Sheffield Steel

3 August 2017


New business, new apprentices and new sectors—Street CraneXpress are expanding in many directions at once. Daniel Searle visited the company in Sheffield, UK.

Engineering the 1,000t retractable roof at Wimbledon to protect the crowd’s strawberries and cream; designing building maintenance cranes that emerge from the top of landmarks such as such as London’s 30 St Mary Axe, otherwise known as the Gherkin; safeguarding lifting operations at nuclear power facilities; and servicing cranes across the country with a network of around 50 engineers on the road. The SCX Group has developed into a diverse business and is still expanding.

The group consists of three complementary businesses; Street CraneXpress, focused on installing, servicing and upgrading cranes; SCX Special Projects, which takes on challenging engineering work such as the machinery behind the retractable roof at Wimbledon’s Centre Court; and Burnand XH, a wholesale supplier of electrical control components, including parts for cranes.

Street CraneXpress offers a 24-hour breakdown service through its national network of engineers.

“Street CraneXpress is securing bigger and bigger contracts,” says Darren Falkingham, group marketing manager for SCX. “We’re working with customers such as JCB, Toyota and Hitachi, where we have our staff on-site helping to keep production lines rolling.”

The company’s engineers cover most of England and Wales, with customers currently concentrated around Yorkshire, the North-East, Birmingham, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire Projects include refurbishments, upgrades, retrofitting, and dismantling and rebuilding for relocation work.

Visiting the firm’s Tyler Street workshop, near the Meadowhall retail centre on the outskirts of Sheffield, there was plenty of evidence of ongoing in-house refurbishment work too. Hoists, beams and gantries are brought to the company for cleaning, repainting, testing, and more, explains Falkingham.

The team based at the Sheffield operations include a number of apprentices. “We were finding it difficult to recruit sufficiently-qualified engineers,” says Falkingham. “So we are now training them up from scratch through the SCX Academy.”

The company also trains up the workforce of its customers, running training courses on topics including safe lifting, maintenance, and crane operation. Burnand XH was originally SCX’s components supplier—the company then took it over in 1987 and added it to the SCX group. The Burnand name has a long history in Sheffield—the company has its origins in W.E Burnand, which has its roots as far back as the 1930s. The company has operations in Sheffield, Hull and Scunthorpe.

It supplies electrical components, including plugs, sockets and controls for any brand of overhead cranes, says Falkingham. The company is also the official distribution partner of Germany’s Schneider Electric. This means that SCX can bulk-buy components more cost-effectively, as well as ordering bespoke products, rather than manually customising components to suit specialised projects.

The majority of components sold by Burnand XH are from Schneider Electric, and the company is also in the process of setting up a Schneider training centre for its customers—and plans to establish an e-commerce business.

“Our warehouses are in the UK, where we sell over the counter, and we can also advise customers on which components to use.” says Falkingham. “We have huge stocks, competitive pricing, bags of experience—you can’t beat it.”

SCX Special Projects is set to become the biggest of SCX’s three divisions after the current set of projects are completed, with revenues up by 40% year-on-year.

As well as bespoke projects such as retractable roofs on sports stadia, and lifting and rotating aeroplane wings, SCX works in the nuclear handling sector. When Hoist visited, the work yard was dominated by two impressive cranes for that industry.

SCX was assembling and testing the two Goliath cranes, which feature a range of measures to ensure the highest level of safety and protection. The cranes are around 90% automated, says Falkingham, and operate optimally under automatic control. Speed limiters are applied for safety when under manual control.

There are high-definition cameras on the cranes and grabs, lasers to conduct skew control and radar for distance measurement—when installed, the cranes will pick and carry thousands of cylinders, with the operator only required to confirm a cylinder’s location coordinates. The cranes, which are rated for 25t, were fabricated using materials sourced as locally to Sheffield as possible, says Falkingham—although the main beams, weighing over 60t each, had to be produced by a specialist in the Midlands. Also in the nuclear sector, SCX Special Projects is currently engineering semi-automated cranes for the decommissioning of the Dounreay nuclear site in northern Scotland, on behalf of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

The Dounreay site was in operation for 50 years, and was a world-leading site for experimental fast breeder testing and development. It comprised 180 facilities including three reactors, chemical reprocessing plants and various waste facilities.

After the site was closed in the mid-1990s, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd (DSRL) was set up to manage decommissioning for the NDA. That process is still ongoing, with work scheduled to finish around 2030 and cost a total of £2.3bn.

Radioactive waste created during the decommissioning remains at the site in purpose-built storage and disposal facilities. A new, £22m higher-activity waste storage facility is now in the pipeline, to provide storage space for 500-litre stainless steel waste storage drums. The drums will be encased in cement, then put into long-term storage and monitored remotely over time.

SCX Special Projects has been awarded the contract to design, manufacture, test and install a waste handling system for the facility, based on a high-integrity semi-automated overhead drum crane.

The storage and disposal facilities have restricted access, making it particularly important for DSRL and NDA have reliable engineering solutions deployed.

The solution, which has a 3t safe working load, was designed specifically for DSRL by SCX and has the primary function of transferring waste storage drums to a designated position with the storage vaults.

It comprises a modified-off-the-shelf crane with semi-automated controls, and incorporates SCX Special Projects’ MotoSuiveur hoist failsafe unit, designed to quickly and safely halt uncontrolled loads within a few millimetres of travel. The crane also features load recovery systems and extensive CCTV surveillance. Andy Whitworth, director of SCX Special Projects, says: “In such a safety-critical industry you need to ensure that the equipment is reliable and safe far beyond all limits of its operation. High-level waste demands extreme caution, requiring engineering solutions that exhibit strength, durability, safety and quality.

“At the top of our list of priorities is that people are protected and can work with confidence in the surrounding environment.”

Dan Towers, senior project manager at SCX Special Projects, emphasised the importance of investing in such a device. “In a facility handling spent fuel, we need to be certain that the load is safe, secure and under control to ensure that both people and the environment are kept safe,” says Towers. “To achieve this aim, our MotoSuiveur device is incorporated into the design of the drum crane.

“It was initially developed exclusively for the nuclear crane market as an emergency failsafe hoist brake and is in operation at other Nuclear Licensed Sites. It will never allow the load to free-fall in the event of a mechanical failure or loss of control on the handled load. Instead it acts as an automatic load arrestor, bringing the load to a safe stop within 30° of angular drum rotation.”

The arms for the the retractable roof at the Wimbledon stadium being welded.
Street CraneXpress engineer servicing cranes at Hitachi Rail in Newton Aycliffe, where the new Intercity trains are being made.
The future drum storage facility at the Dounreay site, where the waste drums will be stacked by SCX Special Projects’ semi-automated crane.
Detail of the grab assembly, with a compact and narrow design to allow it to reach unhindered down into the drum stacks.