Scratching below the surface – container crane purchase



Liebherr Container Cranes, County Kerry, Ireland



Purchasing a container crane can appear to be a simple process. Requirements are specified and, after tender evaluation, a crane manufacturer is chosen based on the specifications and cost. However, it is often what is not obvious from the proposal that will determine if the purchase will ultimately prove to be a sound investment. When buying a container crane, the initial cost of the crane may seem very attractive and often serves as a lure, but scratch beneath the surface and there is substantially more to be considered than initially meets the eye.

The real costs of crane ownership are to be found in the 25 years plus of service and maintenance required during a crane’s lifetime. Understanding these costs and the factors that contribute to them is critical when making an informed decision on purchasing a new crane.

Variables such as maintenance, repair, spare parts availability, crane reliability, energy and fuel costs, productivity rates, crane inspection services and the like can quickly add up and can be substantial. But when differentials are considered between manufacturers over the lifetime of a crane, the difference can be in the millions. As is often the case, when there are a number of cranes to consider, the figures involved can be in the tens of millions of dollars. A perceived saving of several hundred thousand dollars on the purchase price of a crane quickly pales into insignificance.

Spares and maintenance

The design and quality of the components used in a crane is a major factor for the cost of spare parts and associated repair costs. These costs can quickly increase if the design or quality of components is in any way compromised. For example, are the drives and motors for the crane engineered using safety factors based on the max torque or average torque design requirements? When the equipment is designed to the minimum limits, frequency of breakdowns and repair will be increased. The crane may be under guarantee for the first number of years and these costs are hidden, but choice of manufacturer can have a huge bearing on spare parts costs. In some instances, the annual spare parts bill can be up to four times more expensive than the spare parts for a similar crane from a different manufacturer. Availability of spares and ease of access to service engineers when local maintenance personnel are unavailable or unable to fix the breakdown is essential for the smooth running of a crane and in reducing mean time between failtures and the costs  associated with an out of service crane. Some manufacturers offer 24 hours a day, seven days a week access to engineers in their service department and are able to respond and get the spare parts delivered promptly. With others, service and spare parts delivery may take weeks. It is essential that the crane manufacturer acts as a central point of contact in the event of a fault with the crane and not pass the queries onto a sub contractor or supplier. Dealing with a range of sub suppliers would not be an ideal situation, especially when there is a vessel waiting to be unloaded. It is also necessary to evaluate the manufacturers’ training courses. Do they offer training for engineers to allow them to carry out repairs quickly and economically? Is the equipment used in the crane standard and modular, facilitating ease of access and uncomplicated repair or replacement? Does the manufacturer keep spares in stock? What about sub suppliers, are they reputable firms? Will spares be available in 10 or 15 years? Is the crane manufacturer transparent and willing to supply a list of sub suppliers and parts, to allow direct purchase of spare parts locally if the need arises? What about key components like the drive systems, are they specifically designed for container cranes, or have they been purchased from sub suppliers, in which case they could become obsolete in a number of years and require replacing? What will the cost of this be? All these questions need to be addressed prior to signing on the dotted line. Liebherr Container Cranes have supplied container cranes over thirty years ago which still operate and are still being supplied with spares.

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