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Franna celebrates major milestone

In November, Franna rightly celebrated a milestone event as the 5000th unit was driven off the production line. The 5000th Franna will be an AT40 model S/N 400081 and it is going to RAR Group, in Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

Danny Black, Franna’s General Manager has been with the organisation for over 30 years and has been part of the team contributing to the success of the Franna brand. Black speaks about the development of the Franna pick and carry range during his tenure.

Black joined Franna in 1989 as a Graduate Engineer, it was his first job out of university where he studied mechanical engineering.

“The business was called Franna Cranes Pty Ltd and it was privately owned by Lou Parolin and Brian Hain. When I joined it was a fairly small production, we had built just over 200 cranes and were producing around 80 machines a year.

The first Franna crane was built in 1978 by Dave Francis. He was a genuine innovator. He owned a steel fabrication workshop, and he was using “Wobbly’ tractor cranes of the day to assist in the erecting process. This was at times quite difficult and even dangerous – the operator sat in the rear articulation of the crane which did not pivot with the boom making visibility very much impaired.  The rear articulation also had a tendency to flop to one side when approaching the stability limits (hence they were called “Wobblies”).  It was during one of these operations that Dave decided “There must be a better way.” So, in 1978 he began building a crane with similar lifting capacity as the tractor cranes but with the driver centrally located at the front of the crane for better visibility. He also decided that the crane should have a higher road speed and sprung suspension to be more suitable on the roads.

Hence the evolution of crane serial number 1001. The machine was of 8 tonne capacity with a rear mounted Ford 4 cylinder engine and torque converter, driven synchromesh manual transmission driving only the front axle and capable of about 60km/h.  As credit to the quality design and manufacture, this machine is still in use for QEC at Calide some 43 years later.  Furthermore, as credit to Franna’s product support – in 2009 we built and sold them a new main butt section – how many other companies could do this for their proto-type machine after 31 years!

In January 1986 the Franna Crane was beginning to take on a more familiar shape, equipped with a HINO EH700 engine and manual gearbox giving the top speed a boost to 85 km/h. Up until now production was limited to only a couple of machines per year, but as the crane gained market acceptance it picked up to about 1 crane per month – production was booming! These machines were fabricated, assembled and painted in D&N Francis’ facility at Jindalee, with a workshop floor staff of about 5.

Market demand began to call for a crane of higher lifting capacities.  The original 8 tonne design began to grow – the wheelbase was increased from 3.4 metres to 3.8 metres and the rear axle weight from 5.6 tonne to 7.2 tonne for the 4WD-10 model,  which was first introduced on S/N 1013 in July 1986. It wasn’t long after this that Mr Lou Parolin, the then owner of General Welding and Construction and General Crane Hire purchased his first 4WD-10 Franna Crane. To quote Lou’s words from a local newspaper article “In 1986 I bought an All-Terrain Franna Crane and liked it so much that Brian Hain and I bought the company – We could see the potential straight away”.  Hence the beginning of Franna Cranes Pty Ltd in November 1986.

Not long after the takeover in January 1987, the production facility was moved to Lavarack Ave, Eagle Farm.  Further design developments saw the introduction of an optional Allison automatic transmission and the launch of the 4WD-12 tonne in September 1987. Demand saw production increase some 200%, producing 42 cranes in the first year of the new ownership and almost doubling the amount Francis had built between 1978 to 1986.

When Black started, the business was manufacturing a 10t and a 12t crane and we were just in the process of designing a 16t capacity machine. Black can remember starting his career with working on the parts manuals in the early days.

“I was involved in putting these together and documenting them. At the time we had a consultant engineer who managed the detail and calculations on the design. I reported to a production engineer and there were three design draftsmen in the team.

“From a design perspective, all the drawings were done by hand on drafting paper using large drawing boards. We used to design the cranes in half scale, so 1 to 2. This meant we had boards which were about half the length of a crane. We went from that manual system to the CAD system (computer aided design) and the first crane we designed with the CAD system was the small MC6 machine which Cranes and Lifting featured earlier in the year,” he said.

The business secured a government grant to design the MC6 and with part of the grant the business was able to buy a CAD system as well as finite element stress analysis (FEA) software which very innovative for the time.

“We also adopted 3-Dimensional design with solid modelling right from the start. A number of businesses were using computer aided design but not in 3-D, they were only in 2-D,” said Black.

“The MC6 was our first crane to be designed from the ground up with CAD and FEA, later we modelled all the other Franna models in this design system. Obviously, the accuracy of CAD design was infinitely better than on a half scale drawing board. With the half scale drawing board, the paper would shrink and expand with temperature and humidity which could lead to significant variations on the physical crane.

“By the mid 90’s all the design was on CAD and we were viewed as one of the innovators in our industry for adopting and using this type of technology. By using solid modelling, the computer model has material properties so you can get the weight, the centre of gravity and moments of inertia properties. On top of this, we were able import the model data to conduct the finite stress analysis which enabled us to accurately calculate the stress and deflections in the components. Before implementing this technology, we were largely dependent on hand calculations,” he said.

The CAD system provided the team with the ability to prepare engineering designs more accurately and to a very high quality. It also enabled them to prepare designs more rapidly and to be able to better visualise the designs before the machine was physically built. A lot more of the design work was done before a single piece of steel was cut for the product.

“This enabled us to greater expand and develop the capabilities of the machine. The 4WD-12 model became a 14t with upgrades and the 4WD-16 became an 18t machine with upgrades. Later, the 14t became a 15t machine and the 18t became a 20t which then evolved into the 22t which we have today.

“The ability to understand the capability and the limiting components of the machine with these engineering design tools enabled us to increase the crane’s capacity throughout the load chart. Obviously, we were making significant changes to some components that were required for these additional capacities, but we were largely basing the designs on the existing platform of design,” said Black.

The MAC 14 was probably the first new articulated pick and carry platform that was fully designed on CAD. This was designed in the mid 90’s, it was a site crane, a low-speed machine and designed for the large amounts of project work that was happening at the time. It was a lower cost machine compared to the existing range of Frannas.

“It was actually our highest volume machine in 1997 on the back of the extensive project work at that time. It wasn’t a taxi crane it was a site crane. At this time, we had a joint venture with an Indian company, Escorts Construction Equipment Ltd and they were able to build that machine under licence. It didn’t take off at the time, it was like comparing a BMW to a Mini Moke, but it was the start of what is now known as the ‘The Next Generation’ Franna crane coming out of India. We designed the machine which was very similar to our MAC 14 for their local market.

“Step forward some 25 years, Terex is actually manufacturing a low-speed country specific Franna in India based on our UC-15 with further improvements in safety and performance to compete with the local competition,” said Black.

In 1997, Franna launched the MAC 25 which again was a fully CAD designed machine and the largest capacity machine at the time. We started out building less than one machine a month and today it is Franna’s most popular machine. Franna produced number 1500 of this machine in October so there are a couple of milestone events this year.

Black goes on to discuss the reasons behind the success of the Franna brand and why it has been so successful over a long period of time.

“There are numerous reasons for the continued success of the Franna brand. The concept of the crane provides a great platform, it was a purpose designed pick and carry crane rather than a crane being engineered onto a tractor.

“It started out as a purpose-built machine for a specific market. Our customers are the ones who made Franna a success by finding new and wonderful ways to use our cranes to perform operations more efficiently. We have continued to improve the product based on the feedback and ideas of our customers who are using the machines, living and breathing it every day,” said Black.

“Staying close to our customers, listening to their ideas, feedback and challenges – then being able to adapt these into new solutions is the major reason behind the development and success of Franna.

“We also recognise that it isn’t just the product that makes the machine successful, it is also being able to support the product in the field. From the beginning, we worked hard to establish good sales and support network around Australia. This has obviously grown over the years, and this support network is still a major focus for us today,” he said.

The product itself is a reason for its success. It is recognised as being “bullet proof”, its robust, its reliable and you simply can’t kill them. The 1978 Franna crane built by Dave Francis is still working today. Its operating in North Queensland and through the Franna network, it is still being serviced. Durability and residual value are other key reasons behind its success says Black.

“There aren’t too many products in our industry where they can be in constant operation for 10 years plus and still retain such a high residual value,” he said.

For many crane hire companies, Frannas are a one of, if not the most utilised asset in their fleet. This comes down to the versatility of the crane which stems from the design platform and makes it so versatile. The Australian market has really adapted the way it works on a construction site around the versatility of the Franna.

RAR Group purchased its first 15t Franna in the late 90s and has been running the pick and carry range ever since. We now operate fleet of five including two AT40s, two Mac 25s and a Mac 20.

RAR Group Director, Andrew Bodman explains why the company has been utilising the brand for two decades.

“The Franna is such a versatile crane, and with our business focused on general construction, the Frannas in our fleet are busy with taxi crane all day. They are an extremely well utilised assets in our business.

“The AT40s have really come into their own as support cranes for maintenance projects on wind farms. As an owner, I think the AT40 has really changed the way we go about lifting on site.

“We are delighted to be taking delivery of the 5000th Franna. We have had a great relationship with Franna over the years and they make a great machine. We are proud to be adding this special unit to our fleet and we congratulate Franna on achieving this major milestone with their business,” said Bodman.

Purposeful innovation has always been at the forefront of Franna’s development. The AT40 was a major step up in terms of capacity and it has been well received by the market. Black looks to future developments for Franna.

“We certainly see the digital ‘smarts’ in a crane as becoming a more integral element and we are utilising this to improve the operator experience, to improve the versatility of the crane and to enhance the safety of crane.

“When we designed the control system for the AT40, the crane’s computer was programmed by our Demag colleagues in Germany as they had the inhouse knowledge to do that.

“I remember the first time the German software engineers came out to Australia and looked at our product, they thought it would be relatively simple. By the end of the project, the engineers said the development of the overall control system was as, if not more advanced than some of their all-terrain machines,” he said.

“The AT40 control system enables the operator to switch from travel to crane mode with the rear axle automatically lifting and the hydraulic suspension also has additional smarts to ensure the crane remains level whilst travelling around corners.

“With the sale of Demag, Franna kept ownership of the IC1 control system, but we didn’t have software engineers in Franna Australia. We have since invested in a number of software engineers which were trained and supported by Germany through the transition period. We now completely manage the software development in house and the market can expect to see the results of this development in our machines in the near future,” said Black.

“We have been working with telematics and these developments will provide owners with the ability to better understand how the machine is being utilised. Telematics will help them further manage the life of the machine and to better plan maintenance programs.

“The next step in this evolution will be around how we use this information to examine other technologies. Like most mobile industrial equipment, at the moment Frannas are powered by diesel fuel, but as we are able to better understand the power requirements of the crane over a day in specific environments/applications, and as we see new advances with technologies which are more environmentally friendly and emission free … who knows where this might lead us in the future” said Black.

“5000 is indeed a great milestone, and for me the journey along the way is what has made it so special … the products and challenges, the people we work with, our great Team Franna members in all areas of the business, our supply chain partners and of course our loyal customers.

“So, no matter when you joined our Franna journey, on behalf of Team Franna, I would like to say a sincere thank you. And remember “We are just getting started,” he said.




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