The beauty of simplicity

24 October 2016

This month,we focus on lifting gear: hooks, shackles, slings, and so on. This is, at first glance, simple equipment. For much of this equipment, one can imagine that the Bronze Age rigging manager equivalents who oversaw lifting supplies on the pyramids or Stonehenge could pick it up and see how it is meant to be used. But that does not mean that it is an area that is free from innovation. Here, more even than with the most advanced control and monitoring systems, ideas stand out for both their originality and their simplicity.

Our cover story this month is a profile of Barcelona-based automatic hook manufacturer Elebia. I visited them earlier this summer, to talk about how the company has developed in the ten years since founder Oscar Fillol Vidal first built a prototype of its automatic hooks.

Fillol’s idea was inspired by the construction sector. His family owned hotels and construction businesses, and he’d observed that the operators of loader cranes in their fleet could perform almost all of their job on their own, from a distance. That safe and efficient way of working broke down when they needed to hook and unhook a load.

His solution was an automatic hook that uses a magnet to attract the straps of the big bags used to transport aggregate. Magnetic threads in the bag strap attach the bag to the hook, and then as the hook is lifted, the weight of the bag pulls the strap securely into the locked hook. Only when the bag is set down can it come free from the hook.

Fillol first designed the hooks for use in the construction sector. However, as his business has grown, more and more of his customers are users of permanently-installed lifting equipment. Today, customers in sectors like nuclear power, steel processing, and dockside handling, who have tight safety requirements and a discrete workspace where they can specify every process, form the bulk of Elebia’s business.

This month we also look at the work of another specialist who combines tradition and innovation in his work. Nik Wallenda is one of the seventh generation of a family of high wire walkers that has its roots in Hapsburg-ruled 18th Century Central Europe.

The Wallenda family came to America in the 1920s, still using the same techniques and rigging equipment they had used for almost 150 years. What’s changed in recent years isn’t the overall design of the equipment used, but the engineering expertise they bring to selecting and planning rigging. Sadly, the importance of that approach is underlined for Wallenda by the death of his greatgrandfather, Karl, in a rigging accident.

For earlier generations of riggers, whether they were building pyramids or walking the high wire, an intuitive approach to safety based on years of experience may often have been considered sufficient. Today, more rigour is demanded. In some instances, that means using technologically complex new devices. Often though, it just means careful application of a simple idea.