Meet the team and inspiration behind National Crane’s new boom trucks

National Crane boom trucks have been at the forefront of innovation for over 50 years. Its two new iterations — the NBT60XL and the NBT40-2 Series — prove why. Looking Up talks to three members of the team behind the brand’s enduring success.

If you’ve ever suggested an improvement to National Crane boom truck design there’s a good chance your feedback made it into the brand’s latest models, both of which are the product of Manitowoc’s detailed Voice of the Customer (VOC) program.

Looking UP asked Bob Ritter, product manager; Ryan Moose, engineering manager; and JC Hoffman, senior engineer, how Manitowoc’s VOC program influenced the final design of the cranes.

Bob Ritter, Ryan Moose and JC Hoffman.

Looking Up: Do the new NBT60XL and NBT40-2 Series boom trucks represent a change of direction for National Crane? How do they fit into the product portfolio?

Moose: Both of these models are very important to the product line; these size classes represent our bread and butter. The NBT60XL is an enhancement of the wildly successful NBT50L, and clearly signifies a market shift towards larger machines – that’s why we’re adding more and more truck crane features into the product line. Customers want the ability to use boom trucks just like truck cranes — a lot of taxi crane work and reconfiguring as fast as possible for multiple jobs in the same day — so I think both of these cranes are a major step in furthering that truck crane feel. They are both very important for the utility sector, where we’re seeing the need to go higher and higher.

LU: What are some of the features that were incorporated into the NBT60XL as a direct result of customer input?

Moose: Although the NBT50L is hugely successful, we knew customers always want more capacity, and that input directly led to the development of the NBT60XL. Some customers wanted the ability to set up the outriggers when first getting to the jobsite, while the truck was still running — although not the most difficult modification, they really appreciate the ability to set up more quickly. But the major change was the different counterweight options, or roading configurations — specifically. They want the ability to rig and lift the counterweights simultaneously.

There are also specific counterweight design features for as much flexibility as possible, to allow for quickly repurposing the machines for the next task. We avoided using a base plate, and because you can have multiple configurations of up to 16,000 lbs, you don’t have to shuffle everything around if you want to add, say, 5,000 lbs to the 6,000 lbs you started with.

LU: How unique are the counterweight benefits offered by the NBT60XL?

Moose: Some of our competitors’ machines offer similar flexibility but the number of counterweights they provide complicates matters. We’ve done a great job of providing flexibility without having six or eight counterweight slabs to manage.

Ritter: I would challenge our competitors ability to offer the kind of roading packages that we have due to the way their counterweights split versus the way ours do. Our Truck Mod Center application engineers capitalized on our superb parts commonality to provide the right combination of counterweights, not just for lifting capacity but also the best weight distribution for more uniform roading.

LU: And what were some customer suggestions for the NBT40-2 Series?

Ritter: If you compare the NBT40-1 Series to the NBT40-2 Series, the latter has more operator features. That’s what product development is: taking a product that is solid and well accepted in the market and making it more effective and efficient to use.

Hoffman: The NBT40-2 was more of a clean-slate project. We had the advantage of focusing on VOC right from the start and were able to continually incorporate it through finalization of the project. There was a lot of focus on set up and teardown, with many of those functions now wireless. For example, controls for the hoist and front outrigger at the front bumper have allowed much of what used to be a two-person job to now be done by just one. There’s also a swingaway auxiliary boom nose that allows the operator to quickly change configurations without physically removing attachments.

We also had a lot of feedback on the tilting cab and redesigned the control seat by making it more comfortable to sit in for long periods, which increases productivity. Then we added a lot of convenient features that you’d see on a truck crane, such as cameras on the rear hoist.

LU: How did both models in the NBT40-2 Series achieve double-digit percentage capacity improvements over their predecessors, with no increase in GVW?

Hoffman: The NBT40-1 was extremely popular due to its versatility — its ability to mount on many different trucks, roading configurations, etc. — and a lot of that came down to its weight distribution. So, getting that right with the NBT40-2 was extremely critical. We started out by outlining the capacity and specs we wanted, which meant a lot of the primary components — the bearings and cylinders, as well as the general structure — would need to be heavier.

Since weight increase was not an option, we had to work backwards to shave weight from the standard places and also get creative. We completely redesigned the carrier and structure, the boom weight was reduced, and we lightened the counterweight by moving it from the center line of the swing, which makes it more effective. If you’re going to make a crane that has 10% more lifting capacity without an increase in GVW, you really have to dig deep to end up with a final product that is the same weight and size as its predecessor!

LU: You've mentioned the Truck Mod Center. What is that and what role does it play in new product development?

Ritter: The Truck Mod Center is a service and competitive advantage we provide at National Crane. The Truck Mod Center is a collection of application engineers and extremely talented assemblers and welders customizing the truck chassis for the right application for each model. This concept is what sets boom trucks apart and specifically National Crane for the attention paid to the truck chassis and crane together as a whole package.

We’ve already mentioned roadability and that starts with the application engineers in the Truck Mod Center. When we set the requirements for the new cranes — “they can’t be any bigger or heavier than they currently are, and, oh, by the way, they need to pick up 10% more” — that is a tall task, but they were able to meet those ambitious targets. They’re involved right from the start to create the optimum package for each application.

Once production begins, an application engineer works directly with our factory operations team to make sure the concept becomes a reality. Are the cranes and the mounting sufficiently solid? The better the integration into the chassis, the better the lifting experience, because you’re using the strength of the truck to reduce flexing within the crane, to give the more solid, integrated feel of a truck crane. Or how can we ensure the most robust electrical interfacing, and improve on how it is integrated with the truck? What’s the best way of doing it so these things last well beyond the life of the machine?

We’re a very small, close-knit group of engineers, and I think that ultimately lends itself to successful products, because everybody works so well together.

Hoffman: That’s true and from an engineering perspective it’s equally important to have skilled engineers who are willing to be flexible and make changes on the fly. As we go through the development process, things are constantly changing, and you need colleagues who work well in an environment where you may need to design another two or three iterations until you get it right. We have a team that is willing to do that.

LU: Is that how National Crane manages to stay ahead in the market year after year?

Moose: Our engineers are highly skilled and passionate about heavy equipment, and that results in the ability to develop first-class engineering solutions. But mainly it’s all about staying close to our customers – just listening to what they need enables us to stay ahead of the game and lead with innovation. We don’t really say ‘no’ to anything right off the bat; we thoroughly investigate each request. We definitely have the latitude and the focus to take time to investigate customer suggestions and see if there’s something worth developing — and that’s precisely how we came up with these two products.