To be successful it is no longer enough to sell cranes. Those companies that are succeeding are those that offer added value. On a global scale there are companies like KCI Konecranes whose whole growth strategy is focused on winning crane maintenance contracts as crane owners outsource their maintenance. In the UK there are several companies, including distributor/rental company Lifting Gear Hire and crane and hoist manufacturer Morris Material Handling Ltd, that are promoting their training courses. New regulations introduced in recent years have created strong demand for training as crane users rush to get to grips with the implications of the changes in the law. And the very growth in legislation has paved the way for specialist lifting engineering companies to grow. Two specialists with aggressive growth strategies are Crane Care and SCX.

Crane Care’s turnkey approach

Crane Care managing director Derek Barnbrook believes that materials handling solution providers can no longer afford to specialise on one aspect of the supply chain. Instead they must now cater for every need from design right through to post-installation service and maintenance because customers want a single source for their materials handling requirements.

Crane Care has 22 staff and a turnover in 2001 of £2.5m. Founded 22 years ago, it was bought by its current management in 1998.

Derek Barnbrook says that Crane Care identified the emerging trends in the market place some time ago and pre-empted them by diversifying. Crane Care is the UK distributor for a range of products including HBC remote controls, Kuplex chains and Jolly truck loader cranes. Its real focus, however, is on offering turnkey solutions. Its technical sales engineers will attend any location and advise on solutions to materials handling problems. It will then execute projects and stick around to carry out the maintenance. If on installation there are any teething problems that necessitate design or working modifications, after sales service ensures that these are remedied before productivity is affected.

They key, Barnbrook suggests, is being technically competent to be involved at any and every stage of a project.

“Those companies which are on hand to provide sound advice at any stage of any project are the ones who will most likely reap the rewards when the business is finally put out to tender,” he says.

While adding value normally allows a service provider to charge more and make more profit, Barnbrook believes that the complete service provider offers customers better value for money. In the past, he says, many end users of cranes and hoists had been left to their own devices when looking to procure parts and accessories. Purchasing decisions too often focused on initial cost rather than on the whole life cost which it often takes an expert to determine.

Some recent Crane Care projects, demonstrating the kinds of projects in which it is engaged, are reported in the Roundup section of this issue.

SCX’s special projects

SCX appears to share Barnbrook’s vision and has wholeheartedly pursued a similar strategy. SCX is the new name for Street CraneXpress, the Sheffield-based service arm of crane and hoist manufacturer Street Crane.

In the past 10 years its turnover has increased by 500% to £7.5m ($10m) last year. Average contract values have risen from around £20,000 ($28,000) to millions, the company says, coming from a diverse customer base that includes the Ministry of Defence, Ascot Racecourse, GKN Westland Helicopters and Nuclear Electric.

Half way through this year there is project work on the order books for more than £6m, a 300% increase on last year, and the company says it is on track to increase turnover by 50% in 2002.

According to managing director Simon Eastwood, SCX’s growth has gone hand in hand with its transition from being an equipment distributor and servicing operation to a design engineering and manufacturing operation.

Distribution and servicing remain core: recent additions to products offered by the company include Gorbel’s G-Force Intelligent Lifting Device and the Swedish Lyftman LR light crane and monorail system.

On the service side SCX has had a maintenance contract with the distribution arm of supermarket group Tesco for 10 years. SCX regularly inspects Tesco lifting equipment, undertakes preventative maintenance and, if problems do occur, undertakes to be on site within four hours.

A similar service is provided for the Central Veterinary Laboratory at Weybridge. In view of the nature of the work for which lifting equipment is used here (lifting horses and other large animals onto operating tables), there must be a guaranteed response time of two hours in the event of a breakdown. Other service contracts are held with English Welsh & Scottish Railway, Wolseley Centers and The Royal Opera House in London.

But it is the bespoke design engineering side of the business, led by technical sales director Andy Whitworth, that accounts for a large percentage of the rapid growth.

Theatre and entertainment centres are a growth sector. For the Royal Opera House SCX developed a gantry system to manoeuvre backdrop cloths from high level storage in the rear stage fly tower to difficult suspension points without disturbing the pre-set stage. Spanning 28m and weighing 36t, the gantry system enables 12 stage technicians to traverse 42m along the full depth of the stage, mechanically moving up to 20t of scenery from 15m above the stage. It includes six 1t chain hoists on the underside of the gantry, plus a mobile access platform for two people which travels 12m ahead of the main gantry and can extend 5m above the gantry or 13m between the stage and above. This enables essential work on the entire stage lighting system to be carried out with relative ease and safety.

A significant technical feature is the gantry’s self-correcting track alignment system. This allows for a 550mm break in the track for an acoustic door to be lowered, articulating the track by allowing its mountings to slide on polypropylene pads.

SCX has recently won a contract to design, manufacture and install stage engineering equipment for the new Gateshead Regional Music Centre in the northeast of England. Motorised ceiling panels each weighing up to 15t, platform risers, banner hoists and the flying control system are among the standard and special equipment planned. For this and future UK theatre projects SCX has formed a joint venture with specialist theatre design company Multistage.

Entirely different and claimed to be the first of its kind in the UK, is a recent project for Bradford-based Wrapid Packaging Systems which wanted to replace its existing hoist system that could lift and place only a single 1t paper roll at a time.

SCX devised a new pick and place hoist system using four synchronised 1t capacity chain hoists attached to a cross travel crab unit traversed by a long travel carriage. Lifting and placing four rolls simultaneously has given Wrapid Packaging the potential to increase production four-fold.

SCX has also completed the second phase of a project for the UK Ministry of Defence, awarded by project manager Houlder Offshore Engineering, to develop special crane systems for three Royal Navy aircraft carriers. HMS Ark Royal and HMS Invincible already have the new system and work will start on HMS Illustrious later this year.

Designed to assist in maintenance of Sea Harrier jet fighter planes and Merlin helicopters on board, the system comprises four overhead travelling cranes fixed to the underside of the main deck in the hangar. The requirement for precision handling and the environment in which the system operates required the development of new features. Each crane has a 3t SWL with a smooth handling system for precision movement of components, including missiles.

To counteract the effects of the ships’ rolling motion, the cranes are fitted with a rack and pinion to ensure a safe working angle of load of up to 10° to horizontal. To prevent loads from falling the cranes have been designed to slow to a halt when they are overloaded and, to safeguard against main brake failure, a secondary brake system was also installed.

SCX also designs, manufactures and installs bespoke access systems. It is nearing completion of its second project in China – an under deck gantry access system for the new Lupu Bridge in Shanghai, demonstrating a diversification not just from the core business of servicing cranes but also geographically. A long journey, both metaphorically and literally.