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Taking the risk out of lift planning

Taking the risk out of lift planning

Those who have a long history of attendance at CICA national crane conferences will most like associate names Mark Gilbert and Aztec Analysis with high level lift planning, writes Greg Keane.

The first official (and winning) Lift of the Year entry was for the removal and replacement of light towers at Adelaide Oval. Aztec Analysis undertook lift planning for Brambles Industrial Services, which in turn was engaged by principal contractor Baulderstone Hornibrook to provide lifting services.

An existing telescopic tower had locked in position and needed to be removed and replaced (along with the other light towers there).

Complicating this were:

  • the weight of the tower was not known exactly;
  • there were no cranes in Adelaide capable of lifting the tower on their own;
  • space was limited, as the oval could not be used for set-up; and
  • the work had to be done around scheduled football games.

An equalising bracket was designed to allow two local 140t cranes to dual lift the tower, avoiding the need to bring a 400t crane from Sydney. However, the thing that impressed many attendees at the conference was the methodical way in which the unknown factors were addressed, with actions planned to meet every contingency.

While the seized light tower added greatly to the complexity of the lift program at the Adelaide Oval, the entry covered the full program of removing and replacing four light towers, and it was necessary to bring the 400t crane to Adelaide for lifts of the 19t light fittings at the top of the new towers. However, the lift program was organised so that all removal work and erection of tower sections could be undertaken with local cranes, and the light fitting erections could be undertaken with a single short-term visit by the 400t crane.

This entry fits comfortably with Gilbert’s belief that the job of the lift planner is to systematically design the risk out of a lift, and this has been his counter to those who have asked him why he takes on the “risky jobs”.

In looking back over his career to date in lift planning (he has taken a step back from management at Aztec Analysis but remains involved in lift planning), Gilbert has noticed many changes.

Coming from the offshore oil industry in Scotland, Gilbert immediately noticed a vast difference in the size of cranes available for lifts in Australia. Gilbert and partner Geoff Wallbridge started engineering consultancy Wallbridge and Gilbert in 1982, at which time the largest crane in Adelaide was a 140t Liebherr owned by Nicholls. In contrast, the smallest of the 80 cranes available for the offshore industry in Scotland was a Manitowoc 4100 crawler – something that was at the upper end of crawler cranes based in Australia.

Complexity was added to lift planning in Australia by the need to use available cranes, often requiring multi-crane lifts with their attendant capacity derating under lift standards. Ingenuity was required to provide safe but cost-effective solutions.

At the start, the lift planning side of the business traded as Aztec Analysis as it took on large projects while Wallbridge and Gilbert was a modest business of five people, engineering largely for the housing market. Things have changed dramatically, with these businesses amalgamated as WGA (Wallbridge Gilbert Aztec) in 2017. This has a national presence, employs around 250 people and now encompasses civil, infrastructure and defence engineering.

The 2001 entry was not Aztec’s first – Gilbert confessed to Cranes and Lifting that he read about the Lift of the Year awards in the crane feature of the now closed magazine Construction Contractor (which initiated the awards). He could find no reference to industry body affiliation requirements for entrants and nominated in 2000 with an entry based on lifts for the Timor Sea Buffalo Field Oil Platform.

Gilbert recalls receiving a phone call from SA industry stalwart Bob Way saying that while the judges were impressed, the entry didn’t meet the criteria of being a member of CICA, and Aztec Analysis should join up ASAP. This happened, and the entry was Highly Commended. Times have changed – WGA manager industrial Rodger Weste is the current president of the SA crane association.

Times have also changed in other ways, as Gilbert notes. There are now large cranes available in most parts of the country where heavy lifts can take place, so the need to use multiple cranes has diminished.

Aztec Analysis went on to win awards in 2003 for lift planning on a project to remove a disused dock crane at Whyalla, in 2004 for lift planning on a project to remove three vessels and a single buoy mooring from the water at the Mobil oil refinery at Port Stanvac (SA), and in 2005 for the design and lift analysis for a 70m steel communication spire atop the Riparian Plaza building in Brisbane.

These entries reflect the diversity of work that can form part of a lift plan. The structural integrity and balance of the dock crane had to be taken into account in the 2003 project, along with the poor state of the wharf that provided access to the crane.

The 2005 project was the first entry to be taken by a tower crane, which remained in place after the building was completed so that it could erect the communication spire before being dismantled.

Gilbert credits the Lift of the Year awards in their early years with having helped raise standards in the industry, to the extent that he questions whether they have now passed their “use by” date, with all entries ticking the boxes to the extent that choosing a winner can be as much subjective as objective.

The introduction of independent certified reviews of lift plans has added another level of assurance for lift planning. However, Gilbert has concerns that regulation may have gone too far, feeling that some regulation is now misguided.

Regardless, Gilbert’s passion for lift planning remains undimmed by the years, and he is enjoying being able to concentrate on this as he plans his transition into retirement.

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