In perfect harmony
STS cranes and spreaders go hand in hand, but is the union always a happy one asks Alex Hughes
Ship-to-shore gantry crane manufacturers are in an interesting position in that the key component of their product – the spreader – will almost certainly be supplied by a third party. Three manufacturers - Paceco España, Konecranes and Liebherr Container Cranes - confirmed that almost every single unit they supply will already have that spreader in place.
But is it really a question of attaching the spreader, standing back and expecting that everything will work perfectly? Surprisingly, given the mature nature of interface technology, that does appear nowadays to be the case.
Paceco España notes that, unless otherwise ordered to do so, it will usually bid for a contract with its own preferred spreader as part of an overall package. Nevertheless, there are occasions when it is the customer that takes responsibility for the spreader provision, perhaps because they might be able to get better prices or because they might have an existing agreement with a particular spreader manufacturer.
“We then co-ordinate and collaborate with the manufacturer for the commissioning and testing, because our overall remit is to deliver a crane in perfect operating condition, which includes the spreader,” says sales engineer Juan Luis Jódar.
He also notes that some customers not only want the crane to work perfectly with the spreader that it is supplied with, but also to be electrically and mechanically interchangeable with existing units in the terminal.
Juha Aatola, general manager/STS cranes for Konecranes, reports that invariably the type of spreader fitted to any crane that it delivers will have been selected by its customer. Although, in some cases, it too gets requests from the customer to procure the spreader independently.
Likewise, while the majority of the cranes supplied by Liebherr Container Cranes do also incorporate a spreader, on occasions the company has been asked to supply units without these. In these latter cases, the client either makes use of existing spreaders in its possession or purchases new ones separately.
Asked whether Paceco ever recommends a particular brand of spreader, Mr Jódar says sometimes, although he notes that the company's customers are experts in this field anyway and usually have clear ideas of their own as to which manufacturer they prefer. All popularly available units will, in any case, work with Paceco gantry cranes.
“There are no noticeable differences in the way spreaders from different manufacturers work with our cranes. They are not all exactly the same, with small differences in, for example, the software used to maintain communication between crane and spreader. But we are used to working with all major spreader manufacturers, so can anticipate potential problems that we have to resolve during commissioning,” says Mr Jódar.
On those occasions when Paceco is contracted to supply a crane incorporating a spreader from a manufacturer the company either hasn't worked with before or from one which has produced a new model, several technical meetings take place to ensure that the spreader and the crane will be able to talk to one another during operations.
“This is a crucial area and needs looking at in depth to avoid problems during the commissioning stage,” he says, adding that there shouldn't be any difference in productivity in whatever spreader is used, a sentiment echoed by both Konecranes and LCC.
At Konecranes, Mr Aatola says, “We don't recommend one particular spreader manufacturer either, preferring to leave it up to the customer to make that decision.”
He points out that there are no noticeable differences in the way some spreaders work with its cranes compared with others, albeit with the caveat that units are from well known suppliers. As with Paceco, all branded spreaders are totally compatible with Konecranes STS cranes.
Interestingly, Mr Aatola recalls that one study suggested that over half of crane faults are caused by the spreader, so the quality of these units plays an important role in respect of crane availability.
Gerry Bunyan, LCC's sales and marketing manager notes that, typically, container terminal operators always have some specific requests regarding the spreader, which are taken into account whenever possible.
“At Liebherr, we would not recommend one particular type or brand of spreader for our cranes. We do, however, have a list of preferred spreader suppliers whose quality and reliability meets Liebherr’s requirements. And we would be happy to supply any one of these units to our customers,” he says.
Most spreaders, he adds, should automatically work with its cranes when the correct software/hardware interface is provided. In addition, LCC has a team of electrical and software engineers to ensure that the chosen spreader works seamlessly with the lifting unit.
Asked whether any of Paceco's customers had asked the company to fit spreaders from cheap, no-name manufacturers in the Far East, Mr Jódar points out that because Paceco targets a particular market business area, almost all of its customers prefer European suppliers for most systems and elements of the crane.
“If we were asked to fit a really cheap spreader, I think we would refuse and would try to convince the customer to go for a known brand,” says Mr Jódar.
However, on occasions, Paceco does have to supply a crane to a terminal where spreaders from manufacturers that no longer exist are still in use. This requires the company to liaise with the customer to find out all the available technical information relating to these spreaders in order to make the necessary design changes to the crane to ensure both components work correctly together.
Adds Mr Aatola, “To date, we have never been asked to fit cheap, no-name spreaders from manufacturers in the Far East, possibly because operators really do appreciate the advantages of using quality spreaders to achieve productivity and availability needs.”
At LCC the message is the same. “If we were asked to supply a crane equipped with a cheap spreader we would refuse,” says Mr Bunyan. “Liebherr takes a great deal of pride in the quality of its container cranes, the high level of availability they offer and the productivity that they provide. We would not compromise on that level of quality by using either second rate spreader suppliers or any other sub-suppliers, for that matter.”
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