During a two-hour operation Speedy Lifting mobilised a SLK counter balanced genie lift and a 500kg minifor hoist to carefully raise the giant giraffe onto the roof of the six-storey House of Fraser building. Of course, it wasn’t a real giraffe, just a stuffed one, but it was a bizarre job specification nonetheless.


As Speedy depot manager Kevin Haliwell said: “This was one of the strangest requests we’ve ever received, but we’re always up for the challenge.”

I imagine how the phone call went…

“Kevin, we’ve got a job to lift a 16ft tall giraffe… Kevin, are you still there?”

I don’t mean to say Mr Haliwell wasn’t up for the challenge as he said but he must have asked the caller to repeat themselves.

The story reminds me just how widespread the use of industrial lifting equipment actually is. Take the department store in the above story as an example, nearly every item of produce in every aisle would have been lifted at some stage, in addition to the manual handling which would have probably started and finished its journey from its origin to the shop floor.

Imported products are lifted on and off of ships, often in containers (which it has to get into in the first place), while packaged goods might be lifted by work station or jib crane, say, by vacuum, which is becoming more popular in this kind of industry.

The benefits of work station cranes and vacuums are clear. What I like so much about them is that they are still manually handled but just with much less effort. One of the saddest things about technology is these weird and wonderful robots which have a dozen fingers on each arm and operate with such irritating precision that for certain parts of the production process they are preferred to the human hand, which once fed a family.

I was in a factory not so long ago where there were about half a dozen of these things operating on a single workshop floor. Of course, there were still plenty of people employed by the operation, carrying out the roles where technology has not yet advanced to, but not as many as there once was.

There are knock-on effects. As I discussed in my blog entitled ‘the importance of people skills’ (September 27 2007), Heinz Helmut Kempkes, managing director of Kuli Hebezeuge Helmut Kempkes GmbH, says “it’s easy to find people to do office work but harder to get them running around in blue suits.”

Even remote control manufacturers offering a chance to shape the technological future of the business are struggling. HBC-radiomatic, for example, says it is hard to find youngsters.

I go back to my example of robots with dozens of fingers. I’ve posed the question before: What’s next?

I’m not sure how I got onto all of this from the giraffe but I hope it has provided food for thought for the weekend!

More from me soon.

Richard Howes, Editor