Duty calls

20 March 2008

Crane manufacturers and the US Armed Forces have a long and strong relationship. Most US manufacturers have at some point supplied cranes to various branches of the military, and cranes in all sizes and classes are a mainstay on military installations, bases, posts and ports.

Often the military rents cranes just like any other business would for a specific task or project. Other times, the military purchases conventional cranes from manufacturers, just like any other business would. And then there are times when the military needs a specially designed crane, and that's when things get interesting. Engineering teams are put to the test to design cranes within a specific envelope of specifications supplied by the US Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force.

For the most part, manufacturers are often reluctant to talk about their dealings with the military, for a number of good reasons.

“Our sales to US government, the military, is and has always been pretty steady,” says Pat Collins, product manager for Link-Belt. “At this time, we do not have any huge contracts, no 100 machine deals, but every month we ship a crane or cranes to the government.”

Most recently, Link-Belt has supplied cranes to the San Diego Naval Station, a frequent customer, Collins says. “We've supplied over 30-odd Link-Belts to them over the last 10 years. We recently sent them a RTC 80100 series II, which is probably one of four or five they have working on the docks for them.”

Link-Belt has one person who works full time on military and government contracts, Collins says. Recently the company shipped a LS-108 to a base in Alaska and an HSP-8030 to a base in Corpus Christi.

While Link-Belt generally works direct with the government entities in which it supplies cranes, the company also encourages and supports its dealers to make sure they are working with their local military or Army Corps of Engineers “because they get onto things we may not be aware of,” says Collins.

Link-Belt dealers also offer support services to the military and crane rental.

“Our business with the government is strong, but it's not something we promote or talk about much,” says Collins.

Wrecking crew

Georgetown, TX-based Manitex has produced some 370 MTVR cranes for OshKosh Corp., which is supplying the heavy duty boom trucks to the USMC. The MTVR, which stands for Medium Tactical Vehicle Recovery, is used in the Marines’ wrecker variant of its MTVR program.

“We are building the last four in the contract this month,” says Scott Rolston, general manager. “It has been a good project for us.”

Manitex engineers designed the crane to the specifications provided by the USMC. One of the challenges was designing a machine that once it was mounted to the truck would allow the vehicle to be loaded on a C-130 aircraft.

The 17 ton crane has a 31 foot boom, and it interfaced to OshKosh's hydraulic and remote control system. “Basically it was used as a wrecker truck,” says Rolston. “They have been deployed around the world, including Iraq.”

Due to the rigorous conditions in which they work, the boom trucks are sometimes under fire, literally. Manitex supplies parts for the machines through OshKosh.

A few good cranes

In April 2006, four specially designed Terex Demag Mac 50 cranes reported for duty at the US Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA. The customized “pilot” all-terrain cranes have been put to the test by the Marines over the last year to assure they meet the demands of the material handling and construction equipment division.

According to Tom Manley, vice president of Terex government programs, the machines passed the Marines muster with flying colors. “We just received production approval from the Marine Corps,” says Manley in mid June who was in Germany at the Terex Demag facility where the cranes will be made. “We are now in full production and in the process of shipping them new cranes.”

As for modifications from the original design, Manley says there were no “significant modifications.”

“Essentially we will produce the same crane that went through testing,” Manley explains. “In my opinion, the Mac 50 is the best military crane available right now.”

The new machine will replace the Marines’ older heavy lift cranes.

Bringing the commercial AC 50-1 crane up to the USMC's demanding military specifications involved hard work. The project required extensive engineering and management by Terex Demag to provide a custom solution for the USMC.

The MAC 50 has a maximum lifting capacity of 100,000 pounds. Its top speed is 47.2 mph, and the main boom extends to 82 feet. The fully hydraulic boom system minimizes telescoping times and can be telescoped under load. Power is from a 333 hp (250 kW) Cummins engine and all axles are driven and can be steered individually.

The four-axle crane weighs 69,886 pounds. The Marines need good cross-country performance and maneuverability. Technical aspects of both crane and chassis have been designed to make ease of operation a priority, even when situations for the operator veer towards the dramatic, Manley says. The initial delivery cranes were fitted with hydraulic clamshell grabs.

Modifications to the AC 50-1 to transform it into a military crane, were undertaken with close collaboration between the USMC, Terex Government Programs and Terex Demag. A fundamental challenge was a narrow time window in which to adapt the AC 50-1. Among the modifications were a salt-water fording capability of 60 inches, a redesign for compliance with US federal highway regulations and military requirements, as well as a drive train consisting of a Cummins engine and Allison transmission.

Before the MAC 50s were approved for their first official deployment, the four initial cranes delivered were subjected to rigorous verification testing at the US Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. One of the units remained in Germany for similar treatment to allow manufacturers in Germany to provide their American colleagues advice and support, if need be.

The initial order to Terex was reported to be for 130 machines with a potential contract value of $88.6 million.

MCG maneuvers

Manitowoc Crane Group also does business with the military, and has a division that deals direct with the military for crane sales and service. Since the early 1960s, Manitowoc has been selling cranes to the military and various government agencies, according to Jim McDowell, director of government marketing. Current contracts include work with the US Army for the “reset” (repair as necessary to return crane to full operational capacity) of the AT422T and RT875CC. In May, Manitowoc was awarded a contract to reset RT875CC Army cranes for re-deployment to Iraq.

Last year, the company undertook a huge project to repair and restore more than 60 rough terrain cranes that it had sold to the military several years before. Many of the cranes had served time in Iraq, and had been damaged by sand, bullets and other harsh conditions of war.

Like Link-Belt, MCG encourages its dealers and customers to get involved with supporting the military. Last spring, a Grove RT875E rough terrain crane started to work on a large-scale construction project at the Efficient Basing-Grafenwoehr facility, one of the largest military training areas outside the US. In the town of Grafenwoehr in eastern Bavaria, Germany, the crane is used for a range of lifting duties over a 16-month period, including the assembly of prefabricated elements for 835 houses on the new Netzaberg Housing Area.

The RT875E is owned by rental company Wiesbauer, based in Bietigheim-Bissingen, and is working for local contractor Zapf. Grafenwoehr houses the 7th Army Training Command, a unit that provides testing and training for military apparatus used by US and NATO forces. To consolidate its command and control headquarters, the United States Army Europe is moving 3,500 soldiers and their families from across Europe to this new installation. This requires the renovation of existing facilities and the construction of new homes.

On the mainland, last year Ness Cranes of Seattle, WA dispatched its Grove GMK7550 all terrain crane on board the US Navy's aircraft carrier, USS John C Stennis, to help erect a new mast.

According to MCG, work took place at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard just outside Seattle, and lasted just over a month. Ness's directive for the 550 ton capacity GMK7550 was to replace the ship's main mast, as the additional weight of new antennae exceeded the structural limit for the old mast. The heaviest load to be lifted onto the ship, however, was the GMK7550 itself. Weighing about 90 tons, it is the largest mobile crane in the Grove line and had to be lifted on board by an adjacent harbor crane.


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