An impressive collaboration between Skevington Contracting, Meister Solutions, Palfinger NZ, Crane and Carry Engineering, and Hyspecs NZ has created an innovative and versatile excavator crane – currently at work on its first job in South Otago, reconditioning a dam that forms part of the Waipori Falls Power scheme.
The resulting machine is not the only excavator crane in New Zealand, but it is certainly the largest. And with projects already lined up for the next 12 months, it could also be the most in demand. The Palfinger PK53002SH has been designed to replace the counterweight on the excavator subframe, creating a cleverly spec’d specialist unit.
With a 1,580kg lifting capacity at a 21m reach, the excavator crane has several impressive extra features: a P-fold that enables the boom to fully unfold and refold from transport position to working position with one paddle movement on the remote-control handset; High performance stability control (HPSC) that automatically downrates lifting capacity when the crane is unable to fully extended its stabiliser legs; and a two-person workman basket.
Blair Skevington of Skevington Contracting kicked off the project after completing multiple projects in steep and muddy conditions.
“Building roads just to get to the work area adds cost and weeks to project timelines,” explained Skevington.
“This unit can do the job of four machines – it can excavate the track, complete foundation work, lift materials into position, and provide a long and high reach to finish off.”
Skevington Contracting is known for its innovative approach to finding solutions for clients. The company built New Zealand’s largest hydro excavator, used in the Christchurch rebuild in 2011, to speed up repair and replacement of earthquake-damaged vital services.
At the beginning of March 2021, Skevington and Ross McFaul of Meister Solutions discussed the feasibility of putting a large knuckle boom crane onto the back of an excavator.
With this idea in hand, Meister Solutions produced some initial concept drawings and then consulted on the digger crane project – bringing in Reece Dillon, regional sales manager for Palfinger NZ.
Dillon worked with McFaul to figure out size and configuration of the crane – and research, price, and source a suitable unit.
McFaul was so impressed by the project that his operating company, Meister Engineering, contracted the machine for its first job while it was still on the drawing board.
The Waipori Power scheme project, which focused on overhauling the dam intake structure, had a start date of November 3. When shipping delayed the crane’s arrival, the full project team – including Crane & Carry Transport and Hyspecs NZ – pulled out all the stops to get the unit up and running in record time.
“Palfinger devanned the crane, got it on to the test bench in the Auckland workshop and, within three days, it had been modified and tested against the design spec,” said McFaul.
“The Palfinger Auckland team did an awesome job getting the crane ready while working within Covid-19 Level 3 restrictions.
“The unit was then transported to Crane and Carry in Christchurch. The Crane and Carry boys had just finished some tidy-up grinding when it arrived – it was on the sub frame within minutes of arriving.”
James Mackay of Hyspecs applied his expertise to hook up the crane to the digger hydraulics system. Getting the two European sensing systems to work together threw up some challenges, which demanded plenty of nous and some sleight of hand. Palfinger then conducted final stability testing, and the unit was picked up on November 1 for its first day on site the following day.
The unit had to dig its own path through the sludge at the bottom of the drained Waipori lake to set up at the base of the dam and start work.
“Palfinger produce very good cranes, and I struggle to see why you would go anywhere else,” said McFaul.
“Once the crane landed in New Zealand, everyone went hard out and worked together to get the job done.”
Palfinger NZ’s Reece Dillon added: “A lot of people might have said this couldn’t be done. The only other unit like it in New Zealand is half the size – but we decided to jump in. The toughest challenge for us was the set up and stability. Where trucks have suspension, diggers don’t – and when they start to tip, they tip. We solved that by specifying a bigger digger, using our HPSC system, and opting for the widest possible leg beam on the crane.
“We had to trick the crane into thinking that it’s a three-axle truck – with the digger bucket as the front axle, front roller as the middle axle, and the rear roller as the last axle.
“All parties collaborated to come up with that solution and make it work. As technology develops, creative minds push the envelope.”