Moving on up


Highly flexible Mobile Harbour Cranes can go anywhere and handle many types of cargo, but they are not without their limitations, as Alex Hughes finds out

Over the last five years, the market for mobile harbour cranes (MHCs) has grown by a staggering 56%, with virtually all manufacturers benefiting.For Liebherr, 2007 was the company's best ever year, with 88 MHCs delivered, reports Joachim Dobler, the company's marketing manager. However, he says it is difficult to assess whether MHCs are gaining market share from other handling equipment, since virtually all types of port equipment have been registering an increase in sales.

Gottwald concurs that the market for MHCs has been steadily growing over many years. Bulk handling, for example, has been a particular expansion area, where 4-rope grab cranes have found favour in many areas, especially with coal handling.

Fantuzzi Reggiane's area manager with responsibility for mobile harbour cranes, Vincenzo Pezzuoli, is more bullish, claiming MHCs are definitely gaining market share. The reason is that their catalogue price is considerably cheaper than for other kinds of equipment. Liebherr's Mr Dobler, for example, notes that an MHC costs in the range of $2m-$5m, whereas a quayside gantry crane has a sticker price of between $4m-$9m. Therefore, it should be faster to make a return on an MHC when undertaking comparable work loads.

Fantuzzi's Mr Pezzuoli also stresses a more rapid return on investment on an MHC than for other types of quay cranes, although he says this is more a function of maintenance costs, which he claims are cheaper than for other equipment because the cranes are easier to maintain.

Peter Klein, Gottwald's press spokesperson, also believes that return on investment is much faster than for comparable assets. While agreeing with the observations of the other manufacturers, he points out that Gottwald equips its MHCs with their own diesel-generators, which means that they are independent of the existing terminal infrastructure, allowing them to be deployed anywhere. This reduces specific investment costs in both crane and terminal infrastructure, thus speeding up ROI.

Terminals can also save money thanks to the multi-purpose role that MHCs are uniquely qualified to undertake.

"They are the only form of handing equipment that can be considered truly versatile. While they can handle containers, break bulk and dry bulk traffic, other quayside lift is designed exclusively to deal with just one traffic type. At Fantuzzi Reggiane, we do believe that investing in MHCs is the correct choice, not only for multi-purpose and bulk terminals, but also for small-to-medium container terminals," says Mr Pezzuoli.

Gottwald's Mr Klein adds: "Terminals handling a mix of containers, project and general cargo benefit from the use of MHCs, because of their versatility and ability to handle up to 200 tons on the hook. This capability is especially useful when handling large objects such as turbines and generators."

He adds that it is relatively simple to change between lifting gear, such as spreaders, grabs, slings, and so on.

"A crane initially deployed on container handling duties at one quay can later be driven to a different location within the port, where the lifting gear is rapidly changed from spreader to a motor grab to allow the MHC to handle bulk material," says Mr Klein, stressing that it is the crane that is taken to the vessel and not the other way round.

He also adds that MHC technology is now a realistic alternative for container terminals serving mainly panamax or even post-panamax vessels, where they can replace gantries. Traditionally, MHCs have been used for specific jobs at the bow and stern of vessels and as backup equipment, but are beginning to break out into more mainstream roles, too.

But aren't there areas where load restrictions obviate against the use of MHCs?

Liebherr says that it has overcome this problem by fitting its MHCs with individual wheels and a very short undercarriage so they can not only fit onto narrow quays, but also operate in areas where load restrictions are in place, with additional axles helping to spread the load. Gottwald's Mr Klein agrees, pointing out that extra axles or different stabiliser pad configurations will solve most problems in this area.

Some critics also argue that MHCs are harder to operate than gantry cranes and somewhat more difficult to maintain. But Liebherr's Joachim Dobler does not agree. The slewing motion of MHCs, he argues, can be countered by an anti-sway system, which will also boost turnover, make operations safer and increase operator confidence.

"Nor are MHCs significantly more complicated to maintain. Once a technician becomes familiar with the crane control system and the hydraulic pump on one of our cranes, there is little else that can be considered that complicated to maintain," he says.

Liebherr claims its hydrostatic drive makes its MHCs the most reliable and best performing units on the market, which helps ensure long-term durability and low maintenance costs. Offering rapid acceleration and deceleration, turnover is therefore higher, generating proven savings for the customer. When the hydraulic drive in ECO-mode, diesel consumption is also minimised, without prejudicing output.

"Our crane control system automatically calculates the minimum required engine revs per minute, while compared to diesel-electric drive systems the repeated use of the reverse power during lowering movements means that the returned energy can be reused. Our cranes require less drive power, which means less fuel and shorter acceleration time," says Mr Dobler.

Mr Klein, for his part, simply notes that Gottwald MHCs can just as well work from mains power supply; they don't need to use on board diesel generators in many applications.

Despite the undoubted advantages offered by the MHC, all manufacturers contacted by Port Strategy agreed that these cranes were never designed to be all things to all people.

When the MHC concept was first developed, engineers took into account certain parameters: port size, existing infrastructure, hinterland connections, annual turnover, as well as alternating operational and application areas. When all parameters are met, the MHC could be considered to be the right tool for the job. If they are not, the operator has to decide whether other cargo handling equipment is a better bet.


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