Mini-cranes find a favored place in industrial applications

Relative newcomers to the North American industrial scene are mini-cranes. Collapsing to a size that’s small enough to fit into an elevator or door, these compact machines are offered with variable power options for fume-free indoor operations. They’re simple in design and operation, and with remote control features, they allow the operator to get close to whatever’s being picked or placed – another reason they’re making headway in the industrial market.

A lot of times, you have to have a 200-ton crane to reach out and over a building or structure in an industrial application to make a pick, says Randy Huffman of Custom Service Crane Inc. of Mahomet, Ill. His rental house’s fleet includes two mini-cranes for use in industrial applications. “They’re not going to do everything for you, but they sure are a handy alternative,” he says.

Huffman, whose company also carries two of the Jekko models in its regular fleet, especially likes them because the operator can work right next to the load. “The mini-cranes offer a footprint that allows the customer to be closer to their work than usual,” he says. “This ultimately has a cost savings because some of this type of work would have to be done with chain falls or a larger crane from outside of the actual work area.”

With an optional self-propelled drive, the Boecker trailer crane can easily be driven into an atrium, for instance. “In Florida, we have a lot of high atriums inside buildings,” says Wayne Morris of Randall Rents of Florida. An optional personnel basket may be swapped for the crane hook to lift personnel up to 75 feet high, he adds.

Randall Rents took delivery of its Boecker trailer crane after ConExpo last March. Because the rental house is primarily using it as a bare-rental taxi crane, they also like its various optional outrigger settings “and the crane’s ability to automatically decipher outrigger configurations and adjust its load chart accordingly,” Morris says.

Jekko

The Jekko line was the first of about a half-dozen mini- crane brands introduced in the United States over the last year. It includes three models

with lift heights from 20 to 38 feet and 2,600- and 3,900-pound capacities. C4 Cranes, Minneapolis, Minn., partnered with IMAI Manufacturing, Colle Umberto, Italy, to bring the Jekko line to the U.S. market in late 2007.

Keith Shank, president of C4, says the tracked cranes have been popular for moving old structures and debris inside buildings. “One demolition contractor is using them to get into places where he has to get rid of the piping and boilers so new ones can be upgraded and installed,” he says.

One customer in particular likes it for the access it affords. “His access into the area is very limited,” Shank says. “He’s having to come in from a semi-height loading dock, so the Jekko affords him entry into the plant.” This customer is also finding the electric version of the machine, also offered in a fuel-powered version, is ideal for working inside the fume-free environment.

And even though the mini-crane will fit through a standard doorway, the customer likes that he can get 42 feet into the air at tip height with its optional jib. “The smaller [carry decks] are only going to be about 30 feet,” says Shank. “Also, we have offsetting jibs, which is not an option on the carry decks. If you have to go up and over a boiler, this mini-crane is very useful for that type of application.”

Shank says the challenge is getting customers used to the idea of using this type of crane technology in industrial settings. “Right now, everybody compares us to a carry deck because that’s all they know,” says Shank. “The general public doesn’t know what a mini-crane is.”

He says the first question potential customers ask is, “How much can you pick and carry?” The answer, says Shank, is zero. While industrial carry deck cranes can put up materials, load it on the deck, and drive the materials where they need to be installed, the mini-crane by comparison is not a pick-and-carry crane. “It cannot carry material; it would have to be put on a cart,” he says.

However, Shank says the company is currently testing a 2,000-metric-ton machine that can pick up 4,400 pounds with a hook and compete with pick-and-carry cranes. “It doesn’t have a slewing boom like the mini-cranes,” he says. “To turn the boom, you have to turn the wheel to back and drive it into position.”

Maeda

In the United States, Maeda currently sells two mini-crawler cranes with lift capacities of 6,560 pounds, and 8,840 pounds. A third, smaller, mini-crawler crane, with a capacity of 6,210 pounds, will be available mid-2009, says Steve Inman, vice-president of Maeda USA in Houston, Texas. Also in 2009, a fourth and even smaller 3,800 pound capacity mini-crawler model will be offered, he says.

Maeda also makes a 10,000-pound telescopic crawler crane and has claimed a spot for this machine in the industrial sector. Just shy of 5.5 tons, the diesel machines are popular in refineries and plants along the Gulf Coast, Inman says. “In the natural gas segment, where a lot of compressors are used inside buildings, these cranes are used for maintenance on compressors, motors, and other similar components,” he says.

One crawler unit is working on a job in the Southeast in a huge underground concrete vault that will be used for nuclear waste, Inman says. The crane is currently placing concrete forms in the vault’s construction, but would potentially be called back to do maintenance inside the structure once it is in use.

“They’re typically used in plants, factories, and mills where there’s not a whole lot of space, but maintenance needs to be done,” he says, particularly in settings where there are no overhead cranes. “In helicopter maintenance, for instance, the customer is using them in a hangar where the overhead crane is not covering the whole floor,” Inman says.

The mini-crane’s five-section boom is just shy of 55 feet. “It offers quite a bit of reach, relatively speaking,” says Inman, who adds that though the company offers only one model at this time, another is likely to be introduced. “Maeda hasn’t decided whether to bring it to the United States yet,” he says, “but there’s a good chance we’ll see a bigger model in 2009.” The machine, he adds, will be less than 10 tons in capacity and will sport a longer boom and higher capacity chart.

Part 2 will discuss the Boecker and Spydercrane minis.