With strict timelines and operational regulations to be met by developers, tower crane vendors are stretching themselves to meet specific demands in the face of rapid urbanisation.
By Mitalee Kurdekar
The construction boom in India is quite a modern phenomenon. As a consequence, the construction-related OEM product market has also been growing at a fast pace in recent years. Within that space, the advent of construction-aiding technologies and products is linked to changes like growing urbanisation, an increasing middle class and the conversion of towns/cities into megacities. Considering the need for close infrastructural support and how many cities are growing vertically rather than horizontally, certain specialised equipment like tower cranes have witnessed high growth rates, further enhanced by their vendors supporting customised solutions for their users. Globally, the tower crane market is expected to garner revenues exceeding $8 billion by next year. However, a majority of this growth is expected to arise from the two booming economies of China and India, in the coming years.
In answer to this industry demand, tower crane vendors are going out of their way to align themselves with their customers’ requirements. “As a machinery manufacturer, we have to be close to our customers, listening to their needs,” says Mariano Echávarri, communications manager, Comansa, which claims to be one of the world’s leading manufacturers of tower cranes for construction. Echávarri adds, “This customer commitment led us to launch a significant number of brand new models in the last 5-10 years. We now offer one of the world’s widest ranges of flat-top and luffing-jib tower cranes, designed for great performance in all types of construction projects.”
While admitting that the realty market is somewhat subdued at the present time, Tushar Mehendale, MD, ElectroMech, is also hugely optimistic that this trend will reverse during the second half of 2018. He also points out that, “There is a healthy growth in tower crane requirements across a host of infrastructure projects, and we expect this growth phase to continue in the years to come.”
The market requirements are diverse and specific in nature to individual customers and their work environment. Hence, offering customised solutions becomes a unique feature in this segment. Daniel Hieronimus, regional sales manager, Liebherr-Werk Biberach GmbH, explains, “Our Tower Crane Solutions team provides custom solutions direct from the manufacturer. Tower Crane Solutions specialises in providing advice and planning for special projects in housebuilding and industrial construction as well as projects in power station, plant and wind turbine construction.” He further states that this department of Liebherr also provides effective site consultancy and design services.
VG Sakthikumar, MD, Schwing Stetter Sales and Services; chairperson, ICEMA; and chairman, mechanisation committee, Builders Association of India, agrees when he says, “There are special purpose tower cranes required for port, dam and high-rise construction, which involves a detailed study on the project undertaken, and our team of engineers go out to work with the contractors right from the conceptual stage. We offer custom-made solutions to meet specific site requirements.”
Manoj Agarwal, head, sales & marketing, Escorts Construction Equipment, sums this up well by suggesting, “The market for tower cranes is expanding and heavier capacity tower cranes are fetching more demand. The ability to deliver higher productivity is the major demand determinant of tower cranes in big size, complex and cost-intensive projects.”
Evolution of Customer Requirements
Even though the Indian market for tower cranes may have only matured in the recent past, the development of this market to catch up with evolving customer needs has moved rather fast and is in sync with developed economies. As a result, tower crane vendors in the market are competing closely with their peers in an effort to delight their customers by fulfilling their individual requests.
Shabbir Kanchwala, senior VP, K Raheja Corp, explains that such asks can be quite defined, saying, “Tower cranes are vital to any modern-day construction site. Manufacturers of these tower cranes cater to general and precise requirements for modern-day structures. Certain criterion needs to be considered as part of special needs, including load and weight of the material, the location of usage, and time taken to reach the desired location. External tower cranes with specific climbing operations are used, where tower cranes are installed in core shafts or lift shafts. This also requires detailed planning and effective teamwork by suitably trained and experienced personnel.”
This obviously calls for a considerable amount of help from the makers of towers cranes. Parth Mehta, MD, Paradigm Realty, acknowledges the vendor support for newer business requirements when he suggests, “Right from lifting TMT bars and other materials to concreting of vertical RCC members, a tower crane increases the speed of operations phenomenally. Vendors analyse what the clients require regarding operations via tower cranes. New technologies like self-erecting cranes and radio remote-controlled systems have made their entry into the industry, which is taking operations of the same to new levels.”
On the other hand, a Kalpataru spokesperson confesses, “Before selecting a crane, we have detailed technical discussions with suppliers on aspects such as the maximum load lifting in a shift (hook time analysis), type of loads, maximum lifting weight etc. The key is to improve work flow efficiency. The ask is detailed and specific, and our vendors have delivered to our needs.” The company relies on cranes from Liebherr, Potain, ACE, XCMG, etc.
R&D and Efficiency Enhancement
All things considered, customer focus appears to be the common denominator for every major OEM of the industry. With many demand drivers put in place, the usual market shift to buyer power is evident. Having said that, vendor OEMs have been introducing newer features from their R&D stable quite regularly, which allows them to attract customers with unique customised solutions. Echávarri speaks of Comansa’s contribution in the efficiency enhancement arena with two of their systems. He declares, “Our Effi-Plus system allows an important increase on the hoist speed, especially with light loads, with the same consumption. Therefore, the work cycles are shortened, and the crane is much more efficient. Our flat-top tower cranes are delivered with the PowerLift system, which allows to move the maximum load that the crane can lift at a certain jib position, to a further distance (up to 10% more reach).”
In the case of Liebherr, Hieronimus suggests, “We have frequency converters and PLC (programmable logic controller). Depending on the version of the crane, we have many different assistance systems.”
While efficiency improvement is important for their customers, vendors keep a close eye on their cost improvement requirements too, as this becomes even more enticing in the price-competitive Indian context. Sakthikumar proclaims, “One of the special need applications was to use Variable Frequency Drive mechanism in Schwing – XCMG tower cranes. It is introduced to lessen the electrical consumption.”
Similarly, Mehendale says, “ElectroMech gives slewing VFD and all VFD – both optional – so as to meet different customers’ financial plans, less initial investment, or long-term power-energy saving. We provide an optional mast solution for the same crane model to save our loyal customer’s budget (re-use the masts that they purchased before), and also to suit any fresh customer’s special projects such as a high-rise building with a narrow elevator shaft.”
Most OEMs of repute bundle these efficient products with support services like operator training, safety training and after sales services like spare parts supply etc. Working at heights means tower crane operations need to be extremely safe in all conditions. Safety with efficiency and cost improvement are thus hallmarks of tower crane operations. Relationship building with clients therefore becomes an important factor for vendors of this capital-intensive business.
Making Initial Investments Palatable
And there is no doubt that tower crane manufacture as well as its procurement is a hugely capital-intensive activity. With specialised skill sets for workers and investment in training as well as after sales support, the cost of acquisition of tower cranes is arguably steep. Affording a positive stance to this complex issue, Kanchwala suggests, “There is a plethora of options to procure tower cranes, depending on the purchase or the usage. The initial capital cost incurred can be recovered in 2-3 years of usage, leading to immense savings in labour, time and cost. Manufacturers also offer tower cranes on rent depending on the client’s requirement, especially when usage is restricted to one or two projects.”
According to Agarwal, Escorts, which is the exclusive distributor of Linden Comansa and Comansa CM range of tower cranes in India, has supplied to the likes of Shapoorji Pallonji & Co. Ltd (SPCPL) for their Tata Housing Development Company project in Bengaluru. Agarwal points out, “Comansa tower cranes have a removable jacking cage and modular system, which makes it easy for the user to combine and assemble different parts into a new model according to their actual requirements, thereby saving the cost of purchase, storage and parts management. Comansa also offers a buy-back scheme for very high capacity & high value tower cranes, which are used in specific applications.”
Many vendors support customers by arranging finance deals through institutions. Sakthikumar says, “Schwing Stetter believes in directly handling the customers. As far as finance is concerned, we have finance partners in both banks and non-banking finance companies like NBFC, who have various product offerings right from funding to leasing, etc.”
Hieronimus echoes a similar view when he states, “We are currently intensifying our efforts to provide increased attractive financing models to customers. Also, rentals via third parties is a common practice.”
Providing a customer take, Mehta explains, “Cost of acquisition of tower cranes is usually very high. However, vertical logistics has improved multi-fold and, hence, turns out to be an asset if you have multiple high-rise projects. Tower crane vendors also suggest a strategy for machinery loans from different banks and ROI on the asset. They also have a wide network of existing functioning tower cranes, which you can buy at a lower rate than buying a new one.”
Not surprisingly, both vendors and customers recognise that it is best to work hand-in-hand when it comes to soaring ahead towards their common goal of steady growth.