Meaningful discussions

9 September 2022


Despite efforts from President Biden to establish a Presidential Emergency Board, the National Retail Federation and its members are still concerned about supply chain disruptions as well as rising fuel prices and workforce shortages. Jenny Eagle investigates.

The North America Crane Market is expected to register a CAGR of 5.72% between 2018-2026. Government schemes such as Build America Investment Initiative, National Infrastructure Plan (NIP), and Canada’s Economic Action Plan, are aimed at developing the infrastructure in the region through private investments, which is majorly boosting market demand, according to Inkwood Research.

Utilization of cranes in various applications, the adaptability of fuel decreasing the cost of operations, and developed infrastructure investments are drivers propelling the crane market in this region. However, entry barriers in the market, financing and bureaucratic issues, the alternate market for second-hand cranes, and environmental concerns on mining are some of the restricting factors.

Harold Sumerford, chairman, American Trucking Associations, spoke about rising fuel prices and workforce shortages at a House Republican Transportation & Infrastructure roundtable in July claiming: “More than 80% of American communities rely exclusively on trucks for freight services, so capacity constraints on trucking supply chains caused by inflation and short-sighted policies directly impact the costs for those consumers.”

Also in the news; President Joe Biden recently signed an Executive Order (EO) to establish a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to help resolve a labor dispute between Class I rail carriers and 12 US-based rail labor unions. The PEB went into effect on July 18.

The objective of the PEB is to provide a structure for railroad workers and management to resolve their disagreements, with the PEB investigating the dispute and delivering a report with recommendations on how the dispute should be resolved. At the heart of the matter are existing disputes between certain railroads represented by the National Carriers’ Conference Committee (NCCC) and their employees represented by certain labor organizations.

“I have been notified by the National Mediation Board (NMB) [an independent US federal government agency that facilitates labor-management relations within the nation’s railroad and airline industries] that in its judgement these disputes threaten substantially to interrupt interstate commerce to a degree that would deprive a section of the country of essential transportation service,” said President Biden.

In early July, prior to the White House EO, National Retail Federation (NRF) president and CEO Matthew Shay said the current rail labor situation, in the wake of the NMB’s recent decision, had the potential for additional supply chain disruptions, adding that NRF and its members are concerned about the current status of negotiations and the potential for system-wide disruption in September, when Peak Season is in full swing.

“NRF and its members are concerned about the potential for US freight rail disruptions stemming from the National Mediation Board’s premature release of the parties from labor negotiations,” said Shay.

“We urge the administration to encourage the parties to come back to the table where they can make their own fair and mutually beneficial agreement. Intermodal rail shipments have been the largest source of rail traffic over the past few years, and an overwhelming portion of those movements are tied to consumer goods. In the first part of 2021, railroads moved the most intermodal goods ever, and while such movements are down this year, they remain at a high level.”

One example, is BNSF Railway Company’s intermodal network which has been disrupted between Los Angeles and Chicago according to terminal operators, non-vessel operating common carriers (NVOs), and trucking companies.

“We have seen increases in intermodal volume and improvements in our network fluidity over the past several weeks,” the railroad told JOC.com in an April 6 statement. “We have an aggressive plan to hire approximately 1,000 additional trained personnel this year to address crew availability needs. Despite facing the same attrition and hiring obstacles that nearly all US corporations are experiencing right now, we are on pace to meet that hiring plan this year.

“While some progress was made [through April 8] in reducing backlogs at our merchandise and intermodal terminals on the eastern side of our network, we continued to confront challenges in generating significant overall velocity, inventory level and fluidity improvement,” the advisory read.

Ocean carriers increased intermodal loads 6.1% between January and February from California ports, the first jump between those two months since 2008. But as the international intermodal volume rose from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, a chassis shortage grew in Chicago and truck turn times got longer.

BNSF has been grounding containers in the Logistics Park Chicago (LPC) terminal for several weeks. The terminal in Joliet, Illinois, is a “wheeled terminal,” in which overhead cranes take containers off trains and mount them to chassis, then a yard hostler moves the “wheeled container” into a parking spot.

On a positive note, Stephen Lyons, the US Department of Transportation’s new port and supply chain envoy for the Supply Chain Disruptions Task Force is “very optimistic” about the progress being made to ease the nation’s seaports and supply chain.

“The good news is the record volume of cargo, but the bad news is the record volume of cargo and we have nowhere to put it,” Lyons, told Gene Seroka, Port of Los Angeles executive director in a joint news conference in July.

“We still have work to do. We know this cannot be the new normal,” he added. “Cargo in motion should remain in motion until it gets to its destination, and terminals are not storage points or transit points and that’s why we have so many cartons out here.”

Lyons said the level of volatility and unreliability seen at the ports, railroads, shippers and trucking companies for the past 2½ years is not sustainable.

Elsewhere, business is thriving as seen by CM Labs Simulations, which has launched a North American Mobile Training Center to give companies and training institutions the flexibility to offer training and assessment anywhere.

The Mobile Training Center offers an on-site presence that reduces team displacement and job site disruption. For community colleges and vocational schools, it can multiply training locations and provide access to markets that were previously out of reach or too remote.

“Bringing training and recruitment to where it’s needed most can be a cost-effective strategy. The combination of our best-in-class-simulators and high-impact messaging gives our customers the means to position themselves leaders in operator safety training and assessment,” said Lisa Barbieri, VP product, CM Labs.

The gooseneck trailer comes in 24 ft and 34 ft lengths and accommodates one or two CM Labs Vortex simulators, as well as the Instructor Operator Station, from which trainers can monitor, assess, and report on training progress. The trailer can be hitched to a vehicle for transport or set up as a standalone station.

The all-season training environment is equipped with a generator, insulated HVAC cooling, and heating. Included is a breaker panel with a manual power switch to connect to a diesel generator or local grid, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and LED lighting with three switch zones.

Add-on options include interior storage, bench, awning, and 12kW liquid-cooled diesel generator.

CM Labs builds simulation-based solutions to help clients design advanced equipment and prepare for skilled operations. Through its Vortex Studio platform, it provides capabilities for training simulators, mission rehearsal, virtual prototyping, and testing. Clients include OETIO, IUOE, Kiewit, Liebherr, Mammoet, Manitowoc, NASA, and over 100 other world-class companies, OEMs, equipment operators, and trades training organizations.

OZ Lifting says there is still a big market for manual lifting products that don’t overload devices and has expanded its industrial lever hoist range with 6- and 9-ton capacity versions.

Previously, the Winona, Minnesota-based manufacturer offered 0.25- to 3-ton capacity models, but the relaunched range will include 0.25-, 0.75, 1.5-, 3-, 6-, and 9-ton capacity versions. This matches the company’s premium (overload protected) and dynamometer-equipped (Dyno-Hoist) lever hoist lines.

While the premium line of lever hoists is, and will likely remain, the most popular of these manual hoist options, it is important to cover the breadth of applications that place specific demands on this type of product.

The industrial line of lever hoists will always be a good choice if users already know the weight of the load. The premium line, meanwhile, is based on the same hoist but has overload protection.

This has proved useful if the load weight is unknown, as the overload protection will activate at approximately 50% above the load rating. Dyno-Hoist, which eliminates the need for a separate shackle, dynamometer, and hoist, is the most technologically advanced of the range.

“We are confident that expanding the industrial line to match the other two products will give distributors and their end customers all the capacities and technology options they need. As such, we do not anticipate expanding the range in the foreseeable future,” said Steve Napieralski, president, OZ Lifting.

The industrial lever hoist range retains the features for which it has become renowned, including all-steel construction; 100% load-tested Grade 80 alloy chain; fully-enclosed gearing; long-lasting powder-coat finish; load sheave bearings; and more. Napieralski also pointed to the steel handle with rubber grip; forged alloy steel hooks; minimal load lifting effort; and heavy-duty latches, where custom options remain available.

“There is still a big market for manual lifting products that don’t include overload devices or dynamometers. An end user might make a purchasing decision based on budget or application nuances - or maybe a little bit of both - but they will likely already know the weight of their load, meaning a dyno[mometer] is a completely redundant addition,” added Napieralski.

The 6- and 9-ton capacity versions are already in stock and available for delivery.

In terms of expansion, Handling Systems International (HSI), recently announced the addition of nearly 20,000 sq ft of manufacturing space in Summit, Illinois.

“We have seen tremendous growth over the past few years with the addition of our NIKORail Enclosed Track Workstation Cranes. Our dealer network continues to grow and business levels had us quickly outgrowing our current facility. We now have nearly 80,000 sq ft under one roof and this additional space should allow us to meet the continued demands of our customers,” said Jake Rehor, VP, operations.

Headquartered in McCook, Illinois, HSI manufactures Enclosed Track Workstation Cranes, Jib and Gantry Cranes, Bridge Cranes and Material Handling Solutions.

“Business has been very good this year. We continue to see unprecedented demand for bridge crane and runway structures as well as our NikoRail enclosed track cranes. Due to this high demand, we have recently expanded our operations by 25% to handle this overflow capacity.

While this new expansion has helped, more expansion will be needed soon to handle our growing business levels. We are looking to automate our manufacturing processes to improve efficiency and lower lead times while maintaining the high-quality product Handling Systems INTL (HSI) customers have come to expect.

“HSI has also invested significantly in inventory of steel, hoist and enclosed track crane componentry to help fulfil orders timely, even with this high demand,” added Bret Lussow, director, business development, HSI.

Earlier this year, American Equipment Holdings acquired Kistler Crane & Hoist, in Omaha boosting Salt Lake City-based AE’s presence in the Midwest.

It is s the sixth acquisition completed by American Equipment since partnering with Rotunda in May of 2021.

Kistler Crane will expand American Equipment’s geographic footprint to the Midwest, enabling both companies to extend their MRO field services and production reach to better serve national and regional customers.

American Equipment’s engineering, new equipment and parts resources will also strengthen Kistler Crane’s value-proposition and solution capabilities for its longstanding blue-chip customer base. Collectively, American Equipment and Kistler Crane will pursue additional complementary acquisitions throughout the midwestern US.

Kistler Crane’s owner, Mark McElligott, will continue to lead Kistler Crane as a division of American Equipment post-transaction.

“We are excited to welcome Kistler Crane to the American Equipment family and to partner with Mark, and the entire Kistler team,” said Adam Zimmerman, CEO, American Equipment. “The acquisition of Kistler Crane is another significant milestone in our strategy of expanding our geographic footprint and solution capabilities across the U.S. by acquiring long-tenured, best-in-class overhead crane production and MRO field service businesses.”

“We are excited to join American Equipment on its journey of becoming a national one-stop-shop overhead crane solutions provider. After our initial meeting, it was obvious to us that American Equipment was the right partner for us given our shared values around customer service, employee culture, safety and integrity,” said Mark McElligott, owner, Kistler Crane. “We are excited by the many new possibilities this partnership creates that will enable us to deliver maximum value to our customers across the country and to provide meaningful opportunities for our employees.”

Vahle, manufacturer of mobile electrification, data positioning and control products, has also seen a rise in projects related to cranes and hoists electrification and recently completed a project with Madden Bolt, which fabricates steel industrial fasteners and miscellaneous steel parts, in Houston, Texas, using a Vahle KBHF conductor rail system for electrification of hoists and cranes in the galvanizing plant, where most of the conductor systems refuse to work after a short period of time due to the highly aggressive environment leading to the corrosion and destruction of materials.

“Madden Bolts needed an efficient and logical solution as the harsh environment was causing downtime, deteriorating the material prematurely. The heat and acidic fumes caused premature deterioration and it needed an overhead crane and runway conductor replacement,” said Abbas Raza, regional sales manager, Vahle.

“Any equipment above the dip tanks were in jeopardy of corrosion from the fumes and acids in the tanks. They were originally using festoons on the bridge of the crane and insulated conductor bars on the runway. These components were not built to handle the excessive corrosive environment and would fail often, creating more downtime. We recommended using our enclosed KBH conductor bar with sealing strip to prevent the fumes from accessing the copper conductors as much as possible.

“Originally there was a 4-bar insulated conductor bar system. The shrouds on the conductor bar over the dip tank become brittle and the copper had severe signs of corrosion after months of use. The brittle shroud would start to crack and brake off and this would cause the collector shoes to pop out of the conductor bar track.

“At Vahle we can curve our KBH enclosed conductor bar in-house, so we were able to use the same size bar as we used on the overhead crane to standardize the conductor bar used at the plant. With the addition of the sealing strip, we have not yet had to replace the conductor bar over the dip tank.

“To minimize the concentration of corrosive gases in the air we added a ventilation system around the areas that had the most corrosive gases.

“The combination of the KBH enclosed conductor bar with sealing strip and the ventilation system means our customer can remain productive and reduce downtime.

“We are continuously visiting our customers at their plants to see how our products are operating for them and to see how we can evolve our technology to exceed our customers’ needs. This process of research and development ensures we continuously lead the push towards industry 4.0. As the world moves towards being leaner and more efficient, we ask ourselves; how can we decrease downtime while being more productive, staying true to our core values.”

Vahle overhead cranes
The HSI facility in Summit, IL.
HSI NIKO Rail Fall Protection (NikoLine).
Vahle KBH conductor bar
CM Labs Mobile Training Center
Vahle overhead cranes
Oz Lifting 6- and 9-ton lever hoists
HSI indoor crane for lifting plastic film rolls in a clean environment, requiring an epoxy painted (white) runway structure.
Kistler Crane & Hoist.
Oz Lifting 6- and 9-ton lever hoists
Madden Bolt galvanizing plant.