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ENGINEERING: Crane Market Still Stagnant

 



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STALLED projects, rising input costs and increasing technical sophistication – these are the trends at the forefront of the overhead crane and hoist market as the new decade kicks off.

According to Marc Kleiner, general manager of Condra, the South African market for cranes and hoists is today valued at some R500 million per annum. It is currently stagnant after a period of dramatic growth from 2006 to early 2009.

The market followed the world into dramatic decline in 2009, and we are now standing still,” Kleiner says.

There is perhaps some slight growth that we can expect to see over the next year or two, but nothing substantial.”

Kleiner says that mining projects in the planning phase hold promise, notably in the South American states of Chile, Columbia and Peru.

The outlook for coal and iron is particularly rosy, with demand from China exceeding supply. There are new mines planned for Central Africa, notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and of course the world is waiting for Zimbabwe’s mining sector to return to some semblance of normality. And there is mining development planned for Australia and Canada.”

But very little of substance has yet emerged from these plans, and it will be some time before concrete developments trickle down to the worldwide market for cranes and hoists. I think orders will start picking up towards the end of the year, but at the moment many project start dates are somewhat nebulous and characterised by ongoing postponements and delays.”

The debate over nationalisation of South Africa’s mines is also acting as a drag on new investment and development,” Kleiner adds.

He says rising input costs remain a serious concern for all manufacturing enterprises.

In South Africa we pay more for steel than the Europeans do, and the local prices keep on rising. The fuel price has gone up because of an additional government levy. Labour remains expensive. We may be on the road to pricing ourselves out of the market.”

Kleiner says the strong Rand is also cause for concern.

In the local market the hope lies in mining and, to a lesser extent, power generation because of the new power stations.

Very little seems to be happening in terms of new manufacturing development. Rather, the trend seems to be toward importing foreign products for local warehousing and distribution.”

Medium term I think we will have considerably more work by this time next year, mainly mining related.”

Kleiner says there are moves toward increasing levels of crane automation, but this does not mean a trade-off in product durability.

There does not necessarily have to be a trade-off between robust design and sophisti-cation. In Africa, there is still demand for robust, two-speed machines of compact design, but customers are increasingly specifying variable speed control, which we satisfy by means of frequency drives. So the trend is toward control of the lateral and vertical speeds, resulting in bigger and bigger motors going into the cranes to deliver the required degree of control.”

Kleiner says safety specifications on new cranes are becoming more stringent, with a trend towards full-length walkways and lifelines.

On crane spans, the majority of recent deliveries for applications outside the mines incorporated spans of less than ten metres. Cranes for the mines, for manufacturing and for warehousing remained in the order of 20 metres and more.

Lift heights, on the other hand, are increasing, and beginning to approach the 15 metre mark, which borders on the high-lift category.”

So we are retaining the traditional robust design and flexibility in terms of spans and lift heights, but increasingly incorporating the sophistication demanded by end-user specifications,” Kleiner says.

Kleiner also draws attention to the dangers posed by cheap imports.

In terms of threats, both to South African and to European manufacture, China remains a problem. Buyers are tending to buy cheap and nasty in Shanghai while obtaining a test certificate to serve as a job umbrella. Even when the unit fails early in its life, these same buyers often go back to China for the replacement.”

It is definitely a problem, and it presents a challenge in terms of re-educating buyers in the wisdom of buying high-quality engineering that will deliver a lower overall lifetime cost.”

I believe quality cranes will emerge the winning choice in the long run,” Kleiner predicts.


 
 
 
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