Manitowoc expresses confidence in the regional market where there is a rise in construction activity. Its machines can be seen working on many high-profile projects.
THERE has been a significant increase in demand for tower cranes in the Middle East over the past six months, indicating an upsurge in construction activity in places like the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, says David Semple, Manitowoc Cranes’ vice-president of sales for the Middle East and English-speaking parts of Africa.
He says the demand in the mobile and crawler crane segments – which is a business more linked to the oil and gas sector for the company – is strong too, although not quite as steep.
“After much uncertainty nine to 12 months ago as to where the Gulf construction markets might go, we have seen a clear acceleration of project awards and crane demand in the last six months,” says Semple.
He attributes this to three factors:
• The financial crisis and liquidity crunch that hit the region in 2008-09 has been managed. Financing a construction or infrastructure project is much less of a problem today than it was two to three years ago.
• The geo-political situation is less tense in the region – no more talk about US military intervention in Syria and a new dialogue has opened with Iran’s newly elected president.
• Dubai Expo 2020 award, a “psychological milestone” shows the market that “Dubai is back” and the crisis is over.
“This feeling is somewhat pushing other urban centres (Abu Dhabi in the UAE, Doha in Qatar, and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia) to carry on with their development plans so that they do not fall behind Dubai again. As a result, construction equipment demand is on the rise, and not only in the UAE but all over the GCC,” he adds.
Semple says he has seen the region’s attitude and perception about crane features, safety, and age, shift over the last 20 years.
“Whereas in the late 1990s, the Gulf was mainly a market for used – and sometimes quite old – cranes, we are today in a much more ‘mature’ environment.”
He says construction sites in the Gulf region are extremely demanding, given the harsh climate, round-the-clock working hours and high-profile/high-value projects and most crane users today recognise the value of some “premium” crane products.
“It does remain a competitive market though and having a wide product offering, from ‘low-cost’ to ‘premium’ product ranges, is key to meeting customer expectations,” he indicates.
Semple says the company’s order backlog is quite strong, and its cranes are present on most high-profile projects being built in the region.
“You will see Potain, Grove and Manitowoc cranes working, for example, on Saudi Arabia’s new rail networks – the Haramain high-speed train from Makkah to Madinah and the Riyadh Metro project, etc – as well as the Qatar metro.
“We are also on most master-planned development projects in the region such as the City Walk in Dubai and King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh; and most mobile crane rental companies would have some Grove cranes in their fleets,” Semple says.
Manitowoc has been committed to the Gulf and the Middle East for many decades.
“We have had a network of strong local distribution partners in the region for more than 50 years; and back in 2007 we also established our own, fully-owned subsidiary in Jebel Ali Free Zone in order to better support these dealers, directly from the region,” he says.
Manitowoc’s strategy is to continue relying on third-party dealers for the sale and after-sales of its crane products in the GCC and the rest of the Middle East, in order to achieve the best market coverage and support capabilities of the industry.
“For this we need our dealers to be true ‘crane experts’ – local, visible, and competent – so that anybody needing a crane would know this is where he would get the best advice, support, and value for money.”
He sees the climatic conditions, as well as the very intense schedule of most construction sites, as probably their biggest challenges from a product standpoint.
“Luckily, Manitowoc is one of the global premium crane manufacturers, and we have the necessary experience to address such challenges,” he says.
“More locally, the level of education and training of the people actually operating our cranes is a big challenge. A skilled crane operator can make a huge difference on the productivity, durability, and safety of the machine he operates; however, unfortunately, the local crane driver population often lacks the level of literacy and basic education to make optimal use of the crane,” he concludes.
Manitowoc Cranes is a division of US-based Manitowoc Company. It produces four brands of cranes – Manitowoc, Grove, Potain and National Crane.