Australia, C&L, CICA, Cranes & Lifting, Features, Net Zero

CICA ‘Cranes in wind’ forum: Exploring the winds of change

A wind farm under construction by a crane.

CICA held its non-commercial ‘Cranes in Wind’ forum at Melbourne’s Hyatt Place Hotel, bringing wind farm developers, safety bodies and crane hire companies together to address key issues in developing wind infrastructure.

On February 14, it was a balmy, 20° day at Melbourne’s Essendon Fields.

Pulling up for the morning networking, a slight breeze rushed around the group of people gathering to discuss the future of stronger winds, and how it could be harnessed to help the world achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050. Around the room, crane hire company owners, general managers, heavy lift supervisors, lift engineers, safety professionals and wind farm developers came together to discuss the topic on everyone’s lips for the day: how can wind farm manufacturers make life easier for crane hire companies?

The day began with CICA CEO, Brandon Hitch, discussing the origins and intentions of the event, performing the function that an abstract does for a research paper. Nine months ago, the idea for the ‘Cranes in Wind’ forum was born from a conversation with Boom Logistics’ Nick Morris, where they both agreed it was imperative for the future of the industry to hold a non-commercial event and undertake abrasive, confronting discussions about the levels of safety and the levels of risk being borne by crane hire companies in constructing wind farms. The first speech did not disappoint: delivered by Liebherr Business Development Manager, Hans Jörg Nothacker, a harsh reality check was provided for the prospects of achieving Net Zero by 2050. 

As Nothacker pointed out, to achieve Net Zero by 2050, the world will need to install an extra two terawatts of wind power per year. That means larger wind turbines, with larger hub heights. Hub heights have already exploded in size from 20m to 165m, and that upwards trend isn’t going to stop. Designs from Danish renewables manufacturer, Vestas, show turbines reaching 199m tall and producing seven megawatts of power. The other key aspect explored was how terrains and environments differed across geographical regions of the world, and how those features affect not only the designs of the wind farms but how cranes engage in construction and maintenance. In North America, for example, the terrain is flat, easily negotiated, spacious and machinery can navigate it easily. South America poses hilly terrains with confined operating environments – a nightmare for heavy machinery to navigate. In Australia, the climate is diverse, covering all the above, encapsulating the key point contained within Nothacker’s speech: how can manufacturers be expected to design a worldwide windfarm crane that keeps pace with  the rapid developments, when they themselves are so variable across the globe? 

READ MORE: Liebherr reveals the LG 1800-1.0.

Following Nothacker’s speech was the delivery of more home truths. Nick Morris, Engineering Manager at Boom Logistics, and George Grasso, UAA’s Chief Claims Officer, took the floor to reflect on notable crane incidents on wind farms, how they came about, the repercussions that followed and how they could be avoided. The main premise of the two speeches revolved around one key fact: with bigger wind farms comes bigger cranes and heavier rigging, meaning that every move, by default, becomes much higher risk due to the significantly decreased margin for  error.

Morris addressed two incidents of note. He first discussed a uniform road failure underneath a 500-tonne capacity crane that led to the machine being bogged down and needing to be towed out. Then, he explored the rollover of a pick and carry crane due to ground failure during the crane’s articulation in an unspecified danger zone. Both issues highlighted the need for greater transparency and communication from wind farm teams to crane hire companies about road development, road maintenance and on-site specifications to ensure that there are no surprises discovered when a heavy machine enters the fray. This was compounded by geotechnical engineer, Alan Johnson, who explored the importance of properly analysing a soil’s subgrade, knowing exactly what ground pressure is being exerted on what kind of surface, and ensuring everyone is on the same page. 

The most confronting images were saved until Grasso’s speech: black and white images of two 800-tonne capacity cranes, cast on their sides. Grasso spoke over the photos, emphasising that it wasn’t about the colour of the crane involved, but the lessons we can learn – and the very real consequences of ignoring them. These incidents didn’t occur in a vacuum, and in discussing them the context of the industry they occurred in can’t be removed: the amount of risk being undertaken by crane hire companies in constructing and maintaining wind farms is inequitable, and the urgency driven by competitiveness and lower rates is driving crane hire companies to stretch the boundaries of what a crane can and can’t do.

Neither incident occurred during the lifting of wind turbine components; instead, they occurred when the crane was being ‘walked’ from turbine to turbine. Instead of being fully disassembled, the cranes would be slowly driven, partially rigged, from site-to-site, in order to save time on the lengthy process of assembling and rigging an 800-tonne capacity crane. In both cases, mitigating actions could have been taken, but were not, hence one of the key take-aways being the importance of ensuring every worker has received the adequate amount of training and is fully up to date on the necessary safety protocols required to fulfil the task ahead of them. At the very core of the issue, according to Grasso, however, were the risks identified in the contracting process; with companies that are traditionally sub-contractors, they are being asked to cut safety corners to meet strict deadlines, keep costs down, and maintain their competitive advantage.

READ MORE: UAA – Upskilling key to keeping insurance costs down.

This was a theme revisited in the ‘crane owners’ panel consisting of Freo Group’s Carlo Francis, Boom’s Nick Morris, Borger Cranes’ Nathan Borger and BMS Heavy Cranes’ Anders Ekdal, when the panel was asked what the commonalities were between wind farm customers. First up to answer the question was Francis, who said, quite simply: “everybody wants more for less”. The panel struggled to find a different answer, highlighting the difficulties crane hire companies are experiencing when being contracted to construct or maintain a wind farm. When quizzed on the highest risks of operating in windy environments, Borger and Ekdal’s answers further underscored the notions brought forth by both Grasso and Morris: relocation presented the biggest risk in the industry, well ahead of the actual lifts being undertaken. For the panel, lifts are always meticulously planned, and every detail is always followed to the nth degree; because of this, safety parameters and procedures are in place. Relocation, however, creates a space to cut corners and take risks, hence its position as the biggest threat to safety, as Ekdal said.

Across the event, the heavy discussions were broken up by presentations on some unique lifts across the country. First up was Johnson and Young Cranes, with Lift Engineer John Humphries getting up on stage and discussing the meticulous road planning and liaising as well as the extremely calculated lift planning that led to the crane hire company successfully deploying two of its 800-tonne Liebherrs, equipped with their booms, on public road networks to replace faulty components in the gearbox at 90 per cent capacity – the full story appearing in the October edition of Cranes and Lifting. The second presentation was conducted by Fleurieu Cranes’ Business Development Manager, Chris Leane, who discussed the complex rigging arrangements required to replace a burnt wind turbine’s rotor and blades. Going through the full intricacies of the job, the company showcased one of the many projects it has deployed its new, 700-tonne Liebherr on, the full-range being detailed in the February issue of Cranes and Lifting.

READ MORE: JYC deploys two 800-tonne Liebherr cranes for wind farm dual lifts.

Finally, BMS Heavy Cranes’ Lead Project Engineer, Liam Edwards, discussed three projects from across the globe, where the global heavy lifting superpower completed mammoth lifts utilising its range of Liebherr crawler cranes – inclusive of its LR11350 – to complete lifts of over 500 tonnes to heights of over 150m in some  instances. 

The elegance and magnitude of BMS’ lifts provided the perfect bookend to a day that began with Hans Jörg Nothacker’s speech highlighting that the biggest, newest cranes are already becoming obsolete due to the rapid rate of development. Despite their incredible civil engineering feats, these machines are at the top end of what cranes can actually do; and, with wind turbines set to get bigger in the push for Net Zero by 2050, the question loomed ominously over everyone as to how crane hire companies can safely, effectively and reasonably complete the work being asked of them by wind farm manufacturers. 

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