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Crane Association Conference 2017

A wet and wild Rotorua was host to this year’s Crane Association conference.

ASSOCIATION CEO ROD AUTON kindly gave delegates a heads up via email about the impending storm, advising that raincoats and umbrellas be included in the packing. I can attest from experience that the umbrella served no purpose in the sideways downpour, except possibly to strengthen the arm muscles by trying to keep hold of it!

The foul weather on day one had no impact on the delegates’ spirits, however, and by day two, blue sky made the occasional appearance, making it possible to stroll around the outdoor exhibits where there were a variety of new cranes on display from various suppliers.

Indoors, the trade displays too were very good, and with lunches and breaks catered in this space, sponsors had many opportunities to chat with current and potential new customers.

Rod says the Crane Association continues to go from strength to strength, with consistent growth in its membership over the past three years. The conference was fully subscribed this year, and the awards dinner sold out.

Certainly, the vibe was a positive one – it seems there is plenty of work out there for crane operators in many parts of the country and plenty of fun to be had at the conference. –  By MARY SEARLE BELL.

Shaken, not stirred

Tim Smith.

TIM SMITH, owner of Smith Crane & Construction, spoke about change – using his company to illustrate the challenges and demands faced by many Christchurch construction companies during and after the Canterbury earthquakes.

Prior to the earthquakes, Smith Crane & Construction employed around 150 people across the country, and was investigating options to expand offshore. However, things radically changed in September 2010, when the first quake hit.

The first duty was simply responding to the emergency – providing crane support where needed. Tim says the whole industry came together and put in a great team effort during the rescue phases of both big shakes.

Then came the demolition work, and rebuilding.

For Smith Cranes, this comprised a variety of different lifts, and both big and small jobs – from house lifts and special lifts of heritage buildings, piling and foundation work, precast concrete, civil works and work at the port, amongst others. Tim says the volume of concrete used in the Christchurch rebuild is staggering – peaking at 220,000 cubic metres per quarter in the summers of 2014-15 and 2015-16, about double the city’s highest production levels pre-quake.

Tim says the construction industry faced a variety of challenges in the years following – not only was the work technically challenging, there were physical site challenges, technical challenges and logistical challenges such as simply getting around the damaged city. Then on top of that, there were ongoing shakes to deal with.

Another less obvious difficulty was management – Smith Crane & Construction’s staff ballooned to 250, and it was important to find the right people, with the necessary skills and experience. But Tim says health and safety was the number one challenge – with construction companies having to increase their resources and investment in this area significantly to ensure their staff and equipment, and the public, were kept safe at all times.

Smoking gun

Phil Critchley.

THE REGULATORY PANEL comprised Senior Sergeant Phil Critchley from the CVST (Police Commercial Vehicle Safety Team, formerly the CVIU), Stuart Wright from WorkSafe, and Barry Wright, national structure manager with NZ Transport Agency. This session gave delegates the opportunity to ask the regulators frank questions – some of which were unanswerable.

The hot topic was the potential decriminalisation of cannabis and what that could mean for employers. As Phil said, if we allow people to smoke cannabis, then allow them to operate 50 to 60 tonne pieces of equipment, we’re setting ourselves up for a problem.

“I’ve seen people under the influence of cannabis and it’s no different to them being under the influence of alcohol,” he told delegates.

The difficulty with cannabis is that it stays in the system for much longer than alcohol, and employers find that employees are failing drug tests days after they’ve smoked the drug. The problem is also exacerbated by the fact the penalties for employers under the Health and Safety at Work Act are much greater than the fines for the person who’s actually under the influence of the drug. As one delegate pointed out, “We’re on the same side as the police, yet we’re the ones being hit with the big fines.”

What to do about the problem was, of course, not solved in the session.

“Until the legislation comes out, it’s all just conjecture,” said Phil, urging the association to start talking about the problem and possible solutions among the membership.

Working with wind

Hamish Scott.

HAMISH SCOTT, project manager for wind at Meridian Energy, gave an interesting presentation on the crane work the company undertakes on an ongoing basis as part of its maintenance programme.

Meridian has 201 turbines over “five-and-a-bit” wind farms – 29 turbines in the South Island and 172 in the North.

On paper, these machines have a life of 20 years, but this number is based on a European model that has the turbines operating around 30 hours a week. However, here we get a much higher rate of use – about 47 hours a week. As such, the turbines need reconditioning at around 13 years, rather than 20. In addition, there are regular maintenance checks for performance optimisation and repairs.

Originally, Meridian had contracts with a number of different crane companies for this work. But following the Pike River disaster, its board decided it felt exposed and opted for a single-source provider instead. This wind farm maintenance crane lift services contract was awarded to McLeod Cranes.

Wind farm work is complex at best. The very nature of the practice means there are few windless days on which to undertake maintenance work. Consequently, each job requires a lot of detailed planning, as well as contingency plans for when the wind shifts or increases.

This will only get trickier in the future as the likelihood of higher turbines looms, something Hamish is not enthusiastic about. Currently, Meridian’s highest towers stand at 80 metres and have a 22-tonne turbine. Taller models reach 110-120 metres and hold turbines weighing 50 tonnes.

The maintenance work that McLeods undertakes for Meridian includes rotor lifts. These require two cranes – one to lift the rotor and another to tilt it onto the horizontal.

Maintenance work on the 21-tonne gearboxes takes one crane but quite a bit of time – two days to prep the turbine, a six-hour lift, and a further three days to recommission the turbine.

Then there’s turbine cleaning, a high-risk job as it involves two people up in a cage. It’s another time-consuming task as the workers aren’t able to use waterblasters and instead do the cleaning with rags and an environmentally safe cleaning product.

Man cages are also used when repairing damaged blades as this is safer and faster than rope access methods, and the cages have higher wind limits.

In addition to turbine maintenance, Meridian is also undertaking significant repair and upgrading work on its access roads and hard stands, which Hamish says have been neglected. The company now has a structured maintenance programme which is seeing roads reinstated and widened, and hard stands strengthened to where they can take the full weight of a crane’s counterweight, regardless of what the lift plan requires.

“The importance is getting the crane to the site safely.”

No permits required

Mike Morris of All Crane Sales and Service has a new offering from Tadano – a 30 tonne truck crane that is road legal with no permits required. That means the Tadano TN35100 can travel on the motorway and any other Class 1 road, fully loaded with all its gear – blocks, chains, pads, etc.

The first one in the country was proudly on display (in the miserable weather) outside the conference venue. This Tadano has been purchased by McLeod Cranes, which is based in Mt Maunganui. It is an ideal crane for the company whose territory stretches up to East Cape and over to Coromandel, both of which are a mission to get heavy vehicle permits for, says Mike.

“Now they can jump in and go.”

The crane has a 30.5 metre boom plus fly, and a lifting capacity of 31.7 tonnes. It is mounted on an NZ spec, 8×4 Freightliner with air suspension and a Road Ranger gearbox. Mike says it’s a pleasure to drive.

“As for the crane, it has the Tadano simplicity and functionality,” he says. “It’s an excellent entry-level crane for an operator coming on board.”

Mike says, that while there are other similar truck mounted cranes in the market, none of them are Class 1 legal.

“Although there were a few that came in in the 70s – 13 and 15 tonnes, about 10 of them, and I reckon eight of them are still working.”

Bill McIntosh addresses the audience after his company, McIntosh Cranes, was awarded Lift of the Year for its Open Country Tower lift.

This article first appeared in Contractor September 2017.

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