Crane technology – integral to development

This article first appeared in Contractor Perspectives 2017.

National non-residential construction is forecast to increase by 20 percent over the 2016-2018 period peaking at the end of 2018. Rod Auton, chief executive, Crane Association of New Zealand. 

WITH THE AVERAGE annual growth in the economy of 3.6 percent for the past 12 months, this is not only historically strong for our sector, but is right at the top of growth performance across the developed world.

The construction sector is the underlying driver of this strong growth. The annual National Construction Pipeline Report for 2016 states that the total national construction value has experienced sustained growth averaging seven percent per year since 2011 and is expected to grow at this rate to 2017. Residential building in Auckland accounts for more than half of the construction growth by value nationally. National non-resident building has been forecast to peak in mid-2018.

National non-residential construction is forecast to increase by 20 percent over the 2016-2018 period peaking at the end of 2018. Financially significant projects include: Transport projects (Roads of National Significance); Canterbury rebuild and earthquake strengthening; mixed use developments (mixtures of residential, retail, office and parking); and industrial developments (milk processing and timber plants).

This growth brings its own set of problems.

Booming activity levels, lengthening lead times, shortages of resources including staff, rising costs and some concerns about the viability of some projects are all indicators of a constrained sector experiencing capacity strains.

The RLB Crane Index for the second quarter of 2016 stated that projects with cranes in the commercial and commercial sector account for 42 percent of all cranes surveyed and the residential sector accounts for 35 percent of cranes predominantly from multi-use residential projects in Auckland.

Net migration climbed to new record highs of over 65,000 to the year ending 2015, with the bulk of arrivals settling in Auckland. This accounts for the strong growth in residential construction in Auckland. A strong tourism market is also driving the need for accommodation and growth in tourism infrastructure.

Advances in crane technology

Research and development in the crane industry are being driven by the users of cranes to reduce the size, weight, and costs.

Manufacturers are responding to those requests with innovation and thinking outside the box. Computerisation and the use of apps on the site are giving manufacturers instant information allowing them to adapt relatively quickly to a changing environment. There is already research being done on robotic cranes, particularly for the port sector.

For mobile cranes, some of the key advances in recent times include the ability to deliver higher load capacities over larger working areas through crane support technology. Advanced on-board computer systems allow the operator to monitor all aspects of the lifting process and allow the computer systems to be adjusted to fit specific lift requirements. New boom technology improves boom telescoping capabilities and with the introduction of carbon fibre technology, booms are now stronger and lighter.

Tower crane technology has advanced, with research being undertaken in Israel to semi-automate a tower crane. Remote tower crane operation already exists, and the researchers believe by adding an on-board micro-computer, encoders, and sensors that can memorise benchmarks and paths of the hook, and send instructions to the motors then automation is possible.

New gantry cranes are modular, adaptable and intelligent. New technology has enabled cranes to be more compact and energy efficient, which will eventually render legacy systems obsolete. Modular technology gives users the ability to change existing features or add new ones depending on the business need. Additional features could include remote diagnostics, maintenance monitoring or automated positioning. New technology enables companies to be more agile and realise larger returns on investment.

Truck loader crane technology has changed dramatically since the development of the remote control and now with the development of flexible stabiliser setups and automatically-corresponding load chart calculation markets will benefit where there is a deeply embedded understanding of the technology and well-trained operators. There is a movement away from knuckle-boom to stiff boom cranes as the truck loader cranes seek greater operating radius and capacity. Truck loaders are the largest by number in the New Zealand crane fleet and can be considered the most versatile.

Moving forward

In July 2016, the Crane Safety Manual version 3.1 with the updated health and safety information was released, and the manual has been accepted across the industry as a training reference as well as a guide to the industry.

There is a constant battle to ensure best practice is followed in the industry and the realisation that undertaking best practice will reduce compliance costs and reduce regulatory oversight. This can only be good for the industry, and the association has provided a new resource for crane owners, users, hirers, operators and dogmen called safecranes.

Many have found it too difficult to look through the myriad of websites seeking crane-related information and we have put together this repository that contains most of the information and links to many of those sites that relate to the crane industry. You can view it at

Moving forward, we are likely to see changes across the training, best practice, legislative and regulatory front as older legislation and regulations adapt to the arrival of the new Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

The Pressure Equipment, Cranes and Passenger Ropeways Regulations 1999 and the Approved Code of Practice for Cranes will need to be amended to meet the H&S requirements soon, and there will be amendments to training with this regard as well.

Other sectors, such as the pre-cast concrete and steel erection, will also be making changes to their training, legislation, regulations and best practice and the Crane Association will support these initiatives.

The economic outlook bodes well for the crane sector, but more work means more staff who are trained and competent and we see a shortfall that is going to be an issue for the industry moving forward.

This year is going to be a year where the construction sector will be growing, and cranes are an integral component of our country’s infrastructure and building sector.   

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