Cranes and Lifting Magazine finds out the details of Manitowoc’s new model Potain tower cranes and just how well they’ve been embraced by the Australian sector.
Manitowoc recently launched new model Potain tower cranes and the market has responded in a quick and positive manner. The company has also seen a major over haul in its manufacturing processes which has led to the range Potain and Grove brands designed and manufactured in accordance with ‘The Manitowoc Way’.
John Stewart, VP and General Manager of the Manitowoc Australian operations, discusses with the growth of the Potain tower crane business, new models and how the ‘The Manitowoc Way’ is changing the company’s manufacturing processes.
The price of land in Australia’s major capital cities has always been a driver for going high with residential construction. Just one look at the skylines of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane confirms that the tower block construction boom is far from over. This has seen great success for the Potain business in the small to medium crane range.
“In NSW we work very closely with Active Crane Hire (ACH). ACH has approximately 160 cranes in its fleet and really dominate this space. The 10 to 20 storey residential building market has seen a high demand for the small and medium size topless Hammerhead cranes, but this has started to cool a little, mainly due to the density of construction and over flight issues where neighbours do not want cranes travelling over their airspace,” Stewart said.
Potain recently launched two new models to remedy the congestion issue, the MCH 125 and the MCH 175.
“The models are hydraulic topless luffing cranes which use a mobile crane-like super structure with a lattice boom so it looks like an all terrain super with a cylinder. The cylinder is luffing the jib compared to the typical rope luffer which features an ‘A’ frame geometry to lift. This new design is proving to be very successful with ACH,” he said.
Currently, Active Crane Hire has 15 of the new models either working or being delivered. These will be replacing a number of their older topless cranes in addition to growing its fleet.
Stewart suggested the new models are in demand due to the density of construction sites. “In this current construction environment, we are seeing older, smaller buildings demolished and replaced by taller ones. Much of this construction is happening in residential areas where there is already considerable congestion. These luffing cranes provide a great opportunity for ACH and us, to supply a crane that provides a more efficient way of building on these congested job sites.”
Last year, Active Crane Hire announced that it had welcomed Borger Cranes as a stakeholder and business partner in its tower crane rental business. According to Stewart, the partnership is a major milestone in the crane hire industry delivering significant benefits to the clients of both businesses.
“Strategically, we see the tie-up between Active Crane Hire and Borger Cranes as being very positive, for both the businesses and their customers. Borger is one of biggest mobile crane companies in NSW. I think the tie up will provide opportunities to move into the larger sized tower crane market as they work together on tier one jobs and infrastructure projects.
“Obviously, they will be able to share customer information. ACH works with a large number of the small to medium-sized construction companies whilst Borger work with the major tier one and tier two construction firms. Together, I can see the business potentially moving towards larger cranes and the business will certainly have more leverage to use the synergies to grow,” he said.
According to Stewart, the partnership provides clients with the best and most economic material handling solutions by combining mobile cranes, tower cranes and self-erecting cranes and having these solutions provided by the one source.
“We’re happy and excited for both parties. ACH has plenty of tower cranes that need erecting and dismantling so it will be a very busy partnership. Look at the logistics side of the business. Borger has a fleet of trucks for the mobile crane business, which can now be utilised to move the tower cranes around the state. It’s a case of the left pocket paying the right pocket, keeping the utilisation high and minimising costs.”
Stewart has been working with Manitowoc for 30 years, starting with Grove Cranes, which Manitowoc bought in 2003. A restructure of the Manitowoc management saw the introduction of ‘The Manitowoc Way’, a philosophy to streamline processes, especially the manufacturing process.
“I’ve been with the business a long time and, as you would expect, I’ve seen lots of changes. As a business, we were getting smarter and better with our manufacturing, but now our new management has taken us to another level,” he said.
The management team has very strong manufacturing focus and it introduced the ‘The Manitowoc Way’, a lean manufacturing and factory flow process designed to provide greater efficiencies throughout the manufacturing process.
“Our Senior Management is taking the steps required to ensure that Manitowoc is prepared for the future. They have had to make some tough decisions and with a fresh vision of the business they were able to accomplish dramatic change. Consolidating the old Manitowoc manufacturing facility into Shady Grove, Pennsylvania, is an example. When you take the emotion out of the issue, it was the right decision,” Stewart said.
“The old factory grew and had facilities bolted onto it and had become more like a great ‘job shop’ versus a manufacturing assembly line. The new factory is purpose built and we’re seeing huge benefits from the increased efficiencies of a production line.”
Stewart said the changes are not always easy to accept, but once the improvements are seen, even the longest serving employees understand that change is necessary.
“All the factories are enjoying the ‘The Manitowoc Way’ and the efficiencies we are seeing are pretty spectacular. Long terms employees have been impressed by the improvements and management is saying ‘we’re just getting started. Change can be painful, it’s the bitter pill to swallow initially, but when you take a step back and see the results, it’s a pill that makes you feel much better afterwards.”
Manitowoc has a regional structure for the product lines, mobile/crawler crane and tower cranes. Each feature dedicated factory professionals working on improving efficiencies. There has been significant investment in the business with new factories built, consolidation of old factories and new systems introduced that add value and increase quality.
“We place a very strong focus on design and we like to think we take the lead with innovative technology. You can see it in the design in the design of the new generation All Terrains where we are bending frame versus welding frame. It is much more efficient and more cost effective,” Stewart said.
The Megatrak suspension system is another good example of Manitowoc’s commitment to design. It’s an independent suspension without a solid axle underneath.
“Independent suspension is a much better system, it’s lighter and provides more flexibility to our designs. We can add more weight where it is needed versus having the axle dead weight which allows for our frames to be deeper as we don’t have the differential moving up and down underneath the crane,” he said. “With lighter and deeper frames it means you have a stronger crane with less material. We keep enhancing the Megatrak system by moving to ‘top steering’ and making weight saving measures so the cranes are getting more compact and lighter still, but also stronger.”