C&L, CICA, Cranes & Lifting, Features, Tasmania

Apple Isle crane business helps resolve road access issue

Cranes Combined is Tasmania’s largest crane hire business. It has also played a major role in determining a new road access system for cranes, likely to be rolled out across the country.

Cranes Combined is Tasmania’s largest crane hire business. It has also played a major role in determining a new road access system for cranes, likely to be rolled out across the country.

The business started in Launceston, in 1995 when John Morgan, his wife Geraldine and Chris Kolodziej and his wife Cathy, decided to go into business together.

“We started the business in 1995, Cathy and I had bought our first slew crane and John had a back-end crane/winch truck. In 1996, we bought our first crane together, a Linmac all-wheel drive pick and carry crane. Together, we came up with the name Cranes Combined and continued from there,” said Kolodziej.

The business gained momentum, more cranes were purchased and they expanded into Hobart. Initially, this started as a small operation there, with two employees.

“We grew quite rapidly and when John decided to retire in December 2010, we purchased his half of the business and started a program of further modernisation, putting in systems and processes to help streamline the business and to enhance safe work and OH&S practices,” said Kolodziej.

“Part of this process was to upgrade machinery and we bought a number of new cranes. In recent years, we’ve placed a strong emphasis on updating our fleet,” he said.

Four years ago, Statewide Cranes, a Hobart company Cranes Combined had worked in with, approached the Kolodziejs about selling their crane operation to them.

“We took the plunge, which expanded our business and fleet considerably,” Kolodziej said. “With the purchase of Statewide Cranes, we took on a larger depot in Derwent Park, Hobart and the whole Statewide crew merged with ours, expanding our Hobart operation from 3 to 12 employees, and from 5 to 14 cranes. Today, we have 33 plus employees and the Hobart team totals 21,” he said.

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Cranes Combined operates more than 30 cranes in a mixed fleet with capacities from 2.8t to 220t. Their fleet is made up of brands including Maeda, Tadano, Kobelco, Kato, Demag, Link Belt, Liebherr, Grove, Franna and Linmac. The largest crane in the fleet is currently a Tadano ATF220t.

According to Kolodziej, the purchase of cranes depends on market demands, and now road access plays a large part in crane selection.

“We have a mixed fleet in terms of brands. Last year we bought a 5 axle Grove GMK5150L and earlier this year we took delivery of a Grove GMK4100L. We picked this model because of the length (60m) of the main boom, and it has a good line pull on the winch, which certainly helped with our decision,” he said.

“A lot of our business is general hire, but we also have some major contracts with organisations like TasNetworks the state’s electricity provider, Telstra, Boral and quite a few other major entities. When major projects occur in Hobart and Launceston and there’s a requirement for cranes to assist, we’ll be there as well, so we are right across everything. Although there are crane hire businesses that have larger cranes in terms of capacity, we have inadvertently become the largest crane hire company in Tasmania,” he said.

When it comes to Tasmanian roads and crane access, Kolodziej has a story of pain and passion to tell.

“Back around 2014, the various state governments were keen to see a uniform set of rules across the whole of Australia, targeting the interstate transport and haulage sectors, the appetite for change was certainly there,” he said.

“The purpose was to simplify the rules for pilot vehicles and escorts etc. where different rules for each state applied. That was the whole driving force behind the initiative. Then one of the Tasmanian bridge engineers said, ‘What about cranes?’”

With this, a long process of negotiation began with the Department of State Growth (DSG) and the Crane Industry Reference Group (which included many of the state’s crane operators), and it resulted in the crane owners being told where they could and could not travel.

“This immediately had a detrimental effect on our business. Overnight, we had three non-compliant cranes, which we had to sell at fire sale prices, and replaced them with premium priced machines. It cost us a lot of money,” said Kolodziej.

The cranes were now too heavy and didn’t comply with the new bridge requirements and Kolodziej, with the rest of the crane industry faced a massive battle, with large parts of the state inaccessible.

“From having almost no restraints on where we could travel, we suddenly had the worst road network in the country and we had to apply for permits, which would take up to and over 28 days to be approved,” said Kolodziej.

“Even our Frannas needed permits to access streets that garbage trucks and cement trucks had easy access to.

“There were 29 councils in Tasmania, and the people managing the infrastructure had this issue thrust upon them. Some were inexperienced in the field and had little or no time to process permits, so these were virtually placed into the ‘too hard basket’,” he said.

“They were now responsible for the bridges in their jurisdiction and suddenly they were concerned. The result for us was that we had little or no access to council roads and we faced excruciating wait times for the issue of permits. We had used these bridges for years, one day we could cross them and the next we couldn’t.”

Kolodziej met with the Minister for Infrastructure, with the DSG, Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA) and meetings included all the council representatives and road managers from the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT).

Kolodziej made powerpoint presentations to them illustrating what the road and bridge access was like for other cities around Australia. He demonstrated that the distance travelled by cranes, compared to heavy haulage vehicles is 0.01 of 1 per cent of kilometres travelled, which is almost negligible in comparison.

“I showed them how little damage cranes cause to the road network. We used films and demonstrations of various tests conducted in yards and how travelling around a gravel yard on full lock in an all-terrain crane barely turned a stone,” he said.

“CICA even produced a film of us installing a spa over a house with a 4 axle 100t crane with full counterweights in a narrow street, showing before and after shots of the street and road surface, which remained unchanged.

“I had many meetings with Simon Buxton and his team at the DSG outlining the problems we have faced, and collaboratively there has been significant progress. I regularly travel to Brisbane with CICA to meet with NHVR key personnel to try to improve road access Australia wide, and they are keen to see the finished product that Tasmania’s DSG comes up with,” he said.

“To their credit, the DSG and LGAT came to realise that the ‘crane problem’ wasn’t as bad as they had thought, and they also understood that without cranes, industry stops. They decided to try to make this work for all parties and so far, appear to have come up with some really good results.

“We are still a month or two away before the new system is fully online,” Kolodziej explained.

“DSG has worked with the councils bringing them all on board and designed a portal which includes a template for every crane on Tasmania’s roads. When you enter the portal and populate the template with your crane details, you immediately see a map of Tasmania’s road network and it highlights the roads that a particular crane is permitted to access,” he said.

Cathy and Chris taking delivery of 150t Grove crane.

With the entire road network on the screen, the scheduler can determine the best route. If there are red dots, which signify bridges unsuitable to be travelled on, the system will show ways around it. If there are none, the crane owner applies for a permit to cross the bridge.

DSG has also assured the crane sector that when bridges are upgraded, strengthened or replaced, they will be added to the state network.

Another positive result from these meetings has been the implementation of increased size and capacity of pilot vehicles, which can now legally carry a far greater amount of timber and lifting gear, with the drivers of these larger vehicles now requiring a medium or heavy rigid licence.

“The process has probably taken seven or eight years and there has been some very positive dialogue between us and the DSG. Once the system is fully on line, I’m sure it will be worth the effort. However, as always, the proof will be in the pudding,” Kolodziej said.

John Humphries CICA Vic/Tasmania Liaison Officer also played a significant role.

“CICA has been very supportive throughout this process, especially John Humphries, Brandon Hitch, and Alice Edwards, and to have their 100 per cent backing has been a real bonus,” he said.

Cranes Combined has always tried to maintain a reputation of being a good corporate citizen and, where possible, it has given back to the community.

“Where we can, we like to do our bit for the community. We have unloaded a helicopter at Scottsdale and an Armoured Personnel Carrier at South Arm for the RSL, and a Maritime Rescue Vessel, among other jobs, for no charge, depending on the circumstances and funding,” said Kolodziej.

“My ex-business partner used to race in speedway when he was younger and sometime ago, he mentioned that the local speedway was looking for a new sponsor and suggested we should take it on,” he said.

“I thought it was a good way to say thank you and engage with the community, so we agreed to get involved. 2018 celebrated the 50th anniversary of Cranes Combined Carrick Speedway and it was the 25th year that we have been the sponsor. Apparently, we are the longest running sponsor of any speedway in Australia,” he said.

“A lot of good people race and a lot of good people watch, so we see it as an excellent way to give a little back to the community.”

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