By Tony Illia for ENR
At this point, Manitowoc confirms that it will bring its MLC165, a new crawler that can lift up to 180 tons, and two other yet-unnamed crawlers.
By Tony Illia for ENR
A close-up of the crane's counterweights. Manitowoc is planning to expand the VPC system on a smaller crane than the 31000.

The frigid-cold week in much of the U.S. has turned out to be a hot one for people in the heavy equipment business, especially those gearing up for next month's CONEXPO-CON/AGG show in Las Vegas.

Our spy photographer, ENR correspondent Tony Illia, snapped some interesting photos on Wednesday, Feb. 5, in which we can see exhibitors setting up in the Gold Lot while the rest of the Las Vegas Convention Center was busy hosting the International Builders' Show.

Sources tell us the big red crane to the left is likely a Manitowoc MLC165, which the company showed at Bauma last year in Munich and makes it North American debut at CONEXPO. Also on tap, though not clearly seen here, could be a refresh of the Manitowoc 2250, a 300-ton crawler that is getting long in the tooth and facing stiff competition from Liebherr's LR1300, whose load chart tops out at a more favorable 330 tons, sources say. An updated 18000 may also be in the works.

At this point, Manitowoc has only confirmed that it will bring to Las Vegas the MLC165, which can lift up to 180 tons, effectively replacing the Manitowoc 555 and 777, and it "will be joined by two completely new crawler cranes—details for which will be revealed at the show."

Engineers working for the red-meatball brand may have upgrades planned to its new crawler line, including counterweights that float over the ground and articulate in real time with the movement of the boom, sources say. In other words, the counterweight slides away from the crane when the boom goes down and slides back in when the boom goes up. This maximizes the crane's load chart while minimizing its tail swing.

Manitowoc has already tested what it calls a Variable Position Counterweight (VPC) on the massive model 31000, and other crane makers are experimenting with similar innovations. Sources tell us that Manitowoc is planning to expand the VPC to other models at CONEXPO, including a possible refresh of the model 18000, a 660-ton crawler that rental firm All Erection describes on its website as "the ultimate balance between brute strength and ease of mobility." The new 2250, sources say, could also use the VPC to step up its capacity to rise above 330 tons and one-up the Swabians.

Speaking of Liebherr, we can see that its booth is coming along with booms poking up into the sky, as well as another large crane setting up nearby in what appears to be Terex livery. We're not sure exactly what surprises the companies have planned for the show, but you can bet that their crane exhibits will give Manitowoc a run for its money. Our friends at Cranes Today report that Liebherr intends to bring some 20 machines to the show, including its 1,200-ton LR11000 and 250-ton LR1250 crawlers, as well as several all-terrain and tower cranes. Executives at Liebherr's construction division told us last fall that they plan to boost Liebherr's U.S. market share by 300%, so we expect to see a lineup of earthmovers, pile-drivers and other machines on display, too.

Crane Operators May Get a Break

In other news, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration just announced that it is reopening the rulemaking process for its crane and derrick regulation to push back the operator certification requirement by three years, or until Nov. 10, 2017. The contentious decision, which is sure to be a topic at next month's show, may sting employers who have been racing to get operators trained and tested until this November's original deadline, experts say.

We'll have more news as it develops and in our special CONEXPO preview coming in the Feb. 24/March 3 double issue of ENR.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Feb. 9.