A CRANE manufacturer is gearing up to stay ahead of competitors by investing it its North-East plant following increased international demand.

Liebherr is to create a 600m sq extension to its Sunderland plant which will enable it to build its maritime cranes in advance of orders being received, giving it competitive advantage by significantly reducing waiting time for delivery to customers.

The company, which recently won a major order to build North Sea offshore cranes for energy and utilities multi-national GDF Suez, will push on with plans for its extension in the very near future, after securing planning approval from Sunderland City Council.

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The firm, which employs 200 people in Sunderland – including 29 apprentices – is seeing a significant growth in demand for its cranes for offshore projects, and supplies both offshore and ship cranes around the world.

International orders now account for more than 90 per cent of the company’s business, making it one of the region’s major exporters.

Liebherr’s Sunderland plant has grown steadily since opening in the 1980s, being initially based in the former Wear Dock shipyard, and then expanding into the adjacent Deptford shipyard in the late 1990s.

The plant is part of the Swiss-based Liebherr Group, which employs over 35,000 people in 120 countries.

Ralph Saelzer, managing director at the Liebherr Sunderland plant, said the new extension will allow it to store crucial equipment so it can stay ahead of demand.

“Through being able to manufacture cranes off the shelf, we can cut down on waiting times for potential clients and offer a very short delivery time.

“It gives us an advantage to be able to say we have cranes there ready, instead of saying they will have to wait a long time – sometimes it can be many months,” he said.

“We have been hit by the global downturn along with everyone else, but thankfully our workload has always remained at a level where we can sustain our operation.

“We hope that building these cranes ahead of orders being received will allow us to place ourselves in a very strong position going forward.”

Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, said: “Liebherr is a company of huge importance, both as a local employer and an international supplier and exporter, and we are very pleased to have been able to support them in this latest expansion.

“Our business development team has worked closely with Liebherr for a number of years and it is great to see the company continue to develop and grow its presence around the world.

“For a city with the long maritime and crane-making heritage of Sunderland, we are immensely proud to have a company such as Leibherr here.”