January 4, 2017
Konecranes’ Rubber Tired Gantry (RTG) crane is an integral part of the company's product offering. This productive and reliable RTG was developed more than 20 years ago and remains the top choice for container terminals around the globe. The delivery of the 1,000th crane recently marked its impressive history.
Konecranes has steadily built its reputation as a global player in the design, manufacture and servicing of container handling equipment, and Konecranes’ RTG is no exception. This market-leading crane exemplifies how intelligent design can make container handling safer, more productive and more reliable.
The majority of Konecranes’ RTG cranes have been delivered to North America and Europe. Western Africa, South America, and Indonesia have also emerged as important markets in the past years, with the container business growing rapidly in those areas.
The RTG’s road to success was paved with a few challenges, but was guided by a strong and unique vision and steered by a dedicated group of individuals. As such, the concept became reality.
From idea to reality
The idea for Konecranes’ RTG stemmed from the ports unit at Konecranes, with key members from the unit leading the development phase. The first official meeting concerning the project was held on May 25, 1994, with plans for the new undertaking shared to a larger audience of employees. The goal was to develop a lightweight RTG crane with new and improved features in order to deliver customer reliability and components optimized for their intended use.
The subsequent months were spent developing the concept further. For the product development team, the main priority was to follow the internal vision and to do things right from the very beginning.
“In the first documents outlining the features of the new crane, the message was clear: Innovation was key,” says Matti Kemppainen, Director of Research and Innovation at Konecranes.
Konecranes’ RTG has three main features which were part of the design from the start. The non-hydraulic design, unique to Konecranes’ RTGs in the 1990s, has since been adopted by competitors. Nonetheless, Konecranes was among the first to realize the immense benefits of non-hydraulic RTG cranes, which are designed to provide higher reliability, less downtime, and lower maintenance and spare part costs, particularly at ports that experience harsh coastal weather.
Two other main features have remained part of Konecranes’ unique and market-leading RTG design. First is the Direct Gantry Drive design with 16-wheel mechanism that separated Konecranes’ RTG crane from its competitors’ 8-wheel RTG cranes. The increase in wheels from 8 to 16 meant lower wheel loads, less maintenance, and minimal wear to the wheels. The extra wheels also allowed the crane to move sideways, potentially increasing productivity.
The other unique patented feature of the Konecranes RTG is the Active Load Control (ALC) system, which is designed to prevent containers from swaying, and enable the fine positioning of the spreader. When combined, these features are intended to significantly speed up the container handling cycle, increasing the productivity of yard operation.
The benefits likewise extend past the ease of container handling. With decreased unnecessary movements due to the precision of the ALC system, productivity can remain kept at its highest level and energy-waste can be kept to a minimum. The use of AC-motors and frequency converters, instead of direct current technology, can also lead to significantly improved eco-efficiency.
The turning point
Time is an essential element in most projects, as was the case with the Konecranes RTG. In 1995, while the development and testing phase was still in progress at Konecranes, four RTG cranes were sold to the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), owner and operator of the Port of Savannah. Jorma Merimaa, Chief R&D Engineer of Port Technology at Konecranes, remembers the situation well.
“We spent the entire summer testing the components of the RTG crane in shifts, working around the clock, six days per week. But on Sundays we rested,” Merimaa reminisces with a laugh.
The hard work paid off for the small product development team. The four RTGs, along with the prototype, were shipped to Savannah in the fall of 1995, a mere year after the development phase had started. Both Merimaa and Kemppainen view the Konecranes RTG today as an homage to the late Olavi Jussila, the main visionary behind the crane. He led the engineering for what eventually became an essential addition to Konecranes’ product family.
“Olavi’s number one vision was the non-hydraulic design, which differentiated Konecranes from its competitors, who were only offering partly hydraulic-driven RTG cranes at the time. All of the other main features essential to the Konecranes’ RTG today were also part of the design from the start,” Kemppainen emphasizes.
No overnight success
Despite the innovative features, Konecranes’ RTG was not a straightforward success story. Konecranes’ approach to the RTG crane was unfamiliar to most container terminal operators, who were hesitant to order the slightly more expensive crane in favor of the more affordable partly hydraulic-driven RTG cranes.
However, after word spread of the RTG crane’s unique features through user references, success followed. Crane operators praised the unique technical features which made the crane easy and secure to operate. Glowing recommendations from crane operators in Savannah soon spread to neighboring ports and countries, with interested parties visiting the Port of Savannah to witness the crane in action.
Tuomas Saastamoinen, Sales and Marketing Director of Port Cranes at Konecranes, believes also another factor contributed to the product’s success. “Konecranes’ timing went hand in hand with the global market situation. The container business was growing and there was a demand for new and more effective container handling solutions,” Saastamoinen explains.
While the positive reviews of the first Konecranes’ RTGs streaming out from Savannah helped bring about favorable results, Saastamoinen emphasizes that nurturing and maintaining client relationships remains a top priority for Konecranes.
“It may sound cliché, but for us, it is absolutely crucial. Our aim is to handle everything impeccably, from service to delivery. When the client is happy, not only will they want to renew their order, but they will also be happy to recommend equipment and solutions to other interested potential buyers,” Saastamoinen says.
As far as R&D projects go, Konecranes’ RTG remains the group’s biggest investment. Both Merimaa and Kemppainen commend the company for putting their trust so wholeheartedly in its development.
“Hats off to Konecranes for believing in the project. Nowadays, these kinds of innovations and visionary approaches do not come around that often. It’s a challenge to come up with success stories such as Konecranes’ RTG. It takes a lot of strong willpower, trust and vision,” states Kemppainen.
The many faces of the RTG: where the Konecranes RTG is today
Konecranes’ RTG has come a long way since the first prototype was built in the city of Hyvinkää, Finland, over 20 years ago. The original idea has paved the way for new applications and features, which in turn have enabled new markets to emerge.
The first Konecranes’ RTGs were used solely by seaport terminals. However, in 2013, the first Konecranes’ RTG was delivered to a rail terminal in the US. This inland delivery, which was soon followed by many more, marked a significant change in the history of the Konecranes RTG, notes Tuomo Paukkula, General Manager of RTG Cranes at Konecranes.
“At the time, the RTG faced new challenges in terms of load handling, for example. However, the previously developed and implemented RTG technology was also well-suited for rail terminal use, which facilitated the inclusion of the new market area. The rail terminals likewise opened up significant new markets for the Konecranes RTG,” says Paukkula.
In addition to the inclusion of rail terminals, Konecranes has also become a forerunner in terms of enhanced power options available for RTGs. Nowadays, many Konecranes’ customers prefer electricity-fueled RTGs, but the demand for diesel-driven cranes is also steady. In response to calls for lower emission rates, Konecranes has developed low-emission diesel-generator solutions for the RTGs.
In past years, the Konecranes’ RTG has been on a steady development path, with the main focus areas being automation and operator assisting features. The Active Load Control (ALC), developed by Konecranes in the early stages, has enabled implementation of automation efforts. The automation-based operator assisting features – such as the auto-steering and container positioning features of the crane which use GPS signals to guide the crane and improve container control – facilitate the everyday work of crane operators and make crane operations more safe and efficient.
Years of automation efforts have led to the development of Konecranes’ Automated RTG (ARTG) system, where the RTG cranes are fully automated for stack operations and operated remotely when loading and unloading the truck. The first Konecranes ARTG system was delivered to Indonesia in the beginning of 2016. It is the world’s first commercially operational Automated RTG system.
Konecranes’ emphasis has also been on developing other technical features that improve the operating environment. The remote-operated RTG is a prime example, says Paukkula.
“There is no need for crane operator cabins as these RTG cranes are operated from Remote Operating Stations (ROS). This ‘decoupling’ of the RTG and the operator could drastically change the operator’s traditional on-sight role to an office-based role. In addition, it also makes crane operations more efficient,” Paukkula explains.
The latest chapter in the RTG’s story is the BOXHUNTER RTG crane. The BOXHUNTER is operated at ground level and integrates several innovative technologies that aim to improve the user’s experience and bring savings for the terminal. The new addition to Konecranes’ RTG portfolio targets previously unconquered market areas, mainly developing countries.
Text: Nina Lindqvist
Photos: GPA Savannah