Before its disintegration, the Soviet Union was the world’s largest manufacturer of travelling cranes. Its annual output amounted to 6,500 cranes, which met 90% of the country’s demand. The State Planning Committee planned to increase travelling crane production to 10,000 units annually by the year 2000. Demand for new cranes was determined by the continuous stream of new plants in operation and, according to many observers, was artificially maintained by the socialist industrial product distribution system.

Then came industrial recession in the 1990s which affected Russia and the other former Soviet republics, as did the demilitarisation of the economy. In addition, there was an over production of cranes during the last years of the USSR. According to some estimates, by the early 1990s Russian industrial enterprises had an inventory of new unused cranes amounting to annual crane output.

“Production has hit the bottom and can’t drop any lower.” That is how Andrei Zertsalov, head of the Podyom-transtekhnika Association, characterises the situation in Russia’s travelling crane-building industry. The association was established along the lines of VNIIPTMash, a Russian crane-building research institute.

Production volumes have dropped to critical levels at many plants. The best example is the Moscow-based Krasny Metallist plant, where production fell from more than 30,000 hoists a year during the Soviet era to only several hundreds hoists annually in the last few years. Many crane-building enterprises lost professionals who went to other, better paying, jobs. For the same reason there are few young scientists in the crane-building industry’s research institutes.

During the Soviet era, which was characterised by obsession with the division of labour, crane plants had a narrow specialisation. Each plant produced a limited number of crane types. For instance, the Bureya-Kran plant (Amur region) specialised in the production of travelling cranes with a load capacity of 5t, and travelling gantry cranes with a load capacity of 6t, while the Komsomolsk-on-Amur crane plant (AO Podma, Khabarovsk territory) produced cranes with a load capacity of 12t and 12.5t.

When central planning ceased to exist, in order to survive, most crane plants significantly expanded their ranges. For example, the Uzlovaya plant (AO Kran, Tula Region) produced the entire range of travelling cranes with capacities up to 50t. Sibtyazhmash, which formerly specialised in the production of superheavy cranes (with load capacities of 500t and 1,000t), began to produce small load capacity cranes (up to 5t). Located in Russia’s Far East, the Bureya-Kran and Podma plants, tripled the range of machinery it produced.

This diversification had both positive and negative effects. The positive effects included the optimum use of standard units and parts and the ability to meet the demand in the plant’s region, while the negative effects included dupli-cation and excessive competition among crane manufacturers.

The market situation deteriorated as former defence plants began to manufacture cranes. Small-scale production at plants with huge production capacity and the absence of a coherent marketing policy resulted in rising production costs and prices. In the mid-1990s prices for some types of domestically produced cranes equalled international prices and sometimes even exceeded them.

The rouble devaluation in August 1998 raised imported machinery prices on the domestic market, thus helping to revive production. Exporting companies, such as Kaliningrad-based Baltkran reaped the greatest benefits.

According to preliminary estimates, Russia’s industrial output grew by more than 8% in 1999. This growth caused an increase in demand for cranes and, consequently, increased crane production for some enterprises. For instance, according to preliminary estimates, production grew by more than 25% at AO Kran, according to the plant’s marketing department. During the last two years, the company has started producing seven new types of crane, including explosion proof travelling cranes with load capacities of 16t and 20t, a travelling grab-crane with a load capacity of 20t and pin cranes for the aluminum industry. According to the head of AO Kran’s marketing department, Oleg Khanin, the company plans to start producing 12.5t capacity travelling gantry cranes for timber loading, travelling grab cranes with load capacities of 5t and 16t and other types of cranes in the next year or two.

The Russian State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat) says that in the first 11 months of 1999, AO Kran produced 50 travelling cranes. In 1998 it produced 48 travelling cranes, including 13 special cranes and nine gantry cranes. In 1997, 65 travelling cranes were made.

The Podyomtransmash plant of St. Petersburg, which managed to survive thanks to exports during the last few years, saw an increase in domestic orders in 1999. According to the plant’s marketing service, for the first time in the last seven or eight years the plant now has enough orders in hand to function normally. Orders from sea ports for cranes increased threefold. In particular, Podyomtransmash will supply new models of port cranes with load capacities of 16t, 32t and 40t to the Novorossiisk port. Orders from metallurgical companies for travelling and travelling gantry cranes doubled, as did orders for railroad boom cranes. Last year the plant began production of tracked boom cranes with a load capacity of 80t and load moment of 480tm. Production of a railroad boom crane with an 80t load capacity and a load moment of 860tm has already started.

According to the Russian State Statistics Committee, in the first 11 months of 1999 the plant produced only five cranes. In 1998, it produced 12 units, including eight special travelling cranes with a load capacity of 20t and in 1997 the plant produced 13 and eight cranes, respectively.

Podyomtransmash has started working with foreign partners. With France’s Dragages et Travaux Publics it supplied a 180t travelling gantry crane to the Russian aviation centre in Zhukovski. New electric equipment used in the crane makes it possible to regulate the speed of the movement. A lifting mechanism and travelling gantry crane was designed, built and supplied to Vietnam’s Dami hydroelectric power plant.

Last year Podyom-transmash also started production of cranes for the LB500m coal loader produced by Germany’s Bola Ladetechnik. In co-operation with the German company, Podyomtransmash will start producing these loaders for the Russian market this year. It is also waiting on the results of other international tenders.

The Sibtyazhmash plant in Krasnoyarsk increased its output sharply in 1999. The Russian State Statistics Committee’s figures show that in the first 11 months of 1999 the plant produced 14 travelling cranes, compared to only two cranes in the same period of 1998. The Bureya-Kran plant, in the Amur region, received several orders for special cranes from Siberian metallurgical companies. For instance it will build a crane for the Irkutsk aluminum smelter. During the last few years, Bureya-Kran has only been producing general-purpose travelling cranes. It produced 47 such cranes in 1998 and 53 units in 1997. From January to November 1999, Bureya-Kran built 33 cranes.

The Podma plant also managed to stabilise production. In 1998, it produced three travelling gantry cranes and 22 travelling cranes, including eight special cranes. This compares to 19 travelling gantry cranes and 36 travelling cranes in 1997. In the first 11 months of 1999, Podma produced 20 travelling cranes.

The Chita crane plant, which produces mostly travelling cranes of small load capacity, decreased production slightly in 1999. From January through November 1999, it produced 161 travelling cranes, a 20% decline on the same period in 1998.