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November 15, 2000

Debunking Dubai

Tudor Van Hampton/ENR

There's no question about it, Dubai is thirsty for tower cranes. How thirsty? The answer is about as elusive as a desert mirage.

Scan the horizon of this small emirate, and you count dozens of cranes sticking up in the air. They peek out from behind buildings, emerge from the smog and swing into view. Simply put, they're everywhere.

The number is undoubtedly huge and has become the subject of much debate. Many who build in Dubai like to say that it is home to 25% of the world's cranes.

Standing outside my hotel this week, I tried to make a rough count and got to 30 before I gave up. In the end, pinning down the actual number of these high-climbing machines is about as foolish as counting the stars.

Here's why: According to local newspapers, construction firms and even ENR's recent cover story on Dubai, the desert city is home to 15 to 25% of the world's total, estimated at 100,000 or more. That sounds impressive and especially fitting for Dubai, which is fast becoming the Miami of the Middle East.

But is so many possible? Some crane experts don't think so.

One of the world's largest makers of tower cranes—Liebherr—which operates a distribution center in the Jebel Ali free trade zone, offered up some logic that busts the myth.

"It seems too much," says Wolfgang Reim, who is in charge of sales for Germany-based Liebherr Group's tower crane business. He says no one really knows for sure how many tower cranes are operating around the world, much less in Dubai.

But he has some ideas. Liebherr's research puts the number of tower cranes in Dubai at somewhere between 1,800 and 2,000—only 1-2% of the world's population. In contrast, the number of new tower cranes sold across the world annually is about 4,300, excluding cranes built in China and Italy, which drive the number closer to 10,000.

To say that Dubai has 25% of the world's tower cranes is to conclude that it is home to 25,000 or more units, which Reim says is impossible considering it buys only a few dozen new units each year. "This is all good marketing," he says, adding that Dubai probably has the most cranes per capita of any other region.

This year, Dubai's consumption of new machines is estimated at roughly 80 units. That number is growing at a rate of about 30% annually, but is still is far behind many European and Asian countries, where manufacturers sell hundreds of tower cranes every year.

Used machines account for a larger share of the cranes in Dubai but aren't as plentiful as it may seem. Most tower cranes here are at least 10 years old and many have been in operation even longer, up to 30 or so years.

Dubai, the metropolis of the future, is all about superlatives. Henning Rapp, general manager of Liebherr International, calls Dubai "the most dynamic construction market all over the world."

In terms of crane demand, Liebherr thinks crane population density is where Dubai leads the world. The emirate is "one single construction site," says Rapp.

December 2, 2006

Some of the photos I have seen of the overlapping crane jibs are mind blowing. It makes one only wonder how many crane accidents happen in this construction metropolis. The first question that comes to mind for me is do they have standard verbal crane signals, and if not why not? How many workers die on the job in crane related accidents? How do they overcome the many culturally different workers and languages? What kind of communication devices are used between the signaler and the operator? Wired or wireless, 2 way radios or hands free, anti-collision devices or manual. Managing cranes on jobs like these pictured could prove to be very stressful.

Jeff York
Signal-Rite, LLC

Kicking Tires

Tudor Van Hampton
Tudor Hampton is Associate Editor for Equipment and Materials for ENR. He is based in Chicago.

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