Testing the outer limits

01 Dec 2006

Reaching further: manufacturers claim that cranes could theoretically be designed to fit any ship size

Europe's crane manufacturers are increasingly delivering equipment with wider reaches, but the ceiling is far from being hit, as Alex Hughes finds out

With outstanding deliveries of 25, 6 and 10 cranes respectively,it is perhaps unsurprising that Liebherr, Kalmar and Konecranes characterise the current quayside gantry crane market as being in a very healthy state.

At Liebherr, upwards of 85% of orders placed are for cranes with post-panamax (14-16 rows), super-postpanamax (16-18 rows) or Megamax capability (19 rows or more) capabilities.Of this, 60% of current orders are for Megamax cranes, with the largest so far built capable of spanning 24 container rows.

Kalmar vice president container cranes, René Kleiss reasons that there is a significant market for quayside gantry cranes capable of spanning more than 18 rows of ship-stowed containers at ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp.Nevertheless,in some regions,such as the Baltic, a lack of large vessels means ports need more conventional quayside lift. In addition, there is, he claims,a growing trend for more transhipment of boxes between dedicated barge handling areas and adjacent deep-sea berths. In such cases, it makes sense to use smaller cranes,since productivity levels don't justify the deployment of post-panamax lift.

Indeed, while over half Konecranes' output is for cranes spanning at least 20 rows of ship-stowed containers, panamax and feeder cranes constitute the rest."These are mostly bought by smaller ports, which have no immediate plans to become large container handling facilities," observes Mika Mahlberg, director VLC Cranes at Konecranes.

Gerry Bunyan, sales and marketing manager for Liebherr's container cranes division, predicts that, from a crane design perspective, there is no physical limit to how many rows a quayside gantry crane can span. However, with larger vessels, the crane operator has to sit even higher above the vessel he is working on. To allow him to see into the depths of the hold, and therefore maintain upper end productivity levels,video cameras are now being fitted as standard on the trolley. The minimising of crane structural sway at these new heights is also critical to driver performance.

Mr Mahlberg insists that Konecranes could theoretically design a crane to accommodate virtually any size of vessel."However, quay structure and design are going to impose limitations on actual crane sizes. In order to accommodate larger vessels, we will need to see investment in new quay design, which is an expensive undertaking."

According to Kalmar's Mr Kleiss, designing a crane capable of handling containers across 20 rows is "no longer an issue". However, while it would be possible to build a crane capable of spanning 30 rows of ship containers, he questions whether this would prove an efficient machine. "To make a return on investment on such a crane, it would have to operate with extreme speed. I therefore have my doubts as to whether it would make sense to build this type of crane using conventional technology. For really wide ships, you would have to rethink existing crane design," he says.

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