With tunnelling set to begin on Victoria’s largest road project in mid-2024, the JV responsible for the design and construction of the North East Link tunnels is in the process of procuring the necessary machinery. The Spark consortium’s Cranes and Lifting General Superintendent, John Foster, discusses why the joint venture purchased three Franna MAC25s and upgraded a fourth for the project equipped with the Franna safety radar.
Being stuck in peak hour traffic on Melbourne’s Hoddle St is a chastening experience.
As one of the only main roads connecting Melbourne’s northeast to the southeast, traffic is consistently at a peak, with cars bumper to bumper and people tearing their hair out as they consider the allure of a better alternative.
As luck would have it, a better alternative is on the horizon. Driven by the Spark North East Link Tunnels Design & Construction JV (Spark) between Webuild, CPB Contractors, GS Engineering & Construction and China Construction, Victoria’s $11.1 billion North East Link project is currently underway and is set to be completed in 2028, with Spark’s General Superintendent for Cranes and Lifting, John Foster, anticipating tunnelling work will begin in mid-2024.
“Our main scope of work for the project,” he said, “includes building twin 6.5km, three-lane tunnels, a split interchange at Lower Plenty Road and Manningham Road, and new ancillary infrastructure to support the upgraded freeway and tunnel network.”
Having been with CPB Contractors for over 15 years now as the Heavy Lift Superintendent, John possesses a wealth of experience, racking up 40 years in the crane industry in total. His career to date has seen him work on infrastructure projects around the world, with his work taking him to Taiwan and Hong Kong, among other places.
Relying on this experience, John is responsible for the procurement, distribution and allocation of cranes on the North East Link project, a major infrastructure project linking the M80 ‘Ring Road’ in Melbourne’s north to an upgraded Eastern Freeway, that will take a large volume of traffic and heavy trucks off local roads in suburbs from Watsonia to Bulleen. As the largest transport project in the state, North East Link is expected to create 10,000 new jobs that will help cut travel times between Melbourne’s north and south east by up to 35 minutes. Anyone who has travelled up and down Hoddle St will know that, by itself, is worth the $11.1 billion being invested into the project. The project is also estimated to remove 15,000 trucks off local roads each day to provide more space for communities .
In short, a large part of Spark’s work is going to consist of tunnelling work in hazardous environments, façade work and the installation of concrete barriers. With 40 years of industry experience behind him, John has seen, worked on, and succeeded in these kinds of projects before and is well aware of the machinery needed to complete this kind of work. It’s because of this that Spark has purchased three new Franna MAC25 pick and carry cranes, with a fourth being upgraded to ensure it is compatible with the safety requirements needed for the tunnelling work in the North East Link.
The first crane is set to be sent straight to its designated job in assembling two tunnel boring machines (TBMs), with cranes two and three responsible for conducting general lifts such as crane assembly and concrete barrier installation, as well as back-end tunnelling. The cranes will be put to use immediately because, as John said: “the Franna brand is what the operators are used to.”
“Franna’s cranes are a household name in the industry, and they’re present everywhere you go – whether that be construction sites or mining sites,” he said. “I’ve worked with Franna for many years now, and the cranes are supremely reliable and practical.”
John’s indication toward Franna being the preferred brand among operators is not unfounded. According to data supplied by Terex, 50 per cent of the 10,000 cranes operating per day on average in Australia are Franna P&C cranes. In the local Australian market, the brand conceived by Dave Francis and wife Anna in 1978 dominates, owning over 90 per cent of market share.
Evidently, the Franna crane represents a reliable, high-performance option for much of the Australian crane market. As well as its dependability, John highlighted the other major selling point when it came to Spark’s latest purchase of three new MAC25 cranes: Franna’s attention to detail on the safety features.
“Reducing the interaction between people and plant is absolutely imperative for our safety standards on the project,” he said. “Spark’s health and safety vision is to leave the industry better than we found it, so it’s great that Franna listened to our feedback and committed itself to producing three machines tailor-made to our safety requirements which will have a lasting impact across the industry.”
One of those key features is a new safety radar on the MAC25, which can offer a ‘real-time’ calculation of the crane’s rated capacity throughout the full range of articulation and boom extension, providing the crane operator with feedback of what articulation or boom extension will bring the crane into a danger zone in which the crane will be overloaded. Taking as much of the “human element” out of the lift as possible is central to Spark’s safety objectives, said John, and the enhanced safety radar, which also shows the capacity of crane in the future as well as potential side tipping, gives the team at Spark exactly that.
The enhanced safety system isn’t the only safety feature that caught the Spark consortium team’s interest though. The new cranes will also be coming custom-fitted with a fire suppression system as well as a 360-degree camera system to provide operators with the safety of a real-time, surround view to eliminate potential blind spots as well as offering better lifting visibility, with a camera positioned on the boom over the load.
- Exploring the 2023 Franna updates.
- Two cranes released as part of Franna’s global expansion plans.
- GCS’ first ever Franna refurbished.
However, safety and reliability are only two thirds of the reason for John’s choice to opt for three new Franna MAC25s. As he noted, the MAC25 is the “only” crane with additional capacity that could work in the confined conditions the North East Link project will present. With a lifting capacity of 25 tonnes that can be increased by up to 30 per cent in a Superlift configuration, the MAC25 series presented the most viable option for John when factoring in the most integral function of a crane: safe, heavy-lifting performance.
“Out of all the cranes we considered, the MAC25s were the only ones that provided us with the required lifting capacity for the articulation the jobs will require,” he said. “When considered with the safety features, the machines presented themselves as the only viable option.”
Lifting performance, safety and reliability are three integral elements to ensuring efficient construction and installation of objects. Franna, however, has gone one step further to ensure Spark’s new MAC25s will be optimised as much as possible, with real-time performance monitoring available through Robway’s telematics system. According to John, performance data from the crane is made available to the managers on the North East Link project, meaning if a machine is sitting idle while still on, if a machine is lifting outside of its safe capacity, or if a crane is not being optimally used and could be placed elsewhere, they will know.
“The Robway telematics feature allows us to enhance the productivity of our fleet,” said John. “In turn, this allows us to reduce operational-associated costs – whether that be through closer safety monitoring or being able to reallocate resources to sites where they’re most needed.”
Working on Victoria’s largest infrastructure project requires timely, efficient, and high-quality delivery – if not to compensate for Victoria’s growing population and subsequent demand for infrastructure, then at least to save the last remaining hairs on the heads of Hoddle St survivors. For John and the team, it’s why the four Franna Mac 25s were selected for the job.
“Ultimately, we want to be completing this project in as safe and timely a manner as possible,” he said, “and the Franna cranes we’ve purchased align perfectly with our health and safety vision to leave the industry better than we found it.”