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Key trends in the South African tower crane market

Tower Crane Market Trends

Article first published in Crown By Munesu Shoko.

With building structures becoming taller and contractors seeking optimal material handling solutions to ensure maximum productivity on sites, Crane & Hoist Equipment SA, the Potain dealer in southern Africa, has seen increased demand for top-slewing cranes. Meanwhile, the constrained construction marketplace is driving the growing preference for tower crane rental, at the expense of outright buying.     

The construction of tall buildings is an international property development trend that has gained favour in South Africa in recent years. The ‘high-rise’ renaissance largely comes down to the need for space management as space is at a premium in many towns.

With structures getting taller and taller, Louw Smit, Sales Director at Crane & Hoist Equipment SA, says it is essential for contractors to apply optimal material handling solutions to ensure the highest possible productivity while operating safely.

A key trend that has come out of the high-rise drive is the growing preference for top-slewing cranes which, according to Louw, currently account for 80% of the tower crane market in South Africa.

“A major driver is the height of buildings being built currently. The 30 – 50 m high buildings make the top-slewing crane a material handling tool of choice,” he says, adding that bottom slewing cranes have limited height and cannot meet the required hook height at these projects. To give an idea, available bottom slewing cranes in the market offer about 20 – 23 m of hook height, “which is not sufficient for the buildings that are being built at the moment”.

Crane & Hoist Equipment SA’s range of Potain top-slewing cranes offers free-standing heights of between 35 m and 54 m, and a lifting capacity of 5 – 8 t. “The type of buildings being built in South Africa at the moment mostly require 35 m and more of hook height, which you can’t get with a self-erecting crane,” adds Smit.

Operations Director Danie Roos adds that topless cranes are ideal for construction projects where there are several cranes operating on-site, which is a common scene on today’s building sites.

“A flat-top crane works well on sites where you have more than one crane,” he says, “as it can overfly other cranes without any need for a high top tower space.”

MD Brenden Crous agrees, saying that top-slewing cranes have a reputation for being easy to adapt to their working environments – sites that are high up, crowded or widely spread out. They make it possible to hoist and distribute loads by using two technologies: horizontal displacement of the trolley or movement by raising the jib.

tower crane

Wide range

Crane & Hoist Equipment SA offers a wide range of models in the top-slewing category, comprising the MC 85B, MCT 88, MDT 98, MDT 178 and the MDT 175B.

The MCT range is renowned for its simple and faster erection on site. With two notches on the lower members and one pin on the upper member, the jib can be erected quickly and easily. The variable-frequency slewing feature allows for continuous variable speed control by means of a stepless controller that also adapts to the crane operator’s driving style.

The crane features minimal componentry, providing adaptability and easy installation on urban job sites. Bases, masts, counter-jib ballast blocks and telescoping cages are interchangeable with other MCT models.

Equipped with the new Crane Control System, the MDT CCS range provides greater performance. The user-friendly crane control system offers owners the highest levels of comfort, flexibility, ergonomic control – translating to a better return on investment.

MDT CCS Topless concept allows complex multi-crane installations. The assembly, erection, transport and even maintenance phases are shortened. Optimum productivity and greater safety make MDT CCS cranes the best choice for all users and hirers.

“CCS assists users to enjoy the highest levels of comfort, flexibility, ergonomic control and, most importantly, improved lifting capacity. The enhanced productivity achieved as a result translates into a faster return on investment for Potain crane owners,” says Smit.

Special configurations

Another key trend in the South African tower crane market is the growing demand for special configurations to achieve better hook heights, notes Louw. The special configuration of Potain tower cranes allows Crane & Hoist Equipment SA to give clients better standing height without anchoring the crane on the building.

“The special configuration of the mast allows for a higher freestanding height of the tower crane itself, and this is a good solution for high rise structures,” says Smit. With the increased freestanding height, there is no need to tie the tower crane onto the building, which gives the contractor both time and cost-saving on the project.

“In such a constrained construction market, contractors are looking for ways to cut costs because anchoring and jacking are expensive – so they opt for cranes with special configurations to achieve the required hook heights,” he says. To get this right, Louw cautions that it is important for contractors to partner with technical tower crane experts with an in-depth understanding of tower cranes configurations like Crane & Hoist Equipment SA.

Explaining how the special configuration works, Smit says, if one takes the MDT 98 tower crane, for instance, the standard tower width of the masts of that unit is 1,6 x 1,6 m. With that, you can achieve a standard standing height of about 52 m. If one uses a special configuration, you start up with bigger 2 x 2 m mast sections, before adapting to the normal 1,6 m sections.

“The idea is to start with bigger sections and then adapt to the normal mast size after that, which gives you a better hook height. It’s not a standard configuration that’s available on the spec sheet,” says Smit.

“Instead of the normal configuration, which has to be anchored to the wall,” adds Roos “the special configuration offers greater flexibility, which in the end, cuts anchoring and jacking costs.”

tower crane

Smaller range 

Crous says the market has in recent months shifted towards the smaller range of cranes, which is largely due to the smaller size of buildings being built, mostly the 5 – 7 storey flats.

“It’s also to do with the costs of cranes, given the tough nature of the market. If you have one big crane on site, you only have one hook, but with two smaller cranes, you have two hooks and can still be within your budget, which helps significantly in terms of productivity,” says Crous.

The move towards smaller ranges, says Crous, is also driven by a fair amount of activity in water infrastructure projects, such as reservoirs. “We have two water projects,” he says “where two of our cranes are working. There are a couple of other projects currently underway, and there definitely seems to be a bit of activity in that space.”

Rental market 

Due to the tough nature of the construction market, which has since been exacerbated by the Covid-19-influenced lockdown, many contractors are finding it difficult to invest in new equipment, thus opting for rental instead.

“I am of the view that it will take a while before people start buying equipment again. We have, in recent months before the lockdown, had a few sales enquiries, but I don’t think companies will be able to buy equipment anytime soon. Rental will remain the viable choice for many,” says Smit.

With its fleet of eight top-slewing cranes and one bottom-slewing crane (IGO 50), Crane & Hoist Equipment SA is prepared to meet the rental needs of the market. The rental fleet is ideally suited for small to medium-sized projects where 5 – 8 t lifting capacity is required at 50 – 60 m jib lengths.

“We currently have nine of our own cranes available for rental. At the moment, rental constitutes 80% of our business, and 20% is sales,” concludes Smit.

If you are looking for a professional and experienced team to work at height with precision rigging and the right cranes, give us a call to make your project work. You can contact us at


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