Still in the running
There's more to RTG life than ZPMC argue European manufacturers. Alex Hughes reports
ZPMC is often viewed as the only bulk manufacturer of rubber-tyred gantry cranes left in the global market and definitely not one that can be beaten on price.
But European manufacturers point out that, while its cost prices might be cheaper, the Asian giant is not necessarily that competitive on life cycle costs.
And while many bulk orders for RTGs in recent years have 'gone east', that doesn't mean ZPMC has won them all.
Significantly, Terex retains a significant manufacturing presence in China of its own. Its plant, located at Xiamen, covers an area of 280,000m2 and has 42,000m2 of modern workshops, as well as its own, 236-metre quay.
“The plant has been able to draw upon considerable experience from other group companies in Europe for the last 14 years and is now considered one of the world’s most important manufacturing bases,” says Mr Maurizio Altieri, general manager of TPE Xiamen, NoellChina, pointing out that the company could produce up to 150 RTGs per year were it called upon to do so.
Liebherr Container Cranes' capacity is somewhat more modest. According to sales and marketing manager, Gerry Bunyan, “at present we have the capacity to produce over 30 RTGs per year and are currently completing an order of 20 RTGs for Shuaiba in Kuwait. In the future, with developments at our facility in Ireland, we will be able to produce over 50 RTGs.”
In addition, the company can call upon ad hoc capacity at other Liebherr group production facilities across Europe.
“Liebherr,” says Mr Bunyan, “has a reputation for manufacturing the highest quality cranes, something of which we are very proud. Our intention is to continue delivering a premium quality crane to our clients. An essential factor in this is the ability to strictly control quality and therefore maintain the highest possible standards that we can achieve.”
There are, therefore, no plans to ship manufacturing to Asia.
But in many ways it is Cargotec that ZPMC has most to fear from. Already the world's second largest producer of RTGs, there are rumours in the market that its prices are creeping ever closer to those offered by ZPMC.
RTG product manager, Marko Rasinen says: “We have, on occasions, produced up to 200 units per year. In fact, Cargotec has an inherent production flexibility able to produce the amount of units the market might require in any one year.”
Significantly, the company has production facilities in both Europe and Asia.
This dual-production capability may well explain why Cargotec remains price competitive even when faced with competition from cheaply available Asian RTGs.
“In recent years, we have become the second biggest global supplier of RTGs in terms of annual sales. That means we must be able to provide RTGs at an attractive price to customers,” says Mr Rasinen.
Asked whether RTG operators are actually seeking the cheapest possible price as their unique criterion for placing orders, he says that this is not necessarily the case: different customers have different priorities, he adds.
“Initial capital costs are always a consideration, but other factors, such as delivery time, total cost of ownership, ease of maintenance, safety, reliability and sustainability also have a big impact.”
When posed the same question, Mr Altieri concedes that Terex's purchase price for RTGs might be a bit higher. “But if you look at the product holistically, which means taking into account after sales costs and maintenance as well, the overall cost of one of our machines is balanced.”
Above all, he stresses the overall quality of Terex's products.
“We are convinced that, while price is always going to be important, the thing most customers look for is the best overall return on investment, which includes a whole range of other factors, not just the purchase price.
“An RTG, for example, can remain in service for 30 years or more, so life cycle costs are of of critical importance. It is therefore crucial that customers take into account product quality, safety features and after sales costs when considering a purchase,” he says.
Asked whether a Liebherr RTG can compete with that of an Asian producer, Mr Bunyan points out that strict price comparisons are not particularly valid.
“Our RTGs are high quality, high performance machines capable of handling 30%-40% more containers per hour when compared to those of our competitors'. Do customers value that approach? Well, we believe we are competitive in the market place, something which is borne out by a continuing healthy order book.”
He, too, observes that, while the purchase price remains important, customers do opt for Liebherr RTGs based on product reliability, performance, after sale service record and lifecycle costs.
But, when all factors are taken into account, are European-designed RTGs still the choice of major customers across the globe?
Mr Altieri is in no doubt that Terex can still compete.
“Of course we can. Our good quality and low maintenance machines make them more than competitive when all life cycle costs are taken into account,” he says.
Mr Rasinen also has few doubts. He points out that Cargotec has been investing in design and innovations that will keep lifecycle costs of its RTGs to a minimum.
“In 2005, we introduce the revolutionary E-One RTG. It was the first all-electric design to do away with hydraulics, including in the spreader. It had lower fuel consumption and could go 1,000 hours without the need for maintenance, thereby minimising the number of spares needed,” he says.
He does concede, however, that, at times, the company is confronted with a market need to focus on capital costs.
“Nevertheless, Cargotec has always designed - and will continue to design – for the optimisation of lifecycle costs,” he says.
Jerry Bunyan is even more bullish.
“You should ask our competitors whether their lifetime costs will ever match those of a Liebherr-built RTG.”
Clearly Mr Bunyan doesn't think they will.
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