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Crane fleet logistics, a 24/7 game of chess

With a crew of 100, each needing 10-15 major inductions, and up to 14 trailers required for a fully dressed 450t or 500t crane, planning is critical. Welcome to another day of logistics management at Melrose Cranes. Cranes and Lifting finds out more.

With a crew of 100, each needing 10-15 major inductions, and up to 14 trailers required for a fully dressed 450t or 500t crane, planning is critical. Welcome to another day of logistics management at Melrose Cranes. Cranes and Lifting finds out more.

Business development manager, Mick Melrose and logistics manager, Shaun Russell, have worked for Melrose Cranes for the same 11 years and their roles are indelibly linked. While Melrose organises lifting solutions for clients, Russell has to ensure the right cranes, crews and associated equipment is available, all day every day.

After an extensive career building luxury housing in Australia and overseas, Melrose moved into construction management on multi residential sites where he had various roles including site foreman and site manager.

“My brothers kept asking me to move into the family business and I kept saying no, mainly because the timing wasn’t right. Eventually, they asked again saying ‘this was the last time they’d ask’, and I figured OK, I’ll give it a go,” he said.

“I started as a project manager which quickly moved into senior project management. The role has always included work around tender contracts, chasing work and then managing the contracts. MCR’s major clients include CPB and Lend Lease so projects like Barangaroo and the North West Rail Link have essentially been under my management.

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“It’s only recently that my role has changed to focus more on business development which means I spend less time on site. The business has essentially grown through the work of other project managers working under me.

“Projects start with relevant contacts being chased down to ensure we get the opportunity to tender. We speak to them and get involved as part of the tender process, put the tender together and submit it. It’s then a case of attending the relevant meetings and managing the negotiations through to contract approval,” he said.

“With Barangaroo for example, I was the lead project manager on site. I became the main point of contact day to day for all the craneage requirements and lift study planning. My job was to become part of the client’s team without being part of it. I ran Barangaroo on my own for the first couple of years and as the project grew, a couple of team members joined me onsite. It took four years to complete Stage One and now we’re on Stage Two, we’re in a different situation. I put in the work to ensure we were awarded the contract, and now the project is the responsibility of two of my managers and I help them when required,” said Melrose.

The Melrose business has grown and flourished during Melrose’s tenure.

“The first nine years of my life at Melrose Cranes was all about building our position and relationships with the Tier One builders in the infrastructure sector and construction markets. It’s important to have relationships with Tier One builders and to have repeat business.

“I have to be in a position where I’m talking to our clients about the capabilities of Melrose Cranes, the capabilities of our fleet and our people, and the tailored solutions we are able to provide. Obviously, we are doing everything we can to ensure our fleet meets the clients requirements or to find ways to make it fit their requirements. Part of the reason we’ve been successful in doing that is, as I’ve said before, you have to become part of their team without being part of it. It helps if a client looks at you as a trusted extension to what they are doing every day and that’s where my background and building knowledge has helped,” said Melrose.

“I have been able to help client’s engineers with craneage solutions, but from the building perspective rather than just a crane perspective, and this gave them trust in me, mainly because I understand the challenges they face. In many instances, my role is to advise the client on the various lift solutions available for their particular application, because every site and every application is different, they can’t be expected to know what the best solution and crane combination looks like. That’s my job. My role is to help them find the right solution, the most cost effective and productive solution for the task they have and that can be a three-hour job, a one-day job or a job that runs for six weeks,” he said.

Melrose confirms how fundamental the logistics role is to the business.

“During my time here, a very important part of my role is to constantly working with Shaun (Russell) and his logistics team. On a day to day basis, we discuss crane bookings, make changes to bookings, logistics, trucks, truck movements and the planning. I will relay the planning that I need from him, be it through verbal communication or lift planning, and he runs the day to day logistics of the fleet and all associated equipment and labour, etc. The client is often capable of changing their mind numerous times a day, which can make it tough. You spend a lot of time communicating externally and internally when you are in the project management role. There are so many variables associated with construction and infrastructure programs, which I certainly understand,” he said.

Shaun Russell first joined Melrose Cranes just over 10 years ago. His initial years were under the watchful eye of an industry legend.

“I was mentored by Steve Smith who is a legend in this company, the allocators world and the crane world in general. His way of mentoring was fairly tough. His approach was to ‘listen, don’t speak, watch and learn the way I do everything’. He was real old school and you had to learn quickly; it was sink or swim. I ended up working under Steve for close to five years until his unexpected and very sudden death,” said Russell.

“Although there is a team of people involved, on a day to day basis I am responsible for the general running of Melrose Cranes. This involves the allocation of cranes, the crew’s work in the yard, inductions for the crew, organising crane training, the day to day organisation of everything from a logistical perspective.

“Typically, I get to the yard at five in the morning and make sure everyone is on time and the cranes are running. My day is then spent planning the next few days to a week out. I chase client requirements, I liaise with Luke Holland our fleet manager, to ensure the fleet is up to date and the cranes are in good working order. I’m also responsible for the crew’s fatigue requirements and holiday allocations. Each major site has its own requirements. The most critical element of my role is around plant inspection/approval, crew inductions and VOC requirements. Prior to sending the crane, I need to ensure the paperwork is up to date for the crane, the crew and any support vehicles, trucks and trailers. It’s all part of the allocation process and knowing that A goes with B and C with D,” he said.

According to Russell, managing the logistics of a large crane fleet, crew and associated equipment is like a game
of chess.

“Sometimes, it can be a constant juggling act. If an issue of any kind arises, I have to assess my available moves to resolve the problem. If a client’s job is postponed, what do I do to cover it? I ask myself, ‘OK that crane is spare, so we’ll move it over there, but is it the same model crane?’ The move may affect other clients so I have to consult with the project managers because a revised lift study change may be required,” he said.

“It could be something as simple as a crew member calling in sick. I have to ensure his/her replacement not only has the ability to operate the crane, but also ticks every box and is approved to do so per the site requirements, inductions and VOC’s etc.

“These are the biggest planning issues we face. Although I understand why, from when I started to now, the increase in compliance and the resulting administrative paperwork is unprecedented. When I started there was no ‘prior’ induction required compared to today where we have a crew of 100, each needing 10-15 major inductions, some of which involve medicals and one to two days of induction attendance prior to arriving on site. If we have one operator sick, I might have to make 10 moves to cover the guy who called in sick at four in the morning, to ensure everyone has the right inductions for the various jobs,” said Russell.

“It’s generally easier when the job involves one of the cranes in our ‘grunt range’ (as managing director, Gregg Melrose calls it), we can cover it with another, but when it comes to the big cranes there’s a lot of planning involved to ensure we have the right men on the job and the right trucks and trailers are available and locked away. You could have up to 14 trailers required for a fully dressed 450t or 500t crane so that takes a lot of planning because it impacts on your day to day manpower and the availability of equipment etc.,” he said.

For all this to work efficiently, Russell needs a good team around him, and the implementation of technology helps.

“I couldn’t do this without an outstanding team around me. For the past two years I’ve had an excellent logistics coordinator, Wilson Cheah in my team and he’s great and we  recently added Kevin Meng as our afternoon shift co-ordinator.

“We also implemented Visual Dispatch as our crane management software several years ago, prior to this it was all paper based. Visual Dispatch helps by displaying the relevant information relating to inductions, for example. But I don’t necessarily have Visual Dispatch open to me at one in the morning when I get the call from one of the crew calling in sick, that’s when the ‘game of chess’ starts,” said Russell.

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