Barometer for all Trades

Liebherr LHM 400s before barge transfer to Iraq Gottwald HSK 260EG: selling well in Southeast Asia
Liebherr LHM 400s before barge transfer to Iraq Gottwald HSK 260EG: selling well in Southeast Asia

Tracking the innovations and sales performance of the two principal mobile harbour crane (MHC) manufacturers can provide a useful correlation to the state of their diverse markets, as Nick Elliott reports.

To read through the enthusiastic press releases flowing from the two leading MHC manufacturers is revealing. Because behind the obviously intense competition between the two firms lies a picture of what's happening in that second port league that doesn't often hit the headlines yet makes up the vast majority of terminals around the world - particularly the developing world.

In short, the sales score for 2004 was Gottwald 66, Liebherr 58 (see PS Jan/Feb 2005 p.17/18. ) But what do these numbers tell us about the role of the MHC and the markets it serves? It must be said that both companies sold exactly 37 cranes (56% and 64% respectively) each within their core European market, but let's look beyond that.

First, both companies are innovative. Last year for example Gottwald launched its new HPK harbour pontoon crane on the back of one customer's specific order (see box) whilst Liebherr replaced a crane's undercarriage with a 12.75 metre rail-span portal specifically to fit into a narrow quay space. Clearly such responsiveness to customers' particular needs stands the firms in good stead.

Secondly, both place emphasis on penetrating new markets: five new countries were added to Liebherr's list last year with India alone accounting for eight new cranes. And Gottwald's Klaus Rohrig, regional manager for Southeast Asia, explains to PS how his region is evolving:

"More shipping lines are ordering MHCs in this region now. More funds are available to invest and they (the lines) are feeling the pressure as cargo volumes grow so we now see smaller terminals moving into MHCs, particularly our 260 model. We see a lot of feeder traffic with vessels up to 10 rows wide trading around ASEAN and feeding into Hong Kong or Singapore; also traffic between Korea and China. Of course growing traffic on the line-haul trades does pull more traffic in on the regional side but apart from that there is strong growth of the regional traffic itself.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE "And, " he continues, "there are a limited number of jetties at these smaller ports so the lines and the stevedores have to extract more productivity from the same berth, and that means working faster.

That is the reason why we see more interest particularly in our 260.

In Indonesia (Tanjung Priok and Surabaya), Malaysia (Bintulu and Miri), the Philippines, China, India, Korea and Vietnam; the lines want to encourage these ports to accommodate bigger ships in order to get better economies of scale."

Various financial arrangements apply says Rohrig. "We have all kinds of financing: with local leasing companies; normal bank loans; or some customers are subsidiaries of cash-rich mother companies.

These cranes are not that expensive. A 260 would cost ?2.3-2.4m depending on attachments, shipping costs etc."

Everything, including spreaders, grabs and other attachments, is shipped from Dusseldorf down the Rhine into Antwerp or Rotterdam and thence by seagoing vessel. "If the customer's port does not have the facilities for unloading the equipment then we will use a vessel with heavy-lift cranes. Assembly normally takes three weeks with another week for commissioning."

Andreas Moeller, deputy sales director at Gottwald in Dusseldorf also talked to PS about his Caribbean and Latin American markets.

"In that part of the world our 300 is the bestseller accounting for nine out of ten sales. The 300 has a greater outreach and so can accommodate bigger vessels up to 16 rows - post-Panamax."

Then comes that familiar refrain: "The Caribbean exhibits a common psychological trend and that is that once one port has ordered a 300 then neighbouring ports must have the same crane. It becomes a matter of status even though they don't necessarily need one. This is to our benefit by the way, " muses Moeller.

"Especially in the Americas, " he continues, "it is interesting to see the feature of the tower. In Freeport Bahamas and Manzanillo, Mexico, for example, the visiting ships carry up to six containers high on deck and with our standard 300, the visibility of the operator's cab is somewhat limited. So they decided on a so-called tower extension which is retrofittable. We have sold 17 or 18 cranes with that nice additional feature within the last 18 months. So there is quite a difference between the Asian and Western Hemisphere markets as far as the models are concerned though not as far as the technology goes.

"Looking at other regions, " he says, "the Black Sea is a completely different market from the Middle East for example. In the Black Sea, which includes the Russian and former Soviet Union ports, we see more of the HSK series rather than the MHC. From the slewing ring upwards it is a regular MHC but the portal underneath is designed to meet the customer's rail span, or whatever he has. This is an application that goes into Russia very often. We do exactly what the customer wants: a 170, 260 or 300 - only the portal is customised."

NO CLEAR HANDLING TREND Regarding handling modes, Liebherr says no clear trend can be recognised, as of the 58 cranes sold last year, 32 units were partly or entirely for bulk handling, 31 units partly or entirely for handling containers and 29 machines partly or entirely for general cargoes.

This absence of any dominating cargo is also reflected in the configuration of the cranes as 26 machines were equipped with one winch (2-rope configuration) and 32 machines were built in 4-rope configuration (characterised by two winches).

For Gottwald, 53% of orders, i. e. 35 units, came from the conventional two-rope cranes segment. With 31 units, the order intake in the four-rope grab cranes segment was particularly high last year. The performance and flexibility of its four-rope grab cranes to fulfil a wide variety of tasks convinced port and terminal operators to vote for mobile harbour crane solutions as an alternative to purposebuild equipment, says the company.

Commenting on its surge in orders, Gottwald's sales director, Giuseppe Di Lisa says: "More than 140 four-rope grab cranes are in use worldwide. The figures speak for themselves. The continuous improvement of orders since 2002 reflects the success the company has achieved with its strategy to conquer new markets with dedicated solutions for special applications."


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