Sunday, October 16, 2016
The Weakest Link
When things go wrong, it is often because they have failed at their weakest point. In the crane industry that can lead to death and destruction on a colossal scale so it must be avoided at all costs.
History has charted the evolution of lifting equipment, from early examples of combining brute force with makeshift ropes and a basic understanding of gravity and leverage, to the hulking cranes of the modern day, of mind-boggling capacity, and CAD lift plans. The principles have remained much the same, however.
Consider how few cranes—then and now—actually make direct contact with the load. Take standard lifts, complex lifts and heavy lifts, for example. A standard lift might involve hanging slings off the hook of a crane to attach the load; a complex lift may incorporate a spreader beam and two cranes combining in tandem lift; and a heavy lift will revolve around a huge crane and high capacity rigging gear.
Big at Bauma
The speed at which crane engineering and manufacturing is developing right now is one of the things that make working in this industry so challenging and exciting. As regular readers of this blog will know, I visited the Bavarian capital for the Bauma trade show this spring, where I was in awe of the scale of some of the new cranes and construction equipment being launched to market, even though my bread and butter is below-the-hook.
When I stand in Ainscough Crane Hire’s Leyland yard in Preston, where the rental firm keeps its heavy crane fleet, I’m similarly impressed at the size of the equipment. Multiple axles and seemingly mile-long telescopic booms offer their customers incredible lifting scope and power. (I’m a regular visitor to the facility; we’ve just announced a game-changing partnership with the hire company, which I’ll come to later).
More impressive still is to be on a jobsite when these cranes are at work. To watch a load larger than most people’s house, worth thousands of pounds (sometimes more), being raised by a mobile crane with such elegance and grace is an amazing spectacle. When more than one crane is used in a tandem lifting situation with a complex below-the-hook configuration, it’s more remarkable still.
Therein lies the crux of this blog. We all gasp as Liebherr, Manitowoc or other crane manufacturers confirm the staggering capacity of the latest crane off their production lines. We all love kicking the tyres of big kit or having our photo taken in front of a piece of machinery that dwarfs us under its wheels or crawler tracks. But every bit of equipment is really a combination of many different worlds of innovation and component engineering. And every lifting application represents an amalgam of different companies, equipment, skills and expertise—with rigging at their heart.
I don’t want to get sentimental and preach about real beauty existing only on the inside, but climb aboard a crane at a trade show (not without asking first!) and take a look around. Get in the cab and sit on the operator’s chair. That seat will be the result of hundreds of hours of meetings, design, prototyping, testing and manufacturing. The joystick, controls, windows and armrests will be the work of ergonomic science. Step outside again and look at the boom, hook, wheels, tyres, counterweights, outriggers, etc. Each is an engineering marvel in its own right. Ok, when the moment comes to unveil a new crane, people understandably gaze in appreciation of the machine in its entirety, but many too readily disregard the pieces of the jigsaw.
Let’s isolate my world—below-the-hook—to further emphasise my point. We’re called upon on a daily basis to provide rigging expertise for all kinds of lifts. We have capacity to lift 250t with our spreader beams, for example, and have played an integral role on the London-based Lee Tunnel project and at the Tata Steel facility in Port Talbot. We don’t want recognition as the most important contractor on any site, but consider the importance of making a safe connection between loads and cranes, whether infrastructure, steel or an entirely different sector has a lifting requirement.
Respect for the niche sectors of this vertical marketplace is even more important given the trends outlined above. The higher the capacity of cranes and the bigger the lifts, the more that needs to be reflected in rigging shops like ours. As we’ve established, cranes don’t have hands. Loads need to be connected to hooks—and that’s where we come in.
Industry also demands availability and speed of delivery to site, hence our growing number of depots across the UK (we have five now with a sixth set to open next year). Installation of a new 1,000t Sahm Splice hydraulic press that increased our sling making capability was another reaction to these trends in the crane rental marketplace. All the while, safety remains of paramount importance, so we constantly adhere to the requirements of Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER).
We might not make cranes, but we’re proud of the role we play in their use. Everyone working in a niche sector should be equally so.
As I alluded to earlier, Ainscough Crane Hire has named my company, Rope and Sling Specialists, a preferred supplier of lifting and rigging equipment. This is a non-commercial blog so my intent isn’t to promote that news here (don’t worry, we will elsewhere!) but Ainscough serves as a great example of a crane company pioneering the progression of the industry and applying the world’s most advanced cranes in lifting applications, whilst recognising the importance of every component of a machine and element of a lifting scenario.
As trade media reported, we recently supplied below-the-hook equipment to Ainscough as two of its 300t mobile cranes conducted a tandem lift during an emergency operation to remove a fallen section of a bridge on a Kent motorway. Think of the extent of the disruption caused by a major highway being closed and the importance of connecting the crane to the bridge to get it lifted. Ainscough recognised that and we are honoured to formalise our commitment to combine our equipment and expertise many more times over the coming months and years.
It’s also crucial to respect smaller lifting technologies and lighter loads. Some items are only just too large or heavy for manual handling and, while the crane rental market consumes larger capacity equipment, there is also a requirement for off-the-shelf lifting gear to lift, say, 1t. Even a relatively light load can cause catastrophic damage to people and property if it is dropped; so rigging gear remains of paramount importance.
We work with industry and authorities like the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) to drive continued improvement of best practice in our industry. Fundamental to the success of those endeavours is respecting the niches within the sector and celebrating components and rigging equipment as equals to engineering and manufacturing that is putting bigger and bigger cranes on our jobsites.
Remember, a lift is only ever as strong as its weakest link.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd