Industry News, News, Queensland

Franna’s Universal Appeal

Leading Brisbane crane hire business, Universal Cranes adds another Franna AT40.

Universal Cranes recently took delivery of the latest addition to its Brisbane fleet, a Franna AT 40. New Brisbane branch manager, Ben Smith, describes the machine as a very versatile and reliable addition to the fleet.

“We received our first AT 40 in the Brisbane fleet mid 2020. Our customers are very quickly seeing the value the crane adds to the projects they engage us for. The crane has been busy on various projects from the day it was delivered,” he said.

With the extra lifting capacity, the Franna AT 40 is capable of managing lifts normally in the domain of smaller slew cranes.

“We are finding projects we would have typically managed with a 50t to 80t slew crane can now be performed with the AT 40 due to its ability to “walk with the load”. The customers are finding several benefits in terms of hire rates, time savings and greater efficiencies on the worksite with the introduction of the Franna AT 40,” says Smith.

The group has purchased three AT 40’s since they were released to market in 2019. The first unit went to the group’s operation in Guam, in the Micronesian Islands to support the crane fleet in work mainly for the US’s Department of Defence. The higher pick and carry capacity offered by the AT 40, has proved ideal for the work.

A second AT 40 was delivered to the Brisbane branch in April 2021 and the Universal Cranes team is happy to welcome it to the fleet.

“Having multiple AT40s gives us greater flexibility to support the work that’s just a bit too much for the Franna MAC 25s with the SuperLift counterweights. We have six MAC 25’s in the Brisbane fleet and we want to offer our customers more flexibility. If a job is a bit too much for a MAC 25, we now have the capacity to jump in the AT 40 and send this out to get the job done. Or we can plan the lift around the AT 40 depending on the requirements for the job,” said Smith.

The AT 40 is advantageous as the ‘ready to lift’ duration is much less than with a slew crane. A slew crane requires pads to be put down, outriggers to be set up and the crane to be prepared before it is ready to lift. The Franna AT 40 offers considerable advantages to customers in terms of saving cost and reduced set up times from arrival to site to hook in the air. Smith explained that these were the main benefits realised by Universal Cranes clients.

In terms of operation, the Universal Cranes team have been impressed with the performance of the AT40 and how it handles says Smith.

“There are some differences in the controls of the AT40 compared to the MAC 25, it’s obviously a larger crane and this takes a bit of getting used to, like any new crane. But the operators have gained competency around the new controls in a short period of time. The second axle at the rear of the AT40 takes a bit of getting used to, but there’s been great feedback from the operators regarding the crane,” he said.

The AT40 provides customers with valuable flexibility in a highly competitive market. As a family business, Universal Cranes prides itself on its family business style service but with a wide breadth of machines in the fleet to deliver to a ‘Big Company Options’ to customers across a large geographic spread.

Ben Smith recently joined Universal Cranes as the Brisbane branch manager, but he has been involved with the family business, off and on, for many years.

“Universal Cranes is a family business and I been involved over the years in various forms. I was last involved in the business 10 years ago, as a lift engineer working on lift studies, whilst I was still at university,” he said.

For the last five years, Ben has taken an active role on the advisory board for the Smithbridge Group, the parent company for Universal Cranes.

“The business is going through a journey of generational succession planning that my father Albert Smith, has put a lot of energy and effort into engaging the next generation to be involved in taking the company into the future. Part of the Smith succession plan includes my brother Joe who is the main allocator and dispatcher for the Brisbane operation. Joe’s involvement was another positive for me moving into the business,” said Smith.

Although Joe and Ben have followed different career paths to get there (Joe is a carpenter by trade), the brothers are now working alongside each other in the Brisbane office of Universal Cranes. Joe joined Universal in 2015 and has moved into the allocating dispatch role in the last 18 months.

“The business includes Frannas, mini cranes and slew cranes which range from a 13t city crane to a 450t capacity all terrain. To support the mobile and casual hire crane business we run a crew of between 55 and 60 personnel and we are currently in recruitment mode,” Smith explains.

“In our pick and carry crane fleet we have 14 cranes and the majority of these are the TEREX Franna brand. They are preferred by our operators who are used to and very comfortable in the Frannas. Our customers are also very familiar with these popular and trusted cranes,” he said.

Smith described how critical it was for Universal Cranes to understand their customers businesses, what their needs are today and what their needs are likely to be in the future to help determine what cranes the company invests in.  “It’s important for us to stay close to the markets we operate in to ensure the direction we take and cranes we add to the fleet aligns with the markets and meets their needs,” said Smith.

He then goes on to discuss the mix of the Universal Cranes fleet, the focus on both pick and carry cranes as well as all terrains.

“We are constantly examining the work we are tendering for and compare this to the capabilities of our fleet. We are always looking for cranes which will add value and versatility to our fleet and for this reason we purchased a Liebherr LTM 1230-5.1, a 250t capacity all terrain which arrived in early March. This a terrifically adaptable crane featuring a massive main boom and impressive charts as well as a number of features we find are well suited for the metro Brisbane area,” said Smith.

Universal Cranes also offers lift engineering capabilities, which sets the organisation apart from others. With the family business’ roots in engineering and civil contracting it’s naturally part of the team’s culture to focus on engineered lifts and knowing how to get the job done.

“We continue to invest time, money and energy to ensure our safety and operational systems are running effectively and efficiently. The systems and procedures are designed to support our teams in the field who are involved in the high risk work we conduct. These safety processes continue to be a key focus for the business,” explains Smith.

“The roots of the business are in civil contracting, so we understand the industry and the businesses that operate in that sector. My grandfather was a civil contractor in New Zealand and a big part of our business culture is we know what it takes to get the job done,” he said.

Despite having roots in civil contracting, Universal Cranes work across a number of market sectors around Brisbane and South East Queensland. “We support clients in the civil construction industry, rail sectors, industrial customers including refinery work, tower crane assembly and dismantling, energy and utility sectors, among others,” said Smith.

Universal Cranes has branches in Roma, Gladstone and sister company branches located in Ballina, Sunshine Coast, the Gold Coast and North Queensland. There is also the National Projects and Heavy Lift Division which typically features the crawler and rough terrain cranes available for projects all across Australia.



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