Connected from High Above: Tech in Cranes

On vertical construction projects—from two stories to 20 and beyond—cranes are essential pieces of equipment on the jobsite. From mobile cranes, to fixed cranes, to marine port cranes, the market is growing and technology is evolving.

A recent report by Mordor Intelligence states the global crane market is expected to grow at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of more than 6 percent up until 2022. The overall market accounted for $32.45 billion in 2016. Breaking it out by segment, mobile cranes alone are projected to reach an estimated $16.76 billion by 2018 and fixed cranes should top $10.1 billion by the end of 2016.

Innovations in manufacturing and smart design have resulted in adaptable, intelligent and modular cranes. Adding to that, advancements in technology have also resulted in lighter, more compact and energy-efficient cranes.

According to Rider Levett Bucknall, construction booms in cities such as Seattle, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Dubai and Abu Dhabi have their skylines accentuated with cranes. Also, the report from Mordor Intelligence, shows the wait time for a crane locally is now around eight months, about twice as long as normal. Trying to reserve one is now like trying to get tickets to the most popular Broadway show. It’s a long waiting game. Despite the wait, that doesn’t diminish the price tag. Cranes can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $55,000 a month, depending on the model. The good news, however, is crane technology is coming into its own and is starting to get a boost.

Tech Rises Up

Crane technology is evolving rapidly and construction companies are taking notice. The technology looks to address some of the most common challenges when working on top of buildings. Blind spots on tower cranes are a significant risk. Using a tower crane camera solves the problem of poor visibility in bad lighting or weather conditions and minimizes injury potential to the operator. Having a camera on a crane can also enhance productivity by cutting down on time spent trying to view poorly lit or dangerous areas.

Kate Lampson, director of public relations and communications, Lampson International, says there are challenges that require new solutions for the industry as a whole. “The continuous upgrading of safety requirements on jobsites and within the industry is one,” Lampson says. There is also fleet expansion and the need to keep track of equipment and hours of operation. Additionally, there is a desire to simplify care and maintenance of the cranes, as well as the growing demand by the customer for the newest and best technology, she explains.

All of this and more is leading to the introduction of new technologies inside crane equipment in order to meet the needs of the construction industry. Still, the technology in the equipment requires training and upkeep as well, which is something construction professionals need to keep in mind.

For instance, Lampson explains, computer system failures in cranes and time lost making repairs are one of the hurdles when embracing new crane technologies. Problems can also arise when working with computers that are actually running the cranes themselves. Sometimes tracking devices are not reporting consistently or at all. Using the new technology when self-erecting cranes malfunction can hinder a job immensely.

Still, the advantages of using the technology far outweigh the few bumps in the road that might arise. The benefits, such as using computer software and tablets in the field, make it easier to diagnose mechanical and electrical issues in real time, according to Lampson.

Additionally, fleet-management devices allow companies to track the hours of use on their cranes, thereby capturing overuse or monitoring day-to-day operations from afar. Lampson expands that with the use of anemometers and data logging systems, wind speed and weather conditions can be measured, which help when planning for a lift. Finally, anti-two block devices help to prevent line breakage on a crane, while safety features such as braking or limit switches help decrease the likelihood of a load failure.

What’s Coming

Mordor’s report also discusses international growth. The construction industry in the emerging economies of Latin America, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia is expected to grow rapidly during the next 10 years. It is expected to surge to $6.8 trillion by 2021 in these regions.

The demand for fuel-efficient tower cranes is rising rapidly as well. According to a report by Technavio, a major factor contributing to this segment’s growth is the increase in awareness of carbon emissions and their environmental impact, as many contractors seek fuel-efficient equipment. Advanced tower cranes are capable of lifting heavy loads to considerable heights, with cost-effective performance and high safety levels. These factors have increased the demand for technologically advanced tower cranes.

Lampson gives some advice for contractors regarding the crane industry. “I think that one of the most important things for contractors to continually do is to keep up with technology and what is currently available on the market. Knowing what type of technology is best suited for your equipment benefits both your company and your customers.”

Keeping up with crane technology will provide benefits to the contractor as well as the manufacturers. Making it a collaborative effort can increase the crane industry’s advancement. As the technology evolves, the industry will become safer and more efficient.

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