By the middle of next year, every wire rope hoist that KCI Konecranes produces will be one of the new Q series hoist. Q is the name given to the series within the Konecranes organisation. Outside, you will see it branded either as a Konecranes CXT, an SWF Nova, a Verlinde VT or an R&M SX. In each case, the hoist is the same product, manufactured in Konecranes’ factory in Finland. Branding is taken seriously by KCI Konecranes.

The Konecranes CXT was launched at the Hannover Fair last year. Models up to 10t capacity are on the market already. Models rated more than 10t are being prepared for launch this year, and production of the old wire rope hoists (actually not so old, compared to some competitors) is being phased out. Steadily, manufacturing systems are being transferred completely to the new hoist series.

The Q platform is immediately distinctive because of its short fat drum, but behind this simple idea lies much engineering and marketing effort.

Arto Juosila, president of Konecranes’ Standard Lifting Equipment division, explains that three years ago Konecranes asked itself the question: why was there so little new product development taking place in the industry. “We studied industrial tradition and trends, current manufacturing technology, and mechanics and modern electronics.

“We wanted something solid, simple and totally new; strong, reliable, compact, safe and easy,” Juosila says. The challenge was that group chief executive officer Stig Gustavson had set a deadline of launching the Q series wire rope hoist at Hannover 2000. The only way that deadline was achieved was by using concurrent engineering – in other words, by simultaneously involving all functions, including engineering, production, finance, sales and marketing, in the process, working together.

The products of Demag, Yale and Hitachi were studied in detail. Konecranes already felt that it had a very good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of other products on the market, and of what customers wanted, because of knowledge gained through its maintenance services operations. The company performs regular maintenance on approximately 190, 000 cranes on the basis of long term contracts.

Director of research and development Ari Kiviniitty says that it was interesting how similar the construction of all the hoists was. “There was a very clear reason for that,” he says. “The hoisting business is a very old industry – 100 years. Because it is lifting, it has been very well regulated, so there are standards and norms dictating the construction of the hoist itself.”

Whether you look at European, American or Japanese standards, the diameter of the drum is always about 18 times the diameter of the rope. One major development that has taken place over the years in the wire rope hoist world is the development of the rope itself. As filling factors have increased from 0.51 to 0.65 to 0.74, so tensile strength has increased from 1770N/mm2 to 1960N/mm2 to 2160N/mm2. As the steel is stronger, the rope can lift more.

Kiviniitty says that other manufacturers that have brought out new wire rope hoists, such as Abus, Stahl and Street, have taken advantage of wire rope improvements to produce smaller drums and thus more compact hoists. The downside of this, according to Kivinitty, is the wear and tear on the rope.

So Konecranes took the approach if optimising the diameter of the drum. Early on in the process the engineers experimented with increasing the diameter of the drum and positioning the motor through the drum. A large diameter drum meant that it could be shorter and still hold the same amount of wire rope as a longer, thinner drum, and thus lose none of the lifting height. A shorter drum also meant a smaller fleet angle, which means less hook sway and a truer vertical lift, says Kiviniitty.

The idea seemed good and so work progressed based on this concept. Prototypes were built and feedback solicited from service engineers. The engineers also worked with technical universities which had good fatigue testing facilities. By November 1999 they were on the third generation. The fourth generation was tested with certain customers in various applications and the fifth generation was shown at Hannover in March 2000.

According to mathematical calculations, the big drum of the Q series hoist increases the life expectancy of the rope tenfold. “But in real life it is less than that,” he admits, “as there are other factors that affect the rope as well. So we say five times, which we have tested it to.”

The hoist is constructed with a pinion running the gearing. “The torque is always the same whatever the diameter of the drum, so we are free to optimise the drum,” says Kiviniitty.

Konecranes has applied for 11 patents for this hoist series, of which four had been approved by April 2001.

In some ways, the use of a fat drum seems like a throwback to the old days. The difference today is in the metals technology. “In the old days the drums were big because the gears had to be big since they were made of soft metal. Also the wire rope was thick, so the ratios were still small.”

Another immediate reaction to the design many people have is that there must be difficulties associated with placing the motor in the drum. “On the contrary,” says Kiviniitty, “the drum acts like a wind tunnel, drawing air across the motor to cool it.”

For stepless control of the travelling machinery, Konecranes specified a new inverter, with no separate brake control. The inverter – “the smallest industrial inverter in the world” according to Kiviniitty – acts like a conical brake. Konecranes claims that it has been tested to show that the hoisting motor brake can do a million stops before it needs adjustment.

“We use the inverter so that standard trolley speeds are a 1:4 ratio,” he says. There are actually just two speeds, but the inverter enables smooth acceleration and deceleration.

A further feature, described as “unique” by Kiviniitty, is that an interactive pendant is going to be offered as an option. A display on the pendant will tell the operator the load on the hook and the temperature of the motor.

Rationalisation benefits

All of the features discussed above are designed to offer benefits to the customer. Crucially, however, the new hoist series also offers massive benefits to the manufacturer. The product has been specifically designed for mass production, using pressings instead of fabricated parts. It has been a costly exercise and the new hoist series has to be a volume success to justify the upfront investment in new production machinery and processes. Stig Gustavson, the CEO, won’t say how much, exactly, has been invested in the project, but it contributed to a significant diminution of profits in 1999, when all the development costs were taken as a hit.

The manufacturing efficiencies achieved with the new series mean that production can be rationalised. At the back end of last year the hoist assembly operations of Verlinde in France and SWF in Germany were shut down. Instead these subsidiaries operate purely as distributors. The factory in Finland can now produce enough to satisfy anticipated demand. R&M in the USA is still assembling hoists, with key components shipped over from Finland.

With this rationalisation and other associated efficiencies, the new series cuts Konecranes’ direct product costs by a third, Gustavson says. This enables the company to offer improved features and still stay price competitive, which is particularly important in this market as few end-users are prepared to accept premium pricing. And KCI Konecranes has not increased its prices for five years, says Gustavson.

The payback on the investment is already beginning to emerge, say Gustavson. “The market acceptance [of the new hoist] has been very good,” he says.

In the first three months of 2001 sales in the company’s Standard Lifting Equipment division rose 13.5% to E59.6m. Most significantly, margins almost doubled.

A 5.4% fall in new orders to E62.7m was not such a good sign, at first sight, but it was attributed to the transition of R&M from old US-built hoist models, which it has stopped producing, to the new series which is only now becoming available. The order book on 31 March 2001 stood at E371.1m, which was 20.2% higher than at the beginning of the quarter and 56.1% higher the 12 months previously.

The company reported in its quarterly results: “With well over a thousand units now in practical use, the new hoist has established itself as an industry benchmark, not only in performance but also in quality. In spite of being a totally new design, the quality claim ratio has been close to zero.”