Small working spaces, lifting over existing structures and operating in hazardous environments all with huge and heavy loads on the hook are just a few of the challenges facing those in the heavy lifting industry. Laura Hatton finds out more...
Jobs carried out in the heavy lifting sector present a range of different issues. One of the main challenges is limited ground bearing capacity on site. Patti Moran, Bigge Crane and Rigging Company director of marketing, explains, “With weights constantly increasing, this becomes more and more difficult. In addition, site requirements are becoming more and more stringent. This in turn means more time and effort to ensure all the requirements are satisfied.”
Safety is one of these requirements that are present at all locations for heavy lifting. Peter Stöttinger, general manager of transport and lifting technology at Austrian crane and transport service provider Felbermayr Holding, adds, “Safety has become the main issue in planning lifting jobs over the last decade. Before, planning was mainly driven by technical aspects. This has changed and safety aspects are nowadays outstripping the technical aspects as technology has developed and clients are expecting a perfect technical performance. Safety has become a key factor not only in execution, but also in awarding projects around the world.”
Seiji Tani, Uchimiya Transportation and Engineering general manager in Japan, adds, “The main issue associated with planning a load sequence is to cope with the regulation. There are severe regulations for special vehicles to drive on public roads from the point of view of protecting the road conditions. In order to get a special vehicle traffic permit, we have to prepare many documents and apply to the authorities at a very early stage.”
Other regulations that have a direct impact on the way heavy lifts are carried out include labour regulations, emission laws, tax regulations and so on. Stöttinger adds, “We are besieged with limiting laws and regulations that bind huge administrational capacities and limit our global competiveness drastically.”
The majority of work in heavy lifting comes from the oil and gas sector. For Bigge projects have been centred on the energy industry in the US. This area of work, however, has shifted in recent years, with fewer projects coming from the petrochemical industry and alternative energy, Moran adds. Infrastructure projects, on the other hand, have stayed fairly constant.
For international heavy lift and transport service provider Sarens, the oil and gas sector remains busy, with both new build and extension of existing plants. “Civil work is also an on-going segment, taking a constant substantial part of our yearly business,” a Sarens spokesperson adds. “We see a slow but consistent growth in the offshore business, not only modules and topsides, but also in the offshore wind business.”
The wind power industry has also remained a busy sector for Felbermayr, Peter Stöttinger adds. “Investments have been diverted over the last couple of years from one European country to the next, always depending where the economic environment was best at the time,” Stöttinger points out. “As we are widely represented all over Europe we were always able to react by following the investments with our equipment. For the future we have to be careful where the trends are going and stay flexible in our reactions to the market requirements.”
In Japan, the busiest industry sector for Uchimiya Transportation and Engineering has been the power plant sector. “After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Japanese power companies have strengthened the ability of thermal power plants, instead of nuclear power plants,” Tani says. “In the future, we expect the increase of demand for construction, thanks to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Beginning with the re-construction of the main stadium, some stadiums and buildings will be newly built and the infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and railways will be repaired. Heavy lifts will be required in these fields.”
There is a trend in the heavy lifting industry to lift larger, heavier components in tighter, more constrained environments. This is driving more refined designs of equipment and methods and is facilitated by more advanced computing capabilities. Patti Moran says, “Basically, the equipment and methods can be conceptualised, designed, refined and verified prior to ever starting the fabrication or assembly onsite. As a result, the final products are much more efficient in design, form and function.”
Tani adds, “In Japan, the design, development and use of heavy lift equipment are highly affected by the space on construction sites. Most construction sites and roads are narrow, especially in urban area. Therefore, the improvements of functions for small type of cranes have been strongly required in Japan. The regulation regarding the weight of cranes is also an important factor. In order to protect the road, the weight is strictly controlled, and weight-saving has been proceeded to meet the regulation.
“One of our concerns at present is a shortage of operators. Because of the long term recession in the construction sector and the trend of the young people trying to avoid hard work, workers and operators in this sector, particularly young people, are decreasing. Considering the increasing demand in the near future, the employment of young workers will be important more and more in Japan,” Tani points out.
The trend seems to be that modules are getting bigger and are being shipped by sea and then transported using self propelled modular transporter (SPMT), a spokesperson from Sarens explains, “For this last part, capacity of SPMT per axle line is still increasing: 15 years ago we had 20 tonnes per axle line, 10 years ago was over 32 tonnes per axle line and now we have 48 tonnes per axle line. In the near future we expect 60 tonnes per axle line.
To meet demands from the heavy lift sector, Bigge offers the Bigge LTS (Lift Tower System). This has a capacity of up to 4,000 US tons (3,628 tonnes) and can a reach height of more than 120 metres. “We recently performed a lift of a 950 tons [816 tonnes], 180 feet [54 m] long hydrocracker vessel earlier this year in an active refinery. The system consisted of two towers at a height of over 210 feet [64 m] plus and had a configured capacity of 1,600 tons [1,451 tonnes].”
Bigge also recently added a Manitowoc MLC 650 lattice boom crawler crane to its fleet. “This is a revolutionary machine that utilises an articulating counterweight that travels in and out with respect to the centre pin of the crane,” Moran says. “The advantage of this is that the maximum ground bearing pressure is reduced while minimising the overall space required for 650 tonne class machine. There is also the VPC Max attachment which increases the machine capacity to 700 tonnes.”
To meet challenges faced in the heavy lifting industry, Felbermayr’s fleet includes a Liebherr LR 11000 crawler crane, as well as a 1,200 tonne capacity strand jack lifting system with modular towers. “In the last 12 months we have used the crawler crane mainly in erection and repair of wind turbines up to 7 MW output,” Peter Stöttinger adds. “The strand jack tower lift system has been used for lifting a 382 tonne chemical reactor under very limited space conditions in a refinery.”
For heavy lifting, the strongest heavy lift crane in Sarens’ fleet is a ring-based model. The Sarens Giant Crane SGC120 has a capacity of 3,200 tonnes or 120,000 tonne-metres. “This crane is actually used in India to build an extension plant in one of the biggest refineries in the world where items up to 1,500 tonnes are lifted,” a spokesperson from Sarens says. “Similar to this job, we used the same crane earlier this year in Rabigh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for an extension on a big refinery project. We also have the CS5000 jacking device. The jacking device was used in Holland early this year and more recently in Malaysia to lift a topside module of 12,500 tonnes.”
Sarens has also added a Boom Booster lift enhancement system developed by Terex for its 650 tonne capacity class Superlift 3800 lattice boom crawler crane. The system boosts the capacity of the SL 3800 on longer boom lengths up 30 %, putting it into the 750 tonne class. Kits for the Superlift 3800 are available with new cranes or for retrofit to existing units. The new boom sections are 3.5 m wide for easy transport. This is helped by the fact that two boom sections can be transported inside the Boom Booster kit to save one truck load (see IC October 2015 page 7).
High capacity units in the Uchimiya Transportation and Engineering fleet include a Terex CC 6800 crawler crane. The main projects completed in the last 12 months include the installation of a boiler at a thermal power plant in Setouchi. The crawler was also used to install a large bridge girder that weighed 154 tonnes and was 65 m long, at the motorway junction in Yokohama. The CC 6800 was also used at a project in Kadosawabashi, where it helped install a bridge girder. Uchimiya also has a Tadano ATF 400G wheeled mobile telescopic crane. The advantage of these cranes is the simplicity of transportation. “We can transport ATF 400G with max lifting capacity of 400 tonnes without detaching the upper structure from the carrier.”
Equipment and site infrastructure is only the beginning of challenges facing the heavy lifting industry. As Tani point out, one of the concerns at the present is the shortage of operators. “Because of the long term recession in the construction sector and the trend of the young people to avoid hard work, workers and operators in this sector, particularly young people, are decreasing,” Tani says.
Considering the increasing demand of heavy lifting in the near future, the employment of young workers will be one of the greatest challenges facing the lifting and transport industry.