Norwest Crane Hire recently took delivery of a Liebherr LTM 1650-8.1, the first delivered in Western Australia and only the second in the country. The crane will be ideal for work in the resources sector.
Norwest Crane Hire provides cranes, transport and labour to major mining and resources companies in the Pilbara region. Director Bernie Johnson, GM corporate services Toni Jessop and chief operating officer Adrian Wilkes provide the background to Norwest Crane Hire as well as their expectations for the new crane.
“Toni and I started Norwest Crane Hire in 2008 with only one crane,” said Johnson.
“Today, we have over 50 cranes and provide a full end-to-end crane, transport and logistics service. Our ambition is to be a trusted partner in the delivery of high quality, fully integrated crane and transport services to the Australian mining and resources sectors.
“We have our four brand pillars, which define what we stand for and what makes us different as a business. These include service integration, a personalised approach, specialised knowledge and being local. In terms of service integration, we bring to the table the opportunity for a client to deal with logistics, cranage and shipping all from one provider.
“One of our key pillars is our personalised approach. As a trusted partner, we adapt and are flexible to our clients’ requirements and we work with them to provide the best solutions. Our specialised knowledge is also a very important pillar to our business.”
Good safety starts with good leadership. Across the Norwest Group, managers who can instil safe behaviours and values across their work group and community are actively recruited. The Norwest Group risk management system is based on industry best practice and designed to engage all of its employees.
“Being local and supporting local businesses is another key pillar to Norwest Crane Hires’ business philosophy,” said Jessop.
“At Norwest Group we are always striving for continuous improvement, we don’t want to be just a service provider, we want to be a trusted partner. Our people and our culture, are key to delivering positive returns to our clients as well as Norwest Group’s continued growth and success.”
Where did it all begin?
Johnson had been operating cranes for various large crane companies in the north west before moving into the operational side of the industry. Jessop and Johnson met in 2004 and, by 2008, they were ready for a sea-change.
“Toni and I decided we wanted to give the crane industry a go for ourselves,” said Johnson.
“An opportunity presented itself and we bought a small business in Exmouth called Exmouth Crane and Truck Hire. The business was operating with old machinery, including a 1978 Hitachi 47-tonner and one of the first 12-tonne capacity Frannas.
“2008 was the peak of the industry cycle and everything, including equipment, was costing a lot of money. We invested over $1 million in a 2002-model Liebherr LTM 1100/2 with the idea that the crane would stay in Exmouth and go on a long-term dry hire contract, which would help pay for the crane. Then the Global Financial Crisis hit.
“Basically, we couldn’t afford the crane. We were thinking ‘what are we going to do now?’ when, out of the blue, we got a call from an old client. My contact asked if I could do some CAD [computer aided design] lift plan drawings. Fortunately, in my previous roles, I had produced CAD lift plan drawings. I said: ‘Yeah, absolutely, I’m in town.’ We hired a small plane in Exmouth and I flew up to Port Hedland, where I completed the CAD drawings.
“My contact then asked: ‘How am I going to pay you as you’re not set up in our system?’ I suggested that, because I’d prepared the CAD drawings for our Liebherr LTM 1100/2 crane, they could pay us by using our crane. And that was it. We were off and running.
“There was a lot of work in the north west and there was always someone trying to take the work off us. If we couldn’t do all of the work, the client would have given some of the workload to other businesses. So, we bought another crane to service the work, and then another, and then another and so it went on.”
Adrian Wilkes explains how the Norwest Crane Hire fleet looks today.
“By the end of 2022 we’ll have 50 cranes in the fleet, including 26 Franna MAC 25s.
“We only run Liebherrs in the mobile all terrain crane fleet and the capacities range from 100t through 110s, 130s, 220s, 250s, 300s and 400s up to the new LTM 1650-8.1.
“We have successfully ventured into Liebherr crawler cranes as well. As a result of the outstanding performance of the first crawler, we recently welcomed a second. We also operate two 100t capacity Liebherr rough terrains, which were the first in Western Australia.”
He goes on to discuss the applications for the new telescopic crawlers.
“Predominantly the crawlers are operating in the mines. Once the client gets a gauge and understanding on their capabilities, they love them. The cranes are being used to help manage setting up mining camps and the rebuilds of mining equipment.
The make-up of the Norwest crane fleet is designed to service the work required by our clients, said Wilkes.
“Our fleet is designed to manage heavy lift work because there isn’t much demand for long boom work. We have long-term contracts with many of the large miners and the majority of this work is in heavy lift applications,” he said.
Johnson goes on to discuss the relationship with Liebherr and why he has never ventured away from the brand.
“In the mid 90s I was operating the first Liebherrs to arrive in the state whilst other crane companies were purchasing other brands. With my experience, I knew we could run a Liebherr over a 400km road trip in the Pilbara and successfully work five or six jobs. I knew you couldn’t do that with other brands, it just wouldn’t happen.
“Liebherr cranes are incredibly reliable. From the beginning, we’ve said we are only going to buy one brand and that’s Liebherr. In this sector everything comes back to relationships. Our relationships with Liebherr and other suppliers, and our relationships with our clients, are what is important to us,” he said.
Wilkes elaborates more on the importance of relationships and why the personalised service provided from Norwest Group has been so successful.
“Bernie really hit the nail on the head – building good, solid relationships based on trust, integrity, respect and reliability are the key values for our business,” he said.
“We make sure we deliver what we promise – that’s really a key element at Norwest. Communication is also a key factor. With solid relationships in place, you can make that phone call if there’s an issue. The culture in the industry has slowly changed in the way people approach each other. It’s taken a long time for this to happen, but you’ve just got to communicate and talk. We push the importance of being a partner and not just a service provider to our clients.”
Norwest started its own transport company, NCH Logistics, because it couldn’t rely on other companies when it wanted to move counterweights for a crane. Norwest also started its own personnel business, Norwest Personnel, because it couldn’t rely on other companies to provide staff.
“We want to control the quality in everything we do,” explains Wilkes.
“We have 233 employees across the group. Toni mentioned the importance of the calibre of people in the organisation. We need to ensure the quality is there and our Norwest Personnel business only supports our Norwest divisions – it doesn’t provide external support.
“We control all elements of the supply chain to be that end-to-end logistics provider. We’re really focused on training and development, so it’s not just about finding good people, it’s about building the right culture, training people in the right way and manner, and then retaining good people.
“We identified where there was going to be a real constriction in the quality and provision of personnel, so we went out and made sure we developed a business that ensures we provide high levels of quality in our personnel, which is reflected in the quality of service we provide to our customers,” he said.
In the Pilbara, Norwest Group is the largest local provider in the crane industry. For some time the business has been one of the most successful crane companies in terms of supporting Indigenous engagement. Jessop provides more information on the issue.
“We believe Indigenous engagement is critically important and it has been very successful for us. We have adopted a multi-pronged approach. For us it’s about ensuring that spread and support isn’t just concentrated through one area, one family, or one group.
“Because we work throughout the Pilbara we try to focus on all elements of the different Indigenous groups that also work across the different customer base that we have. We also work with a couple of local companies on identifying and training new personnel.
“In late April we ran a training course through a registered Indigenous provider and as a result we put 15 new riggers through an intermediate riggers course, which is a great achievement for these individuals. We then bring them into the Norwest family, conduct our own VOC [verification of competency] and, through a ‘buddy system’ that we’ve developed, we continue to train and develop these people and gradually integrate them into our business.
“It’s not just getting someone who has the right qualifications and telling them ‘right, you’ll go out and do this’. It’s about them understanding the Norwest way, Norwest values and culture and our expectations that we have for these trainees.
Wilkes goes on to discuss the Norwest standardisation strategy within the business.
“A key element of our business model and philosophy at Norwest is standardisation. With standardisation you get efficiency. With trucks we only use Volvo and, with our all terrain, crawler and rough terrain cranes, we only use Liebherr, because Liebherr is the Rolls Royce and industry benchmark for cranes.
“There are significant advantages with standardisation. You negate the need to stock different kinds of parts and you can get better value for bulk ordering parts. You have improved compliance with training and development because our staff are not learning three or four different crane computers, they’re learning the Liebherr Liccon system. Ultimately, the flexibility of our workforce strengthens and becomes more robust with standardisation,” he said.
The Liebherr LTM 1650-8.1 is going to be a game changer for Norwest and its clients, said Johnson.
“We ordered the crane knowing its capabilities and it is going to be a game changer for the business and for our clients. For example, we have clients operate crushers on their sites and these require regular maintenance and sometimes replacing. Crushers weigh up to 120t and the LTM 1650-8.1 will be able to perform this lift at 14m.
“Previously, our clients would utilise a large crawler to manage the lifts, which can take up to a week to build and commission, then do the job, and then another week to dismantle and demob. With the 650t crane we can drive in, build it, do the job and leave all within a week. Obviously, this brings significant savings for the clients,” he said.
“At the moment there are a few lifts that we can’t do for our clients but the LTM 1650 -8.1 will address this. With another job the LTM 1650-8.1 will be able to sit in one spot and manage lifts for four screen houses, whereas before we’d have to perform a lift and pack up, move the crane, perform the next lift, pack up, move the crane and so on. The LTM 1650-8.1 will sit in the one spot and do it all. Again, there will be significant savings for our client,” said Johnson.
Jessop discusses the culture within Norwest and the support the management team receive from the people the company employs.
“This company would not be what it is today, or where it is today, if it were not for the wonderful people that we employ. So, as much as Bernie and I take the risk, we only do this on the strength and support of all of the great people who work with us.
“Norwest is a business with personality – you are never a number, you’re a person. And while we touched on not just finding good calibre people, most importantly for us it’s also about retaining good people. If you have the right people and the right culture, then you have the right ingredients for something special,” she said.
Johnson adds: “People want to work for us. They will leave other companies to work for us and they’ll say it is because of the Liebherrs, because we’ve got new machines, we don’t take shortcuts, everything’s done properly.”
“We operate the youngest crane fleet in the Pilbara bar none and to have the youngest crane fleet, standardised to only Liebherr all terrain, rough terrain and crawler cranes, and lastly complimented by a comprehensive and standardised pick and carry Franna crane fleet – well that’s pretty special.”