The winds of change

21 March 2017

Over recent years, we've seen the height that heavy loads can be lifted to, with minimal setup time, pushed further and further.

The same is true of the special-transport sector. Trailer manufacturers have developed smart, efficient ways to move heavy nacelles and giant turbine blades, often to remote, forested, locations along winding mountain roads or long stretches of temporary access.

For all that innovation, the sector still faces considerable challenges when it comes to safety and efficiency. As we've reported here in recent years, there have been fatal accidents and near misses during wind-turbine erection jobs. These have then prompted careful analysis and new guidance, or innovation from the equipment manufacturers and hire firms.

Stopping accidents happening in the first place and working as efficiently as possible requires crane and special-transport firms to communicate and collaborate with turbine manufacturers and energy firms.

The recent wind-energy summit organised by ESTA and the FEM looks to have been an important step towards building this collaboration. While I wasn't able to attend, we've been pleased to help promote the event. I understand from my contacts at ESTA that it was a successful event.

I'm told that the event attracted more than 140 delegates. Importantly, these weren't just from within the crane and lifting manufacturing and hire sectors, but also energy sectors.

Delegates attending came from wind turbine manufacturers including Siemens, GE Renewable Energy, Vestas, Senvion and Nordex. Renewable-energy firms were also well represented, with Vattenfall, EDF and Acciona all taking part.

The event also provided a chance for new contacts between trade assocations, with the power-systems group of German manufacturers association, the VDMA, meeting with its counterparts in this sector.

Now that all of these companies and organisations have met at this event, they need to develop a clear understanding of the job requirements.

On the lifting side, mobile cranes look to be working close to the limits of what is currently technically possible and commercially feasible.

That's not to say that crane manufacturers won't be able to develop new approaches, like the recent moves towards using tower cranes for the biggest turbines, but that the turbine manufacturers will need to be very clear on how they expect loads to develop, giving time for lifting technology to catch up.

The special-transport industry faces similar problems. For example, wind energy companies' standards for access road widths can apparently vary significantly. The same happens with the size of concrete pads built to support lifting at each turbine. At least across a market like the EU, these could, surely, be agreed upon between the turbine manufacturers, site owners, ground-preparation firms, and the crane and transport industry.

As well as these technical and planning concerns, there is also a clear need for everyone in the industry to put their money where their mouth is. At a corporate level, the commitment to safety is clear. Everyone involved has strong public positions on what should be achieved. However, it is not always clear that the costs of safe working are factored into rental rates, or that the 'safety first' message is being heard and followed all the way down to the job site.

Customers need to make sure that they understand what it will cost to perform jobs safely, and ensure that none of their employees are pushing for deadlines to come before safety. The crane and special-transport industries need to establish clear standards for safe working (as they have done over recent years), and individual companies need to make sure they don't accept jobs at rates that would make safe working impossible.

Together, everyone in the industry needs to make sure renewable energy is paid for, whether via the end consumer or government subsidies, at a price that supports safety.

There is much to be done. But ESTA and the FEM have achieved a lot with this event.

Will North, editor
wnorth@cranestodaymagazine.com