Markus Preston, Preston Hire Group Managing Director, discusses the evolution of the SuperDeck system, the industry and future plans for this product.
Twenty-five years ago, John Preston designed and manufactured the first SuperDeck after significant research, innovative thinking and persistence to create a product he believed would transform building site productivity and improve safety for site personnel.
With his history of innovative, forward thinking designs including a highly successful modular scaffold system he launched in 1985, Preston moved his attention and focus to understanding the benefit of the crane loading platform and how he could create a safer system that would dramatically improve multi-level and in particular high rise construction.
“In the 1990s, John recognised that loading platforms could be the key to increased productivity and safety on building sites – yet the designs and materials of the time limited effective site management and timelines,” Markus Preston tells Cranes and Lifting.
“At the time, platforms on building sites were fixed (non-retractable), largely made of scrap steel, and were unsafe. Whilst the advent of the fixed platform improved construction they needed to be staggered on every floor level to allow access and to avoid crane rope hinderance. This approach obstructed the closing and waterproofing of the floor from the weather, therefore builders would remove fixed platforms as soon as they could to “close out the building,” he said.
The first evolution of an improved loading platform was in 1994 when the Transformer Platform was born. This was the first commercially successful, easy to use, vertically stacked retractable platform available on the market. The Transformer Platform offered many improvements compared with previously used platforms; however, Preston believed a safer and more effective loading platform could be created. He knew there was a better way and rather than thinking of a single unit basis he would create a “system”. A system that would revolutionise construction, not for his own commercial success but for the improvements that would be realised in high rise building construction methodology as well as safety for all those working on construction sites around the globe.
From a commercial perspective however an unintended consequence and by-product of the vertical stacking method meant the life of Preston SuperDeck on a construction project was lengthened, further enhancing its value. Significant reviews and analysis of the Transformer Platform ensued in the following years. After a great deal of imagination, effort, and investment around design, engineering, manufacturing and testing, the Preston SuperDecks was successfully launched in 1998.
“The SuperDeck loading platform system can be stacked vertically and rolled in and out as required as opposed to traditional fixed or static platforms that must be staggered throughout the building. It also doesn’t require any mechanics or electrics that add potential greater risk of breakdown and costly delays to construction. The ability to ‘stack” the retractable SuperDeck vertically simplifies material handling by allowing cranes uninhibited access to the platforms above or below,” he said.
Markus was one of the first SuperDeck supervisors and installers of this exciting new product in Australia. He recognised that the SuperDeck would transform the industry, yet it would require guidance, expert knowledge and training to ensure the product could reach its full potential and that the customers were supported in their adoption of the product.
“Customers quickly recognised they were making an investment in the success of their site by using the Preston SuperDeck System vs previous fixed platforms. This required a significant mind shift when previous fixed platforms were $10 per week (or free!) and the SuperDeck was $240 per week, so much of the formative years after the products development was spent educating the market of its benefits,” explained Preston.
“Installation, relocation and removal of a SuperDeck from a building can take as little as 20 minutes per movement, depending on the level of experience and skill of the installers and the installation methodology ie. prop or bolt down method. Unlike other products, the Preston Hire SuperDeck can be installed using just two props or two bolts when the bolt-down method is required. We knew this would deliver massive time efficiencies and we all know how precious a commodity time is,” he said.
“Clients can also benefit from hidden cost savings thanks to the SuperDeck system. The simplicity of our design allows a single person to operate the retractions. In addition to the obvious speed advantages, costs can be minimised through less labour hire needed to perform each retraction. On average, we believe the SuperDeck system can save sites up to $13,500 per deck over a 30 week hire when compared with alternate loading platform providers who require more man power to complete the same job. Keeping it simple has always proved our greatest design asset.”
“Interrupting and changing the way builders had always planned their construction process was initially difficult and required creative thinking to cut through and encourage trial of the SuperDeck system. Yet three years after its introduction, the SuperDeck had captured over 95 per cent of the loading platform business and every builder insisted on using this type of equipment. Customers quickly realised the advantages, savings and safety they could now deliver to their build. Some sites had over 35 SuperDecks on three sides of the building using them for everything from loading bricks and pipes to carpets and bathroom fittings,” Preston recalls.
Preston told Cranes and Lifting that they are often asked about the ongoing development of the SuperDeck in subsequent years since its launch. The extensive and rigorous research and development conducted on the Preston Transformer platform in 1994 resulted in a superior product being created in 1998. As a result of this analysis, the SuperDeck design has largely been the same for the last 22 years. Like every product, they review and evolve their design with small incremental changes to ensure it is always delivering superiority.
Yet keeping it simple has always proved best as any electrical, mechanical or other change can often result in malfunctions which is downtime for the client, or worse, personnel injuries. The company regularly see other products attempting to enter the market, yet the safety, design, quality materials and workmanship of the SuperDeck continues to exceed the rest. That is why the SuperDeck is still the market leader decades later, according to Preston, and there are now over 3000 Preston SuperDecks that have been manufactured and used worldwide.
The SuperDeck was the first retractable platform system and all platforms are known globally as SuperDeck or “Prestons” by some.
It is evident that customer satisfaction is paramount to how Preston Hire does business. Clients have influenced expansions within the Preston Hire fleet and even integrated their own corporate identity and specific needs into the livery application.
“We work closely with our customers and regularly gather feedback on our product. We identified some customers needed higher load ratings. Our SuperDecks can be modified to meet these higher load demands as required and are engineer certified. The introduction of the 4.2 SuperDeck was a custom solution for clients who required larger loads and bigger build footprints. Preston Hire introduced the 4.2 SuperDeck over 10 years ago to meet this need,” said Preston.
Preston Hire also offers clients custom decks including a change in design, colour and logo for a unique corporate livery application to ensure specific construction aesthetics are met.
Preston said that the maintenance of the fleet is very important. The company possesses trained factory staff, an onsite boilermaker and fabrication team. All equipment is quality controlled with an extensive pre-hire and de-hire process. This ensures all damages are repaired by the next hire.
“We respect the appearance and quality of both our own products and our customer’s sites, therefore every delivery of a SuperDeck to a new site receives freshly painted, full functioning SuperDecks that always look brand new,” he said.
“Our staff are industry trained, experts in their field and highly professional whilst also being great people! All staff are cross-product trained with extensive knowledge about SuperDecks, SuperCranes and our specialist Access Equipment, SuperElevate. This ensures Preston Hire delivers a single point of contact for customers who work with us across multiple product categories.
“Operation familiarisations are an important part of working with our customers. We induct all users to ensure the product is understood and all safety measures are taken. We feel it is our responsibility to work with our customers in this way,” he said.
SuperDecks were manufactured in Australia until 2007. Increased manufacturing costs became unsustainable in Australia prompting a partnership with an engineering and manufacturing company in China who rigorously meet and maintain our safety standards. All Preston Hire SuperDecks have certified engineering and are quality and safety checked before dispatch. The entire fleet are capable of 5 tonne loads as a standard. The fleet consists of three primary sizes 2.2m, 3.2m and 4.2m wide allowing for the different demands of customers. Other specialist sizes are available in various states to meet specific market requirements.
“Being a specialist in the retractable loading platform market for so many years teaches you about who to trust and how to best provide your clients with a balance between the best quality equipment, cost and safety. Time and time again over the past 25 years, Preston Hire have seen platform competitors come and go and unfortunately, it’s often at the expense of our valued clients and their safety on site. Our philosophy has always been to run our own race, always deliver the best and strive for excellence in all we do. We won’t be deterred or put off course by others in the market,” said Preston.
Preston Hire strongly believes that cheaper alternative products that potentially compromise the level of quality, will not necessarily deliver savings in the long run. It has the belief that reduced quality can also reduce safety. Hence, its Preston Hire SuperDecks are a safety conscious system ensuring increased risk and safety compliance that is required today across the construction landscape.
“If Preston Hire simply delivered to the market lower cost products to meet competitive costs, we firmly believe we would not be the success we are today,” Preston said.
The installation of a SuperDeck unlocks a chain of events in the build timeline. Delayed delivery would result in lost time and potentially a flow on effect for other materials needed on site.
“We are committed to saving time for our customers therefore communication is key to success. Our Operations Department communicates directly with appropriate site personnel to ensure delivery is planned and executed seamlessly. We recognise that our credibility is at risk if delivery is not met, so we take this responsibility very seriously,” Preston said.
Preston Hire services customers across all corners of Australia with the company’s branch network established to ensure all states and locations have access to Preston Hire equipment.
“At our core, innovation has always been key at Preston. We have always sought to be an initiator of change in our quest to improve the way things are done. Our view is that there will be continued growth in the construction of multi-level construction and buildings will continue to get taller as urbanisation continues. Additionally, there will be continual pressure to construct faster and cheaper whilst at the same time more safely,” he said.
Preston explains how research and development around the SuperDeck, has always been undertaken and always will be a priority.
Despite leading the market, Preston recognises the need to maintain competitiveness. Over the years, there have been many design, engineering and functionality improvements. One of their more recent projects was around engineering improvements. In the spirit of seeking to innovate and lead the way, they modified the installation methods of their platforms to reduce the number of props and bolts required to fixing. The benefits of this innovation ensured quicker installation, relocation and removal of their product that saved both money and time. In addition, it reduced reaction forces on slabs which has the benefit of lowering the cost of construction.
“It is with our long term understanding of the nature and workings of the product as the inventor and the continual improvements we make, that we are still able to deliver one the most cost-effective solutions in the market today,” said Preston.
“The first Preston business was incorporated in 1969 thus marking this year the 50th year of our Preston business. We recently stepped up our R&D program around the future of the SuperDeck and related products demonstrating our commitment to be at the forefront of the industry. We will continue to lead from the front and run our own race, reinforcing why we are the market leader. It is incredibly exciting to see what the next generation of the Preston and we encourage you to watch this space,” he said.
While Markus has his eyes on the future, he also recognises the enormous feats of the past and the magnitude of what John Preston established. “I would like the industry to recognise the significant contributions that my father, John Preston, has provided to the construction industry globally. His commitment to increasing worker safety and cost savings for many customers worldwide must be applauded. I sincerely thank him for his guidance in my early years and the business acumen he has taught me. Together with my leadership team, we all strive to continue his legacy for the future of Preston,” he said.