On the up

24 January 2018


Daniel Searle toured the mountains of northern Spain to speak to members of the crane industry, and found a local industry with a positive outlook. The first stop on the tour was crane manufacturer GH.

As a large international company that is still family-owned, GH is “the last big unknown” in the overhead crane industry, says managing director Jose Antonio Guerra. “We are recognised throughout the industry, but we are family-owned so we can make our own decisions. We want to operate worldwide, but to maintain our family spirit and the flexibility of being a small company. We are a complete integrated manufacturer, so we only depend on ourselves, and we invest a lot in R&D and service, which will be crucial for the future.”

Whilst remaining a family-owned business, GH has a global outlook, says Guerra—the company has a large capacity and technical team, and is present in all main strategic countries.

The first national market we discuss is, of course, the domestic market of Spain. “Since 2013, the Spanish market has been improving, but it is still at half the level it was before the economic crisis, when markets fell by more than 80%,” says Guerra.

“Before the crisis, we were in a position to manufacture 50 cranes a week. It is not possible to reach those levels again, but we are leading the market in Spain and Portugal. For us, Spain, Portugal and France are one region, and we supply customers there with complete cranes. For customers further away, we supply crane kits.

“In France, we bought a company in Nantes, and we are in a good position to lead the French market in the coming years. Whilst we are not so active in central Europe, we are trying to move into Germany in the next two or three years.” The company does business globally, partly spurred on by the effects of the recession in Spain.

“We put a lot of effort into growing across the world after the economic crisis,” says Guerra. “We have a factory in Mexico, and in Brazil. We lead the market in Brazil, although levels there are currently low due to economic issues. In the USA, we supply components in Chicago and have a facility in Dallas, Texas for making complete cranes. Latin America is the objective for the next few years.”

Marcos Lavín, sales director for the crane components business unit at GH, says: “We are very active across the world—we are currently present in 73 countries.”

GH produces both standard cranes, and specialised, customised cranes for specific applications. The special cranes tend to have a low capacity but a high duty rate—such as for 24/7 operations—or a high capacity. The company’s main aim is to develop standard cranes though, says Lavín:

“We launched the GHD range of cranes in 2011, which covers capacities of up to 12.5t. We’re now working on the GHE range, which will cover up to 25t, and will be in production in 2018. The GHE range will incude inverters as standard, closed loop safety, variable speed offering faster movement when the load is lighter, and the hoists will be bolted rather than welded.”

New developments are assisted by the company’s engineering know-how. “The company started as a manufacturer of electrical motors, so we manufacture our own motors up to 55 watts,” says Lavín. “To control the crane, the workings between the inverter and motor is key. We developed our system specifically for hoists, and we understand the relationship between the drive and the motor.” One area that GH doesn’t want to cover with its product range is a cheaper, less functional series of cranes.

“We offer all markets the same products,” says Guerra. “We manufacture all our hoists here in Spain. We can produce a standard crane kit in one week, and send them across the world. And because we manufacture our own components, we have a stock of spare parts ready to ship as well.”

The company serves a wide range of industries, says Lavín: “We work in a range of sectors including aeronautical, pre-cast components, and waste treatment, and we are very active in steel mills, automative and energy. We can also supply marine gantry cranes and marine system solutions.”

Recent projects include supplying an 80m, 40t cranes with a 16m-wide trolley to the USA for use in a shipyard, and a 55t crane with redundancy in the motor, planetary gearbox and other key components for a steel mill in Spain. A steel mill in South America, received seven cranes—a 45t model, a 20t model, and five 10t units.

In Europe, GH supplied 25 cranes to an aircraft motor maintenance facility. The cranes, which were mostly automatic, featured hoists that can be transferred from one crane to another—a complex set-up, explains Lavín, as there are PLCs in each crane that have to work together, and

hydraulic adjustments are required to ensure the hoists all remain at the same level. On the factory floor, I was shown a crane being manufactured for a hydropower plant in Norway—a 160t model, to join a 130t model already supplied by GH to the same customer two years ago.

GOING DIGITAL

While the research and development team are working on new products, at GH they also dedicate efforts to technology that can improve service. “R&D is traditionally delegated to product development, now almost 50% of our R&D goes through our service department,” says Pablo Pedrós, director of engineering and R&D.

The results include a customer portal— through which customers can view information such as documents, invoices, electrical drawings and technical specifications—and the CoreBox, a data logger for gathering operational data and sharing it with the operators and with GH. Set to become a standard feature, the first series of CoreBox were introduced last year and are now installed on around 50 cranes worldwide. The data can be used for a range of purposes, says Pedrós:

“We currently use load cells and a range of other sensors, as well as the information collected from the VFDs, and we hope to increase the spread and amount of data we receive soon, with the new series of CoreBox.

“The CoreBox can facilitate maintenance decision making, rather than just corrective maintenance. And a key advantage of collecting data is when we come to designing new cranes and retrofit systems—we can assess the data to see how the hoist is used by operators in reality, rather than how we the manufacturer intend it to be used or assume it will be used. The data gives us clues as to whether the parameters we incorporate into the design are suitable or not.

“The data also directs our testing methods—we test our cranes inhouse before we ship them, and using operational data from customer operations, we can better reproduce the conditions and usage of operators. We’re currently developing a new test rig to enable us to fully test our cranes and components under those conditions.”

Ultimately, says Pedrós, the ability of the CoreBox platform—which is fully developed by GH in collaboration with a Basque research centre—to communicate with the customer portal should help customers to make better decisions to improve productivity, providing them with operational statistics, safety alerts and periodic reports. The government is supporting digitalization, with a research centre network established in the local Basque region.

Automation is another important topic in GH’s research. Having already incorporated anti-sway technology into its standard range of cranes, one of the next developments that GH is working on is synchronizing two hoists, says Pedrós. This technology has already been tested and installed in some of GH’s cranes, and the company will soon offer it as standard—as well as making it suitable for retrofitting.

 

As the next leg of his Spanish tour, Daniel Searle visited Jaso Industrial Cranes to discuss how the company is developing new technologies to help maximise the recent upswing in its domestic Spanish market as well as its export business.

According to the Spanish Association for Automation and Handling—part of FEA— the Spanish market has been growing since 2015, says Alberto Lacarra, key account manager at Jaso Industrial. “The market has started to show some recuperation after years of no growth or decline,” says Lacarra. “In around 2010 and 2011 our business was around 90% export, and now exports account for around 75% of our business, so the domestic market does seem to be improving.

“There’s been recuperation in both our standard hoists and cranes, and our turnkey project business. In the Spanish market, around 75% of our business is cranes of around 5t capacity, and the other 25% is for more specialised projects such as power stations and paper mills.”

Jaso Industrial also supplies the wind power industry, says Lacarra—and also the steel sector, which is a key market for the company. “Wind power is in a good situation,” says Lacarra. “We’re involved with an offshore project at the Port of Bilbao, with some of the cranes for that project already in production.

“In the steel sector, we have been accompanying the recuperation of steel producers such as ArcelorMittal and Tata. The European steel market is mature, so the need comes from existing plants, where new cranes are required for refurbishments or as replacements for existing cranes.

“The metals industry has specific demands, particularly for the ladle handling cranes, which transport liquid metal. Those cranes are state-of-the-art and need to be safe, robust, reliable, and with easy access for maintenance. They need to be able to operate in atmospheric temperatures of 80°C and local temperatures of 600°C, and in areas with metal particulate in the air. There are mechanical and electrical considerations associated with all of those issues.”

The company recently completed the manufacture of a 300t ladle cranes for a plant in Romania, set to start operating straight away. Jaso will be available 24 hours a day and can connect to the control system of the crane in the event of a problem, says Lacarra.

DOUBLING UP

A key feature of ladle cranes is in-built redundancy, which allows the crane to continue to operate if a fault emerges. Two sets of all the key components—including the motor, gearbox, and the electrics in the inverters—ensures that if one fails the load of molten metal, which will have a high value and be difficult to handle manually, can still be moved, albeit at a lower speed or duty rate. And, in a high-value industry such as the metal sector, it ensures that operations can continue without major downtime until spare parts can be fitted. Even the air conditioning in the operator cabin has a back-up, says Lacarra, which is particularly important when working in such high temperatures.

Safety is also key in the metals sector, says Lacarra—the company’s technical team recently presented at a conference on crane safety, with focus on ladle cranes. Particularly at performance level ‘D’, which applies to equipment for handling liquid metal, additional redundancies and safety measures are required.

The company has sold more than 100 ladle cranes worldwide, with capacities between 150t and 500t. The special cranes division serves various other sectors as well, though—and all the cranes are built at Jaso’s factory, due to the high level of integration in the cranes, such as electronics being housed inside the girders. The installation of the cranes is then supervised on site, with a minimum of one electrical engineer and one mechanical engineer.

With turnkey projects, says Lacarra, the company aims to enter the process as early as possible. “We aim to work with the customers to process their needs and their expectations in terms of productivity, so we can then work within their specifications. Our philosophy is to also have a set-up site visit before offering our solution.”

Developing the correct solution for each customer is aided by the company’s extensive technical offices, which has a team of around 25 to 30 people working in engineering. All the engineering and programming is done at Jaso Industrial’s facility, says Lacarra.

A number of technical improvements have been developed and added to Jaso’s cranes, including the increasingly in-demand anti-sway capability. It’s an optional extra, says Lacarra, and can be achieved either with a mechanical system, which works using the position of the cables and drums and requires more space than the alternative—an electric system using inverters to control the lifting and travel movements.

“Anti-sway is increasingly being requested by our customers,” says Lacarra. “We sometimes have to inform them that it’s not necessary for their application, for example if they will only be operating at low speeds. And sometimes it can be used at lower speeds, if very precise movements are required.”

Further attention is being paid by the technical team at Jaso to the optimisation of spare parts—such as the size of the wheels and pulleys, the types of gearboxes used, the couplings, and so forth—and the homogenisation of some of the parts, such as the wheels of the crane and carriage, and the motors.

“We are aiming to concentrate the motors we use into five or six sizes that will cover all capacities,” says Lacarra. “We are also working with customer feedback to refine our B-hoist series, which was launched around three or four years ago and features a frequency inverter for the lifting movement.”

The gathering and application of data is a current trend in the industry, and can be used to improve efficiencies for customers, says Lacarra. “We are working with customers on increasing the amount and type of operational data the crane can provide. We can implement hardware and software to gather data, such as position systems, weighing systems, speed monitoring systems, and all in real-time if required—either at the customer’s facility or here at Jaso.”

The company will soon launch its Smart Link product, a ‘black box’ device installed on the crane for gathering data. “The Smart Link will offer process monitoring and failure detection,” says Lacarra. “Customers can analyse the performance data of lift cycles, and identify issues such as cranes designed for certain duty cycles being used out of specification. The data can also be used for predictive maintenance, which optimises performance and reduces failures.

 

During his visit to the north of Spain, Daniel Searle visited hook manufacturer Irizar Forge, which moved into the technically challenging offshore sector just over a decade ago.

Irizar Forge made the move into producing hooks for the offshore sector 11 years ago, explains María Irizar, head of sales and business development at the company. The production process for such large hooks is demanding, but it’s a niche market that no other companies were looking into at the time, she says.

“It’s tricky to produce hooks for the offshore sector using forging,” says Irizar. “It requires a high level of investment, for bending machines and dies that suit the size of the hooks.

“In the onshore market, you have fixtures like tunnels and bridges that limit the size of the cranes and hooks. In the offshore sector, sizes can get much bigger. “However, forged hooks provide a range of advantages to the offshore sector, compared to cast hooks.

“Offshore operations need compact products, with high mechanical properties. Cast hooks use a different technology to forging and to produce the required strength and safety factors, they become too big. “And although forged hooks have a higher initial cost, cast hooks have a higher maintenance cost, due to defects, cracks, and higher porosity.”

In the past, it has been more difficult to convince customers of the long-term cost benefits of forged hooks, says Irizar—but that has changed with the global economic slowdown.

“When all the cranes are on duty, money is not an issue. Now, maintenance costs are given more attention—and because hooks are a safety item, they need to be maintained even when they’re not in use. Forged hooks have a higher initial cost but a lower overall lifetime cost. And, being more compact means they’re easier to handle, and the accompanying sheaves and ropes can be reduced in size too.”

The large offshore hooks, and a range of hooks for other lifting applications too, are manufactured at the company’s premises between Beasain and Lazkao, in northern Spain. It features new forge facilities, opened two years ago, alongside the original facilities, which comprise hydraulic presses, forging and bending machines, as well as auxiliary equipment such as grinding and shot blasting stations.

The new forge facilities have the same lay-out as the original, but can manufacture hooks up to 20t single weight, using a press with a maximum force of 10,000t and a forge capable of reaching 1,220°C. Despite the huge forces and temperatures involved, the process requires subtlety too.

Shanks have to be perfectly symmetrical, explains Irizar, to maintain the life of the hooks—misalignment of the hook can cause the bearings to crack, and it can be more difficult to work aligned in the offshore sector, due to the movement of the water.

To ensure hooks are of the required quality, a number of tests are carried out at the factory, including destructive and nondestructive processes. There is a 2,000t

load horizontal test bench and a 6,000t vertical test bench for overload tests, while non-destructive tests are undertaken in sealed cabins inside the building, due to the need for darkness.

SAFETY FACTOR

The new forge facilities were part of a long-term business plan to increase sales for large hooks in the offshore sector. However, when the oil and gas market fell, the company began to find it harder to comply with the business plan, and looked to the security of an industrial partner to support the plan. They found their partner in Netherlands-based Van Beest, a manufacturer of below-the-hook rigging equipment such as Green Pin shackles. As Irizar explains, the two companies complement each other as Irizar’s products are part of the crane, whereas Van Beest’s products are not.

Irizar Forge serves some of Van Beest’s nearby markets, including companies operating in the North Sea based in the Netherlands, Germany and Norway—as well as on the other side of the Atlantic, in the Gulf of Mexico and Brazil.

Locally, the company’s two main customers are the nearby overhead crane manufacturers Jaso and GH. It’s a testament to the long-standing relationship between the companies that Irizar Forge produces complete hook blocks for them—something which is outside of its core business, says Irizar, but which it is capable of doing to provide a one-stopshop service. The company can also provide full blocks with sheaves and hook swivels without sheaves as complementary products.

In all, the company has customers in more than 60 countries, with around 80–90% of its business in exports. In the offshore industry, says Irizar, the company supplies hooks for topside and vessels, and for mooring lines for floating structures in the subsea sector. This covers the wind power industry as well as oil and gas.

The company also works in onshore applications, relying on the sector when offshore investments fall. In fact, says Irizar, the onshore crane industry is the company’s traditional and stable market, where it has long-term established business relationships and accounts for more than 50% of its business, ensuring the company continues to remain and invest in the sector.

“We serve the nuclear and hydropower industries,” says Irizar. “The nuclear sector is quite stable. We work on decommissioning projects, including Fukushima in Japan and domestically at Waro 2 in Girona, but mainly we supply new plants, or new cranes at existing plants that are being refurbished.

“Cask cranes and polar cranes require more security—we supply hooks for ‘Ring 3’ applications all the way to the most highsecurity ‘Ring 0’ applications. They require all components including bearings and sheaves to be made of stainless steel. “Hydropower is growing in emerging countries, and we also work on projects replacing existing facilities and turbines.”

Engineers work on a rotating trolley for one of Jaso’s industrial cranes.
One of the moulds used by Irizar Forge to shape its hooks.
GH’s GHB hoist, in production.
The load limiters at GH’s facility can simulate 20t hoists, to test each unit is working to full capacity.
Work taking place on another crane for the Iranian market.
A hook, hot from the forge, is transported through the factory at Irizar Forge.
A crane being constructed for a steel mill in Iran.
The rotated hook is prepared for entry into the cooling station.