Liebherr has developed and delivered an excellent ‘over the phone’ support system and this includes an app that enables Austral to take a photo of the faulty part, send it to the Liebherr-Australia spare parts team, and they take it from there.

“Via LiDAT, the Liebherr-Australia spare parts team can see the hours the cranes are working, and they can predict the types of spare parts we are going to need, and ensure these parts are available. The support we receive from Liebherr-Australia is fantastic,” said Mark.

Changing rules and regulations around emissions 

Governments are likely to dictate the uptake of electric construction equipment, including cranes, said Mark.

“We might be pioneers in terms of having an electric crane as a construction crane but as time moves on, we can see government regulations will dictate what happens on a construction site. In the Netherlands, for example, there is talk of diesel powered construction equipment being completely removed from construction sites by 2027. 

“Being first to bring in this technology gives us a start on the market and provides us with an opportunity to manage the changes which are coming,” he said.

At present, the market for these cranes is in nations with stringent environmental emissions targets such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Finland, and, to a certain extent, the Asia Pacific region. More and more construction sites around the world are now enforcing zero emissions and Liebherr sees this trend increasing dramatically in the coming years, said Andrew Wilder.

“The infrastructure to support zero emission machinery on site will improve, especially in Australia, and many Tier 1 sites will make this mandatory. Perhaps not in Australia for next two to three years, but I would be surprised if this doesn’t occur soon after,” he said.

“Like all new technology, there were some initial challenges, but these were quickly ironed out with support from our head office in Austria. Today, the feedback from all customers who own or operate Liebherr unplugged cranes is very positive, and, I am pleased to say, Liebherr is now setting the standard for zero emission cranes in Europe and around the world. This is a very positive step and showcases how Liebherr really is at the forefront of technology,” he said. 

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