How overhead crane firms set themselves apart in Australia and New Zealand

15 December 2022


In a competitive marketplace, Tony Rock looks at how firms in Australia and New Zealand can, and are, setting themselves apart from their rivals.

Google ‘Bunzl Safety and Lifting’, head to the ‘Services’ section of the company’s website, and then click on ‘Indigenous engagement’. There, you will find a statement about how the Australian company recognises “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of the land on which we operate and the communities we serve.”

“Our goal,” the statement continues, “is to build meaningful working relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities more broadly.”

“We’re very big on giving back to the community,” says Andy Campbell, technical services and support manager at Bunzl, which supplies safety equipment.

One way in which the company engages with those communities is through partnering with an indigenous workwear and safety equipment supply firm called Cole Supplies. It’s an arrangement that involves Bunzl distributing Cole Supplies’ Boomerang brand.

But Bunzl also has an association with an organisation called the Clontarf Foundation. The foundation says its goal is to improve the education, discipline, life skills, self-esteem and employment prospects of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men “and equip them to participate more meaningfully in society”.

“They take indigenous kids in their last three years of high school and they bring them out into the workplace with companies such as ourselves, and we provide practical training for them – it may be in warehousing, it may be in production,” Campbell explains.

He continues: “As a training host, some of our team… actually assist at the [Aussie Rules] football on a Saturday morning and cook [at] the ‘sausage sizzle’ [a community event with grilled or barbecued food] for the boys.

“It is really pleasing to go to some of the events and hear the success stories. The Clontarf Foundation turn these young indigenous kids into really good, strong, respectful, young indigenous men.

“We’re really pleased to be part of that success story with them.”

Return to that ‘Services’ section of Bunzl’s website and you will also see ‘Ethical sourcing’ in the drop-down menu. Here, the company says it is “committed to working with all of our product suppliers to ensure that adequate standards and transparency are maintained in all areas of corporate responsibility. All suppliers to Bunzl are expected to meet the same internationally recognised human rights, environmental and quality standards that we expect of our businesses.”

It continues: “Our supply chain management processes ensure… [that] products are manufactured and sourced responsibly.”

Also available to read on the website is a four-page Ethical Sourcing Policy, a Supplier Code of Conduct, and a Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Statement.

“At Bunzl, we have our own our own supply chain, and we’ve got a sourcing facility in Shanghai with over 20 staff working – and part of their brief is to ensure that they’re… auditing against anti-slavery,” says Campbell, who adds that “more and more customers now like to see our portfolio on ethical sourcing”.

He is adamant that the way in which the company engages in corporate social responsibility, in the ways outlined above, helps to positively differentiate Bunzl from its competitors.

“Yes. Yes, it does,” he insists. “We’re very proud of that. Very proud.”

More to offer

Last year, Axel Johnson International, a privately owned industrial group that acquires and develops companies in strategically selected niche markets, moved into the Australian lifting arena with the acquisition of five firms, which, under the collective name of Certex Lifting, joined Axel Johnson’s Lifting Solutions arm.

One of those five firms was Steven Flint’s business The Rigging Shed, based in Western Australia.

Flint, who is now MD of Certex Lifting, says joining an international group of companies, which includes international lifting businesses such as Certex, has been advantageous for the Australian set-up, and has a value other competitors within the country might not benefit from: “We’re in the fortunate position where we’re part of the Certex/Lifting Solutions group now and they’ve got very strong bonds with [wind turbine manufacturers] Vestas and Siemens [Gamesa]. So they’re looking to us to partner up here in Australia as well. We’ve also had some good dealings with Goldwind [another wind turbine manufacturer] as well recently.

“Certainly, it’s opened up a lot of doors for us and given us a lot of exposure to not only international customers, but also international suppliers as well.”

The acquisition has been good for customers too, because it has brought with it a greater product choice and a wider service offering than customers would previously have had access to.

“Our portfolio – what we’ve been able to offer our customers – has increased considerably,” Flint emphasises.

Raising safety standards

A year and a little more has passed since the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (Leea) formed a Regional Council for Australia and New Zealand, which Hoist reported on in our September 2021 issue.

At the time of its formation, Justin Boehm, Leea regional manager – Australia and New Zealand, described its setting up as “a great opportunity for us to shape the model of service delivery to our members here”.

His colleague Andy Campbell, who is a fellow Regional Council member alongside his day job at Bunzl, explains why it was important “for the Australian/New Zealand region to have its own voice” within the association.

“We do a lot of similar things in industry [compared with the UK, for example], but there’s a bit of stuff that’s different; the way we do things – Australian standards, training and developing,” he says.

To help meet those different requirements, the council set in motion the creation of a nationally accredited training package that at the time of going to press was awaiting approval by the Australian Skills Quality Authority, the national regulator for Australia’s vocational education and training sector.

Leea’s training focuses on the inspection and examination of role-specific lifting equipment, and the accreditation will include Leaa’s Foundation, Lifting Equipment General and Lifting Machines Manual courses, plus, Boehm says, an additional course covering “some of those nuances around the extra testing and some of the standards that we have [in Australia] that are slightly different”.

He hopes to hear by “the end of November” whether the course – developed in partnership with Artibus Innovation, “a highly regarded skills services provider” – has been given the go-ahead.

“We’re sort of touching wood at the moment it will all go through,” he says.

“It’s really, really important that we bring this training and development package into our industry over here in Australia,” adds Campbell. “It certainly will formalise what a lot of companies have been doing individually.”

But for that training and development to become ingrained within Australian industry, another council member, Ashley Thacker – general manager at Ranger – says Leea has to further raise its profile.

“It’s about getting the awareness of what Leea is out there,” he says. “[In the UK, the history of] Leea has been going for 75 years, so everyone just knows Leea for lifting. It’s entrenched in everything, it’s legislative. Over [in Australia] it’s not as it’s only been there for about 12 years.”

With currently close to 100 members across Australia and New Zealand, Boehm suggests that progress is being made.

“I think because the Regional Council has got such highly regarded individuals within it, people are starting to see and hear the work that we’re doing,” he begins.

“So members that might have left, because we just weren’t as active as we could have been in the region [in previous years], are now coming back. People are going, ‘Oh, yeah, Leea is something that we really need to be a part of’ – because there’s no one like Leea.”

Boehm continues: “I can honestly say that, having heard technicians who have come from other parts of our industry, and then do our training, they say: ‘We would never have learned about that.’ That’s brilliant. [Leea teaches] people things that aren’t being taught anywhere else in Australia. It really stands us apart.”

Of course, as with corporate social responsibility and providing customers with more product and service offerings, safety is an area in which one company can strive to set itself apart from its rivals, particularly when, as Boehm points out, customers want to feel an extra “level of comfort”.

“That really is a big thing,” he explains. “[Australia’s] mining industries, construction industries – they’re very, incredibly, safety-conscious. There’s such a high, high level of safety requirement. You know, everyone wants to get home; no one wants to lose an or injure an employee on site. So that’s what the end users are looking for: ‘How do we ensure that everyone that touches our equipment is the best of the best?’”

He doesn’t answer the question he poses, but no doubt Boehm would say that any company in the business of lifting down under should join his association if they want to take their safety standards to an even higher level.


Picking up prizes

The Regional Council of Australia and New Zealand picked up the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association’s (Leea) Member of the Year prize at the latter’s awards event, which was held during the autumn in Aberdeen (see ‘Leea reveals 2022 awards winners’ in the news section). The award is bestowed to the member that in the opinion of the Leea Senior Management Team has demonstrated outstanding commitment to lifting standards in the lifting equipment industry.

Justin Boehm, Leea regional manager – Australia and New Zealand, says the award was recognition for the efforts of the team, who come from larger businesses as well as independents, and who represent New Zealand or different states within Australia. They include Ashley Thacker at Ranger, Steven Flint of Certex Lifting, Bunzl’s Andy Campbell, Adam Thompson at Stenhouse Lifting and Safety Solutions, Navin Kumar from Lifting Victoria, Mark Eberhard of LiftQuip, Rob Smit of Cookes, and Rhys Goldsworthy from Nobles.

“They were sort of patting me on the back saying, ‘you do all the work’, but I mean, none of it would’ve happened if they didn’t put their hand up to set up this council,” says Boehm.

“We’ve got a really brilliant group – the effort that those guys have put in: they give up their time, they’re flying to the meetings that we have. I can’t thank them enough.

“[The award is] a good recognition of the work that they’ve done in supporting what we are doing in Australia. Because it has been a long time coming for those members that have been with us for a long period.

“Things are falling into place.”

A power station upgrade in New Zealand

Based in Auckland, New Zealand, Baker Cranes is the country agent for Abus Crane Systems, which the company says gives it a competitive advantage over its rivals.

“There are a number of other companies around the country and it’s quite competitive – we’re in a good position because we’ve got an agency with Abus, a quality German brand. We design, and manufacture steelwork too… and we do installation, servicing and maintenance on top of that,” says managing director John Kirk.

He says the company has been busy in recent years, carrying out a number of upgrades to power station cranes or complete replacement with new cranes.

“Our customers have to weigh up the cost of replacement versus upgrading,” says Kirk. “Replacement also involves the removal of the old cranes, which can be quite difficult because of space constraints within the power station. These cranes are often 70-plus years old and are of heavy riveted construction (all have been UK-made). In addition, most of the sites are very remote so it is essential to have the method worked out thoroughly.”

The project seen in the photos was in a remote part of the South Island and required the old gantry crane to be removed.

The old crane was used for the maintenance of the hydroelectric turbine and auxiliary plant inside. A fault with the turbine generator led to a planned replacement of the generator. Due to historic maintenance issues with the old crane and the risk of failure, the client upgraded the crane to ensure it was in a guaranteed serviceable state prior to the commencement of the generator replacement project. The main objective of this upgrade was to have a crane certified at the power station for continued use for the next 50 years, meeting 100% of all operational and technical requirements for its intended maintenance purposes.

Due to the difficulty of removing the roof, all work was undertaken from within the building. The old crane had to be partially dismantled into manageable-sized parts because of the limited height above and also the limited size of the mobile crane that could be fitted into the space. The new crane was similarly installed in pieces.

“Often these sites are very obstructed by generating equipment and other restrictions, and as well some floor areas have limited load-carrying capacity,” says Kirk. “Once these restrictions are known, the lift plan is developed and drawings made, and the required mobile crane size determined. All clearances and heights are checked with the selected crane being drawn on the lift plan drawing. The step-by-step method statement is then written. A similar procedure applies to the installation.”

Kirk says that while jobs of this type are challenging for the reasons outlined above, the level of planning undertaken enables them to be carried out safely and efficiently. One interesting aspect, he says, is looking at the old manufacturer’s drawings and inspecting the old cranes themselves.

“The methods of manufacture are far different these days. The old manufacturers include Morris, Arrol, Cowans Sheldon, Marshall Fleming, among others.

“As these cranes are rapidly ageing and there is a large number of them, we aim to be involved with more of these projects in the future.”

Common ground

In contrast with Australian consumers, who might be feeling gloomy about rising inflation and interest rates impacting their cost of living, the nation’s lifting sector appears buoyant about its prospects.

“Everyone’s busy. There’s a lot of work,” says Ashley Thacker, general manager of Ranger, who highlights the government’s investment in infrastructure projects as being one cause for his optimism.

Meanwhile, Steven Flint, managing director of Chain Applications, says that “in the industrial and commercial sectors Australia seems to be powering on”.

“In terms of the projects in Australia, both mining and infrastructure-wise, there are still lots of projects being started and proposed to be started,” he says.

“Industrial-wise, we’ve got plenty on our books, plenty to look forward to. I think there’s enough work in the pipeline and into the future that’s going to remain fairly consistent. We might see a bit of conservatism in terms of the rate at which some of those projects might go ahead, but I still think they’re viable.”

Flint says there has been a growth in the inspection, repair and testing of lifting and rigging equipment in the past 12 months, while Andy Campbell, technical services and support manager at Bunzl, reports huge growth in its field services and inspection business, particularly since Covid.

“When Covid came along, we were concerned about whether people would want us to come to their business,” says Campbell. “And one thing I found here in Australia, and talking to other business owners and business operators, it was quite the opposite. I think people used that time to shut down, do a bit of maintenance, get their housekeeping in order… stop, check and reflect [on] what they do as well.

“99% of the customers we deal with are fantastic – they’re really good, they’re really compliant. But it just seems [that Covid] has just given them the opportunity to go to that next level.”

Talk of investment and growth does not mask the fact that Australia’s rigging and safety businesses are experiencing some issues, however.

Flint, for one, predicts that price increases on items made in Europe and China, due to issues such as higher energy prices, will have an impact on supply chain costs.

“Everyone’s whinging that labour’s gone up, shipping costs have gone up, then you’ve got the latest steel prices,” adds Thacker. “You just get hit from everywhere. But I’d rather be hit there and have work and not be hit there and have no work.”

As he points out, though, the same issues are affecting everyone.

“It’s not like I have to price up on my competitors,” Thacker says. “We’re all in the same marketplace and we’re dealing with the same… factors. We’re all having issues. You have to roll with the punches… work harder, work smarter.”

Thacker also highlights the rising costs of imports due to exchange rate challenges. Andy Campbell, technical services and support manager for Bunzl, agrees, and admits that “the change in the dollar has a huge effect for us”.

Such challenges extend to New Zealand.

John Kirk, MD at Baker Cranes, too is experiencing problems with shipping, although not from Asia, which is where some of his Australian counterparts source their products. As the New Zealand agent for Abus Crane Systems, a German brand, Kirk has seen both shipping costs and time increase, although he adds that the latter seems to be improving.

More sophisticated cranes are a particular problem, but the company tries to anticipate any delays and warn customers accordingly. It also tries to absorb, for example, higher labour and steel costs where it can, although that isn’t possible in every case.

A POWER STATION UPGRADE IN NEW ZEALAND
A POWER STATION UPGRADE IN NEW ZEALAND
As well as providing workplace training for boys, working with the Clontarf Foundation means companies also help out at sporting events.
A POWER STATION UPGRADE IN NEW ZEALAND
Andy Campbell of Bunzl
A POWER STATION UPGRADE IN NEW ZEALAND
Justin Boehm with the award
Four young men from the Clontarf Foundation visiting a Bunzl facility. Of the four, two have taken up Bunzl traineeships.
Leea’s Justin Boehm
Ashley Thacker of Ranger
A POWER STATION UPGRADE IN NEW ZEALAND