Crane of thought

Going up: increasing crane height offers an alternative to total replacement Going up: increasing crane height offers an alternative to total replacement

John Bensalhia puts the cases forward for ship-to-shore crane replacement versus upgrade

Major crisis in the household, the television has broken! No picture, no sound... disaster has struck. You have two choices: take it to be mended and then upgraded at the local television repair station, or go and purchase the latest state-of-the-art flatscreen television set with many a special feature.

Which solution will be the most cost effective and efficient in the long-term? Port operators face a similar dilemma when contemplating the life-span of the ship to shore crane.

The ship-to-shore crane is a key piece of equipment in port operations, picking up and depositing containers. But as Trevor O'Donoghue from Liebherr's sales and marketing department explains, this sector is moving with the times: “There are a number of trends dominating the STS market at present. Some of the main ones are automation and a continued demand for larger cranes.”

Mikko Vuojolainen, vice president of crane upgrades, services at Kalmar comments on the developing market: “We are witnessing demands for capacity increases whereas at the same time there is pressure to decrease cost per move. Environmental issues are also growing in importance. We will see the share of automation to grow both in existing and greenfield terminals. With these developments STS cranes will become more productive, faster and higher.”


Take your pick

In order to ensure that STS cranes can manage the workloads with fast, accurate efficiency, again there are two choices. It's possible to augment the current STS crane by extending, strengthening or heightening it. On the other hand, purchasing a new, up-to-date STS crane is a tempting proposition. These two choices depend on a variety of factors: not just the costs, but also the size and layout of the port, the potential disruption to ongoing operations and the longevity of the cranes.

“Increasing capacity is always a strategic decision whether it is about acquiring new equipment or upgrading existing one,” explains Mr Vuojolainen. “We do not see upgrades or acquiring new equipment as rivals but as options that the port has to decide on based on their unique situation and their development plans. There has to be a solid case to support the investment, and some ports may choose to focus on smaller ships.”

Mr O'Donoghue says that the port's decision to replace the current crane is determined by a number of key factors: “Obviously if a port wishes to replace their current cranes, limits may be imposed by the port’s infrastructure. For example, the engineering and load bearing ability of the existing quay and the rail span will be key factors in the design of any new crane. Furthermore, the depth of a harbour will determine the size of ship that can access a particular port, which in turn defines the crane size needed.”

As Mr O'Donoghue explains, there are a number of benefits in replacing the old STS crane with a brand new model. “Where there are no obstacles to replacing quay cranes, and the cost of acquiring a new crane has been considered, there are numerous advantages to replacing existing STS cranes such as increased productivity, ability to handle larger vessels, reduced maintenance and labour costs, increased reliability and availability, reduced cost per box moved and environmental benefits.”

Mr Vuojolainen adds: “Typically new equipment is a natural choice for expanding an existing site or for pure greenfield projects. The advantages include more straight forward planning and getting benefits of latest technology in all of the crane features.”


Upgrade choice

On the other hand, the decision to improve an existing STS crane is still a popular one. As Mr Vuojolainen says, this option can be a result of two of the most important factors of any business: time and money.

“The biggest advantage of upgrading existing STS cranes is overall investment size, which for example for a heightening upgrade is significantly lower than for a completely new crane. If the overall terminal capacity doesn’t absolutely require additional crane, upgrading is usually the most effective way to address performance related challenges. Another big advantage is speed, even in cases where major refurbishment is required. The lead time for new equipment is typically in the region of between 12 to 24 months whereas the upgrading timeframes are much shorter.

“For example in STS heightening, the average time for the crane to be out of operation is only six weeks, after preparing a project execution for some two to four months. On the other hand, the six weeks also poses a problem, because the existing crane will be out of operation instead of adding an additional crane into terminal capacity.”

Mr O'Donoghue says that while there are benefits to upgrading existing cranes, port operators should also be aware of a number of potential issues: “The advantage to increasing the crane's height or outreach means the port can handle a wider range of vessels with existing cranes. The primary disadvantages are the cost for facilitating larger extensions. As the scale of the extension increases, so too will the cost. In addition only the ‘new work’ will be guaranteed and you still have an old crane which may be close to the end of its design life.”

He adds that port operators will often wish to increase the capacity of their crane to meet reconfigured vessels where there may be more containers on deck both in the vertical and horizontal axes for a given ship size. “Increasing the height of a crane is possible and often when designing a crane, a future increase in height is specified and the crane is designed with this in mind.”


Cost benefit

The cost of modification will depend on the size of the changes required, and in addition the new changes will need to take on board the original crane's limitations. “Small increases in outreach may often be possible with minimum modifications to existing hardware on a crane,” says Mr O'Donoghue. “Whereas larger modifications may be realised but the cost will increase accordingly. When originally designed, the crane would have been engineered to tolerate particular loads and stresses. Increasing the outreach substantially will exceed these limits and so the crane hardware and structure will have to be modified accordingly.”

It's also vital that the supplier chosen to upgrade the STS crane has the relevant experience and expertise to successfully complete the project. “A sizeable STS crane project, be it upgrading an existing crane or getting a new one, always calls for special expertise, careful planning and engineering,” says Mr Vuojolainen. “Whether the port decides to invest in new equipment or utilise their current assets, it is key that the potential supplier has strong track record and is willing to make a long term commitment. The average lifetime of a STS crane is about 25 years and the port operator has to be able to rely on the support from the supplier and that their choice proves to be sustainable over the coming years – not only fulfilling current requirements.”

Whether the port operator chooses to upgrade the existing STS crane or select a brand new model, there are benefits to be gained from either decision. The costs, facilities and specific requirements don't make this a one-size-fits-all decision, but with the right planning, budget and expertise, the STS crane can continue to maintain its place as one of the key tools in effective port operations.


Looking for a newer model

Port operators will find that replacing an STS crane is a strong option to suit a particular requirement. The Port of Oslo recently proved that this was the case when signing a deal for two new Konecranes panamax STS cranes which are due to be put into practice in the third quarter of this year.

The aim of these two new cranes is to ensure that noise and CO2 levels are kept to a minimum. The new STS cranes boast a number of special features including LED lights for stronger eco-efficiency and trim/list/skew systems.

Replacing an old STS crane with a newer, up-to-date model is a good move when expanding a current port. Peel Ports' announcement of expanding and developing the extant Liverpool Port was accompanied by the news that ZPMC will be supplying an initial load of five STS megamax quay cranes. The new cranes have the ability to handle two 380m vessels at the same time. Speed and efficiency are the key watchwords, and the cranes will also be able to transfer containers from port to road or rail in faster time as a result of the semi-automated remote control facility.

Upgrading existing cranes has been equally popular. Kalmar was recently contracted to increase the heights of three STS cranes at Terminal Contenidors de Barcelona in Spain. The contract was a result of the growth in container traffic. The Kalmar team offered solutions that deliver on innovation while keeping operation disruption to a minimum. The process will involve specialist equipment including a jacking device that can insert height while maintaining the structure's rigidity.



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