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Modularising support trailers

O’Phee Trailers, part of The Drake Group of Companies, in conjunction with The Freo Group and WGC Cranes, has created a single trailer design to support a range of brands and sizes.

Manufactured in high tensile steel and therefore light weight, the trailer can be configured as a single trailer, B-double or road train and features a removable cassette cradle system. Mick O’Phee explains the background to the development and how the new design can benefit crane hire businesses.

“Today, a crane hire business will have a purpose-built trailer which is specific to the one crane, or the one counterweight system, and they are using heavy flatbed trailers. With this system, you need a supply of trailers which are often left sitting idle for lengths of time. Having assets like trailers under-utilised is major issue for many crane hire businesses.

“In the initial concept stage for these support trailers, we had a couple of large crane businesses, including Freo Group and WGC Cranes, approach us saying they wanted new trailers, but they didn’t want to go down the usual path of purchasing purpose-built trailers that can’t be used for anything else,” said O’Phee.

“Up until this development, we have been building a range of counterweight trailers, but they are only specific to each counterweight. It might be for a 10t or 20t counterweight to suit a 200t or 400t crane, but you can only use that trailer for that counterweight.

“We worked very closely with Freo and WGC to develop these trailers and we were able to fine tune the concept by being hands on with their operational teams. We proposed to develop a different system to anything currently available on the market. We suggested they have one trailer combination whether that be a B-double, a road train or a single trailer and then design a cassette style cradle system which can house all the different accessories to suit each crane.

The trailer has slots in the flanges on both sides for attaching cradles that hold counterweight, hook sheaves, outrigger pads, rigging boxes and other equipment says O’Phee.

“We then thought we’d be a bit smarter by taking the design a step further and examined the feasibility of making the cradle system removeable. This provides additional flexibility for the crane business and the trailer can return to depot and redeployed supporting another crane rather than remaining on site for the duration of the lift program. This reduces the number of trailers required and, as a consequence, yard storage space.

“In effect we are tailoring the cradles to suit the individual model of crane. The cradles can be removed from the trailer meaning the trailer is free to have another set of cradles fitted for another model of crane which means the trailers are far more utilised and the crane company is receiving a much greater return on investment,” he said.

O’Phee explains how the design process works once his design and engineering team understands the customer’s requirements.

“New products like these are a result of a transparent and consultative process. The first step is to sit down with the customer and discuss their requirements and what they hope to achieve with the product. From this briefing, our design team led by our chief engineers, work on a concept which takes into consideration the customer’s requirements. Our concept is presented during further meetings where more requirements are discussed. In this instance Tim Brouff and his team from FREO and WGC Cranes explained how they wanted to cart flys on the trailer and asked how we could accommodate this. Because there isn’t much weight in the fly, we decided we could put a trestle over the top of the counterweight and the whole concept evolved from there.

Compliance can be a major issue when a crane gets to site explains O’Phee. The new design had to address issues relating to working at heights and also load restraint.

“When they get the crane to site Tim and his team wanted to streamline compliance issues so the trailer design had to incorporate a system which was easier to work. With the new design the cradles can be locked onto the trailer, and the load can be locked onto the cradle, from ground level. There is no need for anyone to work above heights from the trailer,” he said.

The hook sheave cradle has an innovative design where, once the sheave starts to be lifted, the cradle rotates from the horizontal storage position (to lower the centre of gravity for transport) to the vertical position, from which the sheave hook is lifted out of the cradle. This cradle remains in the vertical position until the sheave hook is lowered again, with the cradle rotating to the horizontal position as it takes the load of the sheave hook.

O’Phee Trailers supplies a Load Plan for its trailers to position each component for optimising weight distribution for each configuration of the trailer (single, B-double, road train). The Load Plan will take into account the assembly order of components for the crane, so that they can arrive in sequence. The slots on each trailer are numbered from the front, making it easy to identify the attachment points per the Load Plan.

“We designed a load restraint system where there are no dogs and chains. Once the counterweight, the hook, or the outrigger pads are loaded, we have a ground operated load restraint system incorporated into the cradle system.

“Typically, the sheave hook blocks have been transported vertically which is fine because they are easier to lower in. But by transporting them this way, you have a higher centre of gravity, and it still has to be restrained. We addressed this with a pivoting cradle so as you lower the hook sheave block it is in a vertical position but when it reaches the trailer, it hinges and lays horizontally. This does two things, it lowers the centre of gravity for transporting and it allows you to hook up and unhook from the ground. Everything is done from the ground. Not only do we have the removable cassette system tailored to each model of crane, we still have the standard trailers, and we also have a restraint system which eliminates the issues relating to working at heights,” said O’Phee.

O’Phee goes on to discuss how the crane sector is evolving with much larger capacity cranes coming onto the market meeting the demands from the infrastructure sector for much larger lifts but fewer of them, and the challenges this presents to a trailer manufacturer.

“It is like anything, you have to see and understand how a market is changing and evolving and you have to either roll with it and become more innovative with your approach and run with the customer, or you get left behind.

“Everything in our factory is built to order and custom made, there are no stock trailers. When a customer comes to us with a specific frame task and that doesn’t matter if it’s a crane or a large excavator or general freight. We sit down with the customer, they tell us what they want to do, we understand the requirements and we ‘feather’ it out with the customer and come up with the best solution.

“This might mean a completely different design as we have created with this project or it might mean specific numbers for a package or a mixture of crane trailers, low loader and a semi, we have the complete ‘handbag’ of solutions and that’s the beauty of our group. When required, we can cater for any trailer from 5t to 500t within the one group, the customer doesn’t have to shop around for the various options, we have them all under the one roof,” said O’Phee.

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