Craning for a better view

Building for the future: greater productivity, speed and increased automation will all feature in future crane designs

China may house the price leaders in the manufacture of quayside gantry cranes but the technical forefathers are still found in Europe. Alex Hughes headed west to find out what operators can expect in the near future

 The need to move containers away from the quayside more quickly, increase automation and push up productivity is keeping Europe's leading crane manufacturers busy. But getting the new research to the market can, in some cases, be a slow process.

While customer-driven research and development on tandem lifts has garnered much interest, with trials still ongoing and little in the way of solid practical use, end users are hardly queuing around the block to sign up.

The lack of orders perhaps reflects the perceived niche role of this equipment, which is viewed as only being suitable for large terminals, where throughput can justify the extra investment required.There are also real concerns over wheel load limitations associated with this type of crane, notes Mika Mahlberg, director VLC Cranes at Konecranes.

Liebherr reveals that twin-lift and tandem-lift options are definitely prompting enquiries from the larger, hub ports, but also stresses quayside limitations at many existing ports effectively rule out the possibility of this technology being sold to all ports and terminals.However,Gerry Bunyan, sales and marketing manager for Liebherr's container cranes division, says that many new build facilities will have infrastructure specifically designed with this type of crane in mind.

"The majority of cranes we sell these days are supplied with twin-lift capability. The most popular specification is for 50 tonnes-60 tonnes to be handled beneath the spreader, while 65 tonnes has become the standard at many ports,but with a separation of at least 1.6 metres between the two boxes,"he adds.

Despite the fact that Kalmar group company Bromma initiated the original research into Tandemlift technology, the company's vice president container cranes, René Kleiss insists that, despite the general hoo-hah in the industry, no major breakthrough has yet been achieved in this area. Indeed, Bromma undertook its first trials with this technology as long as four years ago, at the APM Terminals facility in Algeciras. Furthermore, while

Bromma, RAM and Stinis persist with pilot schemes in both the Far East and Europe, customers signing on  the dotted line are few and far between. "The fact that the port industry is still in a testing phase clearly indicates that this is not such a simple concept as many people would have you believe," stresses Mr Kleiss, adding that the low level of feedback available from such a limited number of trials has left many operators still to be convinced.

Furthermore, in addition to the actual physical limitations of many existing quaysides imposed, Mr Kleiss says that equipment manufacturers are having to adapt these new, heavier spreaders to work with the existing crane operating systems. There are also operational implications, since many terminal management systems were not written with tandemlift capability in mind. Tandem lift also implies certain safety issues, which terminal operators will have to address before such technology will be accepted by organised labour in many ports.

He nevertheless sees an immediate application for tandem lift in ports where large amounts of empty containers are handled."It may be possible to save up to two hours of vessel handling time by using this type of lift with empties. I therefore believe that retrofitting cranes is feasible in any terminal where these are a feature."

Asked about other future technical innovations, Liebherr's Mr Bunyan says: "We are going to see developments aimed at getting containers away from the quayside as quickly as possible, since this is often where the main bottlenecks are still to be found."In this vein,he points out that Liebherr is already seeing much greater take up of optional features such as truck and straddle carrier alignment systems, both of which help improve land side productivity.

At Konecranes, Mr Mahlberg also stresses that future crane improvements will have to address increased productivity, which he believes will, in part, be satisfied through partial automation.This, in turn, will result in a downward pressure on lifecycle costs.

Kalmar's Mr Kleiss concurs that 'automation' is the current industry buzzword. Many yard cranes already incorporate automated features,so it only a question of time before quayside gantry crane operation goes the same way, he says.

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