31 January 2014

Ruukki helps Link-Belt improve crane strength and reputation for quality

Link-Belt crane with Ruukki optim steel

Building cranes that are stronger, longer lasting and farther reaching is how Link-Belt Construction Equipment Company became a global leader in the material lifting equipment industry. The company also puts great emphasis on the quality design and appearance of its cranes.

Link-Belt believes that if you are going to market your equipment based on quality, it needs to look as good as it performs. That’s a key reason why Link-Belt turned to Ruukki special steels for building its next generation of telescopic crane booms. Ruukki’s Optim brand of ultra-high-strength steel not only achieves or exceeds Link-Belt’s specifications for strength, lightness and durability, the steel’s exceptional surface quality is saving the company and its customers large amounts of dollars per boom in manual surface preparation costs.

“Link-Belt’s painted booms have become the visual hallmark of our quality reputation,” said Dave Necessary, Material Sourcing Manager at Link-Belt. “That’s what customers want to see, and it’s a key reason we are more surface-conscious than anyone else in the industry. Ruukki steel helps us achieve that superior look,” he said.

Market demand drives innovation

Quality is a critical differentiator for Link-Belt because global demand for cranes has skyrocketed over the last decade, thanks largely to the rapid growth of oil & gas as well as infrastructure projects in emerging countries. The global market is expected to exceed $29.3 billion (€21.6 billion) in 2013, according to BBC Research. At the same time, infrastructure projects have also become more complex, requiring greater innovation in crane technology so they can operate more flexibly.

The 130-year-old Lexington, Kentucky-based company, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Industries, has outpaced competitors on the innovation front. Link-Belt has designed a family of telescopic and lattice boom cranes ranging in lift capacities of  27-250 tonnes * built with the most advanced materials and technologies.

This rapid growth led Link-Belt to discover Ruukki steel serendipitously. Link-Belt used to purchase its formed boom shells from suppliers in Germany and Belgium, which sometimes caused logistical lead time delays for customer orders. So the company built its own state-of-the-art formed boom production facility in 2009, becoming one of the few crane makers in the world to manufacture its own formed booms.

When inventory from its original steel providers was momentarily exhausted, the supplier substituted Ruukki steel to fill the gaps. The strength and surface quality of Ruukki steel impressed company engineers so much that they decided to add Ruukki steel as an approved steel provider for all telescopic boom fabrication.

“The big thing that Ruukki gave us that the current supplier couldn’t was strong steel with a much better surface,” said Necessary. “Ruukki steel requires a minimal amount of prep work, which saves us money. A good surface is important because customers want a crane that looks well-made. They want high quality equipment that they are proud to have in their fleet.”

Link-Belt crane with Ruukki optim steel

Time-saving was another benefit Link-Belt gained

The company’s production system focused on shortening the time between the customer order and production shipment through lean manufacturing and efficiency practices. Ruukki steel’s superior surface quality helped Link-Belt gain a competitive advantage through shortened cycle times and waste reduction during the finishing process.

Link-Belt has also seen the market shift toward “greener” fleets with better fuel efficiency. To that end, the telescopic booms are manufactured using 130/160 gauge Ruukki Optim steel. The Optim brand is made using a direct quenching process that Ruukki pioneered which enables thinner, stronger material with fewer defects and tighter tolerances, while also achieving the unusually smooth surface that Link-Belt desired.

“We are seeing a growing market trend towards increasingly powerful cranes that are more mobile, lighter weight and can reach further,” said Necessary. “That’s why we are constantly innovating at Link-Belt. We developed new all-terrain cranes, for example, to meet the growing need for reach and mobility. Ruukki steel is helping us design booms for those cranes that offer greater operational flexibility.”

Like manufacturing philosophies

Link-Belt also selected Ruukki because of the company’s similar focus on quality manufacturing practices. Link-Belt operates on the principles of continuous quality improvement, ISO 9001, and lean manufacturing processes. These principles result in reductions in waste, better use of company resources, and improved employee and customer satisfaction. The company also recently earned ISO 14001 accreditation, which the International Organization of Standardization issues to companies that develop their own effective environmental management systems.

Link-Belt found a kindred spirit in its manufacturing philosophy when it first visited Ruukki’s manufacturing facilities in Finland, Necessary said. “We like to partner with like minds. Ruukki’s focus on energy-efficient steel solutions and quality production processes assured us that the company understood how we operate and what we need from a partner,” he said.

For more information about Link-Belt cranes, please visit www.link-belt.com