Features, New South Wales

Investing in new cranes and better systems

Ensuring the crane fleet is up to date and streamlining business processes are key strategies for the continued growth of Crane Industry Council for Australia (CICA) member Wheeler Cranes.

With The Wheeler Cranes yard in Tomago, close to Newcastle, a large percentage of the lifts conducted by the business are focused on the prevalent industry sectors in the Hunter Region, which include coal, steel, and construction.

Glenn Wilbow is the general manager at Wheeler Cranes. He has been in the crane industry since 1997, working for a couple of Sydney crane hire businesses before taking advantage of the mining boom in the Northern Territory. 

This didn’t last long as the work wasn’t challenging enough, so he looked to find work back in Sydney, where Shawn and Nathan from Borger Cranes and Rigging Services were happy to take him on board. Wilbow takes up the story.

“I am from Sydney originally, and it was great to work with Borger Cranes and Rigging Services. I was there five years before moving to Wheeler Cranes in 2011. This organisation interested me because the owner, Albie Wheeler, was looking to take a step back from the business sometime in the future. 

“The idea was for me to learn all about the business, understand the requirements of the clients from a supervisory level, and then grow into the general manager role that I have today,” said Wilbow.

Wheeler Cranes started in 1999 with one crane. When Wilbow joined the organisation there were 10 cranes and, currently, the business is running 22 cranes, with the fleet continuing to grow.

“I took on the role of general manager six years ago. Being based in Newcastle, our typical client base is in coal, the steel sector, and also Tier One and Tier Two builders operating in the region,” said Wilbow.

“We operate throughout the Hunter Region, but we don’t do much in the pits themselves. We recognise that, to work the pits properly, you have to be there permanently and we are simply not structured for that type of work. We have enough work in Newcastle and the surrounds to keep us busy,” he said.

“The capacity of the Wheeler Cranes fleet starts with a 3t Maeda mini crawler through to a 250t Liebherr. The fleet includes nine Frannas with capacities from 20t through to the 40t-capacity Franna AT40. The all terrains are a mix of Liebherr and Grove. 

“We are continually upgrading the fleet with new cranes and we took delivery of a new Franna Mac 25 in June and a second Franna AT40 in August. We like to run a fairly new fleet and some of the older models are currently being replaced. One of the older cranes is a 1999 model 30-tonner which was actually Danny Adair’s first new crane and remember it rolling into the yard when I was working at Petersen/Glenrelle Cranes. That crane is being replaced with a new Tadano,” said Wilbow.

Wheeler Cranes has its own mechanics working in the workshop – two full time and an apprentice. They maintain the fleet as per the OEM requirements or every three months, whichever comes first.

“Yes, we manage our servicing in house, and we also have repair capabilities as our mechanics are very technical. The OEMs know our team and compliment them on their abilities, so we see this as a real advantage for the business,” said Wilbow.

The capacity of the Wheeler Cranes fleet starts with a 3t Maeda mini crawler through to a 250t Liebherr.

“Being based in Tomago, we are some distance from Sydney, so we can’t expect an immediate service from the OEMs if an issue arises, so it is important we have technical capabilities in our workshop.”

Wheeler Cranes prepares lift studies for clients using AutoCAD and KranXpert. The KranXpert is for the smaller lifts where there is not much need for detailed lift studies.

Wilbow goes on to discuss the crane crews and the experience in the teams.

“Being a family business, we have a low turnover of staff. Many of our team have been here for multiple years and progressed from dogmen to operators and are now senior operators and supervisors. The longest serving employee has been with organisation for 13 years and, due to the growth we have experienced, a new batch of people joined recently,” he said.

“Our crane drivers are long-term employees, and we have plenty of experienced dogmen as well, with the newer dogmen learning from them. We work on having a positive culture throughout the business and this translates to a can-do attitude when the teams get to site and work with our clients.”

Wilbow and Wheeler Cranes are strong supporters of the programs delivered by The Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA) including CrewSafe and CraneSafe. 

“We have a number of new employees going through the CrewSafe program at the moment. Because we are so time-poor during the week, we have two or three of the new team members in the yard every Saturday going through the CrewSafe program with the supervisors. Like most crane yards, there’s always plenty happening on Saturdays, including the maintenance of the cranes,” said Wilbow. 

“A point I would like to address with the CrewSafe program is that it doesn’t actually address the crew. It fundamentally addresses the crane operator and the crane he is going to be operating. I haven’t had the opportunity to discuss this with Pat Cran, CICA’s CraneSafe’s plant & operator assessment officer, but I’m sure the opportunity will arise,” said Wilbow.

“CICA is slowly moving through the development of programs which are designed to assist crane businesses like ours and these developments now include StartSafe. It will be terrific if we can pull the data captured from StartSafe and adapt this into our system.

“In my opinion, if a crane hire business isn’t looking at automating the systems in the business they are going to quickly fall behind,” he said.

Wilbow and his team are working on a system that manages the mechanical requirements of the cranes, the time keeping, and scheduling. 

“Being able to run one system across the business is our goal. Currently we have an allocation system, which works out of Visual Despatch, which we think is a great program, but it does stand alone,” he said. 

“We are in the process of developing a system which will streamline all of our processes and it will include time keeping, scheduling, invoicing, and a maintenance schedule. 

“We are taking small but solid steps on this journey as we don’t want to lose any data. We are using Visual Despatch for despatching, and we are mirroring yesterday’s book into Allocate 365. 

“We are then able to examine any holes and, when we are comfortable it is all going to work, we will reverse the system and we will be using Allocate 365 for our allocation process and mirroring this back into Visual Despatch, again, so we don’t lose data,” he said.

“Automating our processes is going to help streamline the business, eliminate paperwork, and be more responsive to our customers. There’s no point investing in new cranes if the back end systems aren’t helping to ensure these assets are fully utilised,” said Wilbow

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