In Top Form
BY Mitalee Kurdekar
With a view to achieve all-round economic development in the country, India had targeted an impressive 11% growth for its construction sector in its 12th Five Year Plan period. This was estimated to result in a significant Rs 45 trillion investment in creating new infrastructure. As we are nearing the end of that period, it is safe to say that the intent has, to some extent, been realised. New Government initiatives of infrastructure creation in the form of roads, railways, ports and airports; and the push for Make in India in strategic sectors like defence, aerospace and power have resulted in a shift in demand for construction and material handling equipment.
This is especially true of industrial, crawler & telescopic cranes, all of which have witnessed increased demand in recent times, and are bound to fare consistently well as India readies to develop its manufacturing capabilities and infrastructure, rather quickly. Of course, to do so, she will need to conduct speedy and complex operations, and the support of technologically advanced industrial, crawler & telescopic cranes will assist greatly with that goal.
In anticipation of significant growth in the region, the cranes market has already attracted a host of global players who compete intensely with local players. Needless to say, many of these players are investing heavily in R&D to bring out new and innovative features in mobile cranes. Ultimately, technology is going to be the key business strategy for these players to differentiate themselves from one another, and enhance their revenue-augmenting capability. And crane vendors feel the market is ripe to experiment with the launch of such solutions and product developments.
The OEM’s Take
Many industry players share the sentiment that high growth rates can be sustained in this market in the coming years. Explaining this thinking, Ajay Kumar Somani, director, mobile crane division, Liebherr India, states, “The market is growing and looks much better than previous years. The mobile and crawler crane market depends on some key customer segments like metro rail projects, road construction (bridges and flyovers), cement industries, steel plants, refineries, thermal power plants, nuclear power plants and wind mills. The most promising areas are nuclear power and wind mill projects, which will entail a majority of mobile crane requirements.”
Tushar Mehendale, MD, ElectroMech, points out, “We are optimistic about the opportunities in FY 2018, largely due to the government’s push to promote infrastructure and manufacturing projects in the country. Also, we expect that sectors such as infrastructure, heavy engineering, manufacturing, power, etc. will drive the demand in varying amounts for the cranes and hoists sector.”
Supporting these developments, Sorab Agarwal, executive director, Action Construction Equipment (ACE), observes that, “The demand for both truck & crawler cranes had been reasonably subdued in the recent past, but we have now seen a revival in these numbers. We are sure with the increase in infrastructure spend and industrial capex over the coming years, the demand for crawler & telescopic cranes should increase further. We can easily expect 20-30% annual growth, going forward.”
Adding his perspective on fresh demand, Amit Nandedkar, AGM, sales & marketing, Kobelco Cranes India, says, “With the recent push on road infrastructure projects, rail over-bridges and metro rail projects, we could sell new cranes into these sectors to end-users and crane-hiring companies. During the past couple of years, we did see low prospects due to roadblocks in new power projects and steel plants, however, we are now seeing growth in sales through Make In India projects.”
Despite this, vendors are expressing caution. Somani of Liebherr observes that the demand projections are high, yet the issue around delays in the execution of projects still exists. Elaborating on this, he says, “In nuclear power projects, although there are lots of projections, the practical implementation is very slow. Similarly, the rates of power sale to the national grid are going down, and 3GW projects out of the projected 4GW projects in FY 2017-18 are still to get finalised.” He is still optimistic about the fact that, “Our country, being short on proper infrastructure and power generation, has no option other than to go ahead with these projects. That is what we hope for.”
Regulatory issues, environmental concerns and delays in approvals from governmental agencies, for critical projects like nuclear power, defence and infrastructure projects adversely impact the implementation of these construction projects and consequently influence the sector’s business. In addition to this, most new technologies require well trained manpower. Although the Government has initiated programmes for upskilling and training, these efforts need to be accelerated.
Advancing with Technology
On their part, industry vendors are introducing innovative technologies at regular intervals. New products introduced are keeping in line with stringent norms of environmental controls, safety requirements and, more importantly, complying with global standards of quality. Mehendale of ElectroMech suggests that, “With newer designs and R&D advancements, large-width segments are cast beforehand (horizontally wider to accommodate more lanes). Therefore, Indian contractors’ new requirement is for cranes that can handle 120T to 150T of pre-cast large-width segments. Cranes are now designed to accommodate such larger requirements along with newer configurations for auxiliary hooks, etc.”
ElectroMech cranes are making possible the construction of the third bridge over the river Mandovi in Panjim, Goa. “We have supplied two 125T gantry cranes in the pre-cast yard. These cranes, having a span of 30m, are used for handling the pre-cast segments in the yard and for loading these onto trailers for transportation to the construction site. ElectroMech has also supplied 60T SWL modular gantry cranes for the Signature Bridge project, Delhi, and the Loknayak Ganga Path project, Patna. The unique feature of these cranes is their ability to be configured in four different combinations of spans and heights of lift,” says Mehendale.
Somani proclaims, “The increase in lifting capacities and working at greater heights are requirements that have evolved with time. Most applications in the construction industry are now demanding these. We, at Liebherr, had been moving with the times and supporting these changing customer expectations.” Speaking about specific latest launches in the market, he says, “Stronger cranes with SX boom are introduced to meet new requirements at wind mill sites. We are also offering our LTR crane, which are crawler mounted cranes with telescopic boom. These are excellent cranes for girder erections in metro rail and bridge construction projects.”
Agarwal of ACE stresses on the indigenous development carried out by his company in India, when he declares, “We have recently upgraded our truck crane models and have started manufacturing in-house dedicated chassis to mount our cranes instead of an earlier practice of mounting them on locally available third party truck chassis. With this new design, we are now at par with global manufacturers and have been able to improve the stability of our cranes significantly, by lowering the centre of gravity.” The company has recently deployed its telescopic truck mounted cranes at various oil rigs in the North East, where they face stringent duty cycles coupled with difficult terrain.
Nandedkar says, “Kobelco’s lattice boom crawler crane lifting capacities of 100MT, 150MT & 260MT are performing very well. Our Japanese technology is already quite advanced for the Indian work environment. Also, we are adding service locations on a pan India basis to support our clients, in addition to having a Satellite Observation System for monitoring cranes.”
Safety is Paramount
Required to operate in complicated work situations and at greater heights, these cranes are expected to conform to the highest standards of safety. Agarwal is quite emphatic when stating ACE’s safety philosophy. “Safety is of prime importance, whether with respect to the safety standards, safety equipment fitted on the machines or safe operation of the machines. We have ensured that all the necessary safety features are well designed and incorporated in the machines, yet the training of operators to ensure proper and safe operations on site is equally important. We provide extensive training, both onsite and at our dedicated Training Centre based in Faridabad. We not only train operators on safety and operations, but also impart necessary knowledge regarding preventive maintenance and upkeep of cranes.”
At Kobelco, Nandedkar confirms that they follow the Japanese techniques of Kaizan and 5S principles to emphasise on Safety First. He elaborates, “We have been doing D2D (Decade To Decade) inspection of cranes that have completed 10 years at customer sites. The focus is on safe operations and maintenance. Our Service Engineering Team is involved in this activity to ensure the best possible support to our clients.”
Mehendale adds, “At ElectroMech, reliability, safety and user friendliness are some of the key features of our cranes. The key differentiator parameter for us is our ability to understand the customer’s requirement in detail and develop advanced customised crane solutions for the same.”
Successfully Serving the Customer
With the new system of government planning and spending now being put in place, every state in the country would have its own budget for infrastructure spends, besides some centrally-driven projects. It is therefore necessary that the vendors of various types of mobile cranes set up manufacturing facilities, and more importantly service centres, in a manner that would help them reach and service multiple geographies within the Indian market. And OEMs seem to be well ahead of the game, already.
Vendors from the industry make every effort to sustain successful customer relationships. Mehendale says, “Today’s customer is very savvy. He is looking for a vendor that gives him more value for his money; the additional bells and whistles. Our cranes provide far more value to our construction clients, attributed to their ability to reconfigure and recommission. We also provide after sales service to customers, through our full-fledged crane service company – Cranedge, having its presence across several cities in India.”
Somani feels that it is most important to see that the crane performs for a longer time, giving the best output. “For this reason, we have a very strong after sales network in India. Our company believes in a very strong service support back-up for customers. India is one of the most price sensitive markets and a big challenge for us is providing the best products at the lowest price,” he indicates.
Agarwal proudly proclaims, “ACE is the largest mobile crane manufacturing company in the country and this has been possible only by providing the right solutions at the right cost, supported by best-in-class product support to our customers. We work very closely with our customers to ensure that all their technical as well as operational needs are fully taken care of.”
With such a clear strategy, crane vendors seem to be on the right tract to support India’s economic growth. Eventually, this support is bound to extend to even the undeveloped and underdeveloped territories and states of India. And that can only be a good thing – for the industry in particular, and the nation at large.