Mobile Cranes Get Smarter

20170620_133003It is a beautiful summers day in central London, and I have been invited to watch a Liebherr LTM 1130-5.1 all terrain crane, owned by Southern Cranes & Access place a 2t section of a new staircase inside a five-storey office building. The commercial property is undergoing major refurbishment and the staircase is one of the final elements of the job.

To undertake the project, the crane is sitting outside on the street in front of the building, its outriggers are 100% fully extended on the left-hand side, and 60% short rigged on the right. Like many city centre projects one lane of the highway must remain open throughout crane operations, meaning that full extension of the right-hand outriggers is not possible.

In the past, this would have meant operating the crane according to the predetermined load charts assuming a limited extension of the outriggers, probably 50%. But a huge disadvantage of this was that the crane lost out on capacity that it actually had, resulting from the full extension on the left.

Aware of this issue Liebherr invested in the creation of the VarioBase system seven years ago, revealing it at Bauma in 2010. This measures both the extension length and pressure in the outriggers and uses the crane rigging information inputted by the operator before calculating the actual crane capacity in real time.

“Without VarioBase we would have had to use a larger crane further down the road, which means we wouldn’t have been competitive on this job,” explains Ross Wickens, sales and technical manager for Southern Cranes, and a former crane operator himself.

The set up was further limited by the presence of basements along the road meaning that pressure could not be exerted over the pavement.

“The sensors within the outrigger talk to the computer which lets the operator know where it is, what rig is where and the pressure going through each outrigger and what the crane can do. If he tried to come this way his computer will tell him how much that outrigger is out and how much weight he can lift, as it will obviously come down as you go around the crane,” Wickens says pointing to the side where the outriggers are at 60% extension.

The 130t crane is set up with 42t of counterweight and two rope falls. “At the moment, I am at 45°,” explains the crane operator Ryan Whitfield. “It is a telescopic boom with five sections, 60m in total.”

In order to lift over the existing building the crane boom is fully extended. “I have full counterweight, yesterday I had three falls of rope and now I have two. They each have 8.4t capacity per line pull. Yesterday’s job was over 20t,” explains Whitfield.

“The sensors are automatically on. With the new computers, they acknowledge where the outriggers are so you can’t lie to it or put yourself in a position where you might make a mistake,” he says.

Improving safety was one of the reasons that Liebherr developed VarioBase, which comes as an option on its LICCON 2 operating system. The system identifies the machine’s precise centre of gravity and the tipping edges and then sets the two relative to each other. If a load is lifted over one support, the risk of tipping is lower than a lift to the side. This means that the system can allow a higher load capacity and a greater outreach. The greatest increases are in working areas above the supports when partial ballast is in use. Load capacity increase also means that sometimes full ballast is no longer needed.

“The crane control (LICCONSystem) calculates the load chart in real time, not using stored load charts,” explains Patrick Fähnle, technical trainer at Liebherr. “It is totally up to date because we have the length of the sliding beams, and the pressure of the support cylinders. It adds eight more sensors, four on each support cylinder and four to measure length. It is very safe,” he adds. The system tracks the capacity as the machine is slewing, so if lifting begins to approach the ultimate capacity, the crane will slow and cannot continue to be moved once the limit is reached. The LICCON 2 system itself was introduced in 2007, building on the success of LICCON 1. “We got to a point where the storage capacity was not enough for the new bigger cranes which have more configurations, more boom extensions, so the load chart data was growing and growing. We designed LICCON 2 with new architecture that would be suitable for the future,” says Fähnle.

Fundamentally the new LICCON 2 system combined the processing power of the PC with the screen in a single unit. “The monitor is now not only a screen, it includes the complete PC inside. Processor speed gets faster every year. We have a bigger memory card inside with much higher storage capacity than before,” he says.

Another major advantage of the LICCON 2 is that it comes with a work planner that allows operators to simulate the lift before they start work.

This was something that Southern Cranes found very useful in preparing for its confined London lift. Lifting in the city

Another company that sees the benefits of crane control systems that offer enhanced load monitoring and the ability to accurately assess true capacity under a range of outrigger scenarios is Belgium’s Sarens. In March it was announced that the firm would purchase 18 new Demag AC cranes which are fitted with the firm’s new IC-1 Plus system.

“Our IC-1 Plus system now allows outriggers to be set arbitrarily to get true configuration as your space constraints on the job site allow the extension. The system now onboard gives you charts for the capacity of the crane, for that configuration, and it is now slew angle related,” explains Ascan Klein, director, competence centre control systems at Terex Cranes.

“We monitor how the crane is set up,” he says explaining that sensors measure the outrigger position, and the amount of installed counterweight. Other data such as the boom configuration and reeving is entered by the operator. “Based on this data we have algorithms releasing the optimal capacity at the actual point of operation.” This means that the operator can optimise the crane capacity at every lifting point with arbitrary outrigger settings. Even when set on a standard outrigger base the slew angle related capacities are significantly improved compared to the classical 360° charts.

In addition the operator has a planning tool on board, which is embedded in the operator display but can also be used as a remote web based applicaton, which shows, depending on the outrigger settings, which capacity can be reached at a given point.

The seamless integration of this technology into the well-known, easy to operate IC-1 control system provides the operator continuously with an overview of the actual lifting situation and its surrounding.

So far the IC-1 Plus is available on all new AC cranes. It can also be retrofitted on to some models, but this has to be assessed on a case by case basis. Over time the firm plans to extend this across the Terex crane range.

“Customers from urban areas are excited about it. Wherever you work in confined spaces our customers really appreciate it,” says Klein.

This is certainly true for Sarens which has just purchased eight AC 100 4L cranes, seven AC 220- 5, and three AC 130-5 cranes.

Group equipment trade manager Jan L Sarens, says: “We have had a very positive experience with these cranes in the past. What we see now is that these are very operationally effective and cost efficient. Specifically, what we like about the IC1-Plus system is that it is good for city use.

“A lot of the cranes we have recently purchased are going to be used in London, so for city use it is a real big advantage because there is not always room to have outriggers fully out.”

He echoes the experience of other crane companies who find that the monitoring facility enhances capacity. “When the outriggers are out, you are not automatically downgraded to the load charts where they have 360 degree operation and that is really a very big advantage in those cases where you lose capacity compared to the full outriggers.”

The other big advantage for Sarens is safety. With over 1500 cranes in its possession including some with Liebherr’s VarioBase system this is paramount.

“The system is obviously to enhance safety. You can train people as much as you want and have much experience but in the end people can make mistakes,” he says explaining that the live load monitoring based on the actual outrigger positions prevents operator errors.

A mistake made by mobile crane operators in the past has been to assume full load capacity when one or more of the outriggers are only partially extended, manually overriding the safe working load system.

Although this was somewhat addressed under EN1300 and the removal of the override mechanism from the cabin, live load monitoring with the full range of outrigger positions is another useful step.

“When we buy a new crane now we take it as standard, VarioBase or IC-1Plus. Manufacturers offer it as an option but internally we decided to take it as standard because we see it as a safety feature,” says Sarens.

“The additional cost compared to the basic price of a crane is rather limited. We have to do it. We decided to make it default, for us it is not an option. Every system that can help the operator do his job safely is a big advantage.”

To read the rest of the piece and see more images visit Cranes Today for the full article

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Visiting Germany’s Rastatt Tunnel

The exponential development of technology means that I am called upon less and less frequently to pack a bag and carry out a site visit IN REAL LIFE! Make no mistake there is no substitute for visiting a project in person. The story is better, the photos are better, the report is better. But the reality is that magazines don’t have much travel budget these days and the information kept by project teams is better than ever (usually) and so I find myself increasingly asked to call site teams using Skype or the old fashioned telephone and write the story from London.

Every now and then though, I inveigle my way onto a live project and get to meet the amazing people bringing the ideas for improving connectivity, providing essential services and improving economic growth to life. In Germany recently Jörg, Ursula, Martin, Sören and Ulrich of the Hochtief/Ed Züblin joint venture took time out of their 12 hour day (at least!) to talk to me about creation of the incredible Rastatt Tunnel.

But first I had to get there……..

Read More »

PPP: learning from the past

 

It is not difficult to find examples of failed public-private partnerships (PPP). From Mexico to France, and from Australia to the US there are many many examples of how PPP has failed to deliver the benefits intended. In France for example the trend to use PPP simply to keep expenditure off the public balance sheet has led to some disastrous projects and highway projects in the Americas have become roads to bankruptcy.

However it is not always a disaster and it doesn’t have to be.  Involving private finance in infrastructure from the very early days can bring a number of benefits and ensure that public projects are delivered in a timely and effective way. Sometimes it is the only way that projects can be delivered at all. But it is crucial that private firms are held to account throughout the life of the project with contracts that demand high performance levels for the full term, and like London’s forthcoming Thames Tideway sewer tunnel, that projects are structured to ensure that the cost of capital is as low as possible. Here the consortia tendered the cost of capital at 2.49% – significantly lower than the 6-8% that might typically be required for private returns. One of the biggest criticisms of PPP is that private money costs more than public money. It doesn’t have to.

So I was pleased to be asked by The Guardian (article here) to look at examples where PPP has worked, or is working, for companies and the public sector. Governments around the world, including US President Elect Donald Trump are looking to private finance to fund much needed infrastructure. Highlighting the ways in which this has been successfully achieved might help avoid some of the contractual catastrophes of the past. Bankers will tell you that PPP works best in sectors with clear revenue streams such as energy and aviation. For roads and rail it is much more difficult to make this work.

There are exceptions of course and A contract for 65 high capacity metro trains signed in November is the largest single order of new trains in the history of the Australian state of Victoria. It is also the state’s first ever public private partnership (PPP) for manufacturing. Unlike traditional contracts where trains are purchased as a commodity manufactured in the preferred location of the supplier, this partnership with the Evolution Rail consortium will ensure that sixty percent of manufacturing will happen locally creating 1,100 much needed jobs.

Job creation is key. Like the US, Australia has battled with the decline in local production industries particularly in the automotive sector. Ford closed its plant in October 2016 and Toyota and Holden will follow in 2017 leading to thousands of job losses. Not only does the new AUS $2bn PPP demand local manufacturing, further partnerships with Toyota and other local organisations will ensure that staff from the automotive sector are transitioned into the growing rail industry.

This and many other projects are covered in The Guardian article. Thanks to all that took the time to discuss the topic: ARCADIS, Pavegen, Mott MacDonald, Washington DDoT, Skanska Infrastructure Development, La Guardia Gateway Partners, Victoria Ministry for Public Transport and Major Projects and the IFC.

 

 

 

 

 

Exploring energy issues

Having storage in networks is a foregone conclusion in most industries. In the water sector reservoirs hold potable drinking water supplies and massive underground pipes act as additional storage for sewage. Gas is converted to liquid (LNG) and held in tanks for transportation or storage. But in the electricity sector storage remains elusive. And yet the need for this is becoming even more crucial as the UK seeks to decentralise and de-carbonise energy provision. How wonderful it would be if homeowners could store the energy generated by their solar panels, or farmers could capture the energy from their wind turbines for later use.

The good news is that this could happen sooner than we think. Two recent developments have thrust battery storage into a 12 month boom period. Before September 2015 Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) who bring electricity from the national transmission network into homes and businesses, had zero obligations from third parties on grid-scale storage. But today there are around 20GW of obligations.

Driving this boom is Ofgem’s £500m Low-Carbon Networks Fund and National Grid’s Enhanced Frequency Response competition. Since becoming available in 2010 the Ofgem finance has led to massive investments in new storage technology such as the UK Power Networks Leighton Buzzard £17.2m Smarter Network Storage Project. The primary aim of the 10MWh facility is to allow deferral of the need to reinforce the network, so instead of extending a substation, the battery provides peak storage at the times of year where load exceeds the local constraint.

And in September 2015 National Grid launched the UK’s first ever competition to provide network storage that would respond within 1 second. The organisation received 37 tenders containing 64 proposed solutions and 61 of these were batteries. This is expected to result in eight new battery storage solutions being built in the UK.

At the same time the cost of renewable energy generation is falling significantly with onshore wind and solar power having the lowest capital costs of all technologies, and figures from Scottish Energy showing that offshore wind costs have fallen by a third over the past five years from £136MWh to £100MWh. The firm has launched a pilot “smart battery solar power home” which can store excess solar energy in a battery.

Yet despite the incredible technical advances being made and strategy levers being implemented there remains a need for clearer long term energy policy if major new projects are to move forwards. Investors are viewing the market with caution and the UK’s position in the single energy market remains a negotiating point with the EU for Brexit negotiations.

All of this and more was covered at the Major Projects Association event “UK Energy to 2025 – getting major projects moving” which I attended as a reporter.  A summary of the day produced for the MPA can be read here.

 

 

 

 

Final breakthrough in Doha

I’ve been writing about the Doha metro project for years and from the outset the challenge was huge. Building three lines of subway simultaneously, in a location where bored tunnelling experience is limited, facing some unusual ground conditions, and working to an immovable deadline (FIFA World Cup 2022) gave the project a level of difficulty that not many experience.

But Qatar Rail has now announced the 76th TBM breakthrough (yes 76th) on the Red Line South marking the end of tunnelling for the first phase of the scheme. In just 26 months Doha has delivered 111km of new bored tunnel consisting of over 70,000 tunnel rings, using 7m diameter Herrenknecht earth pressure balance machines. It is a huge achievement.

doha-metro_316-03-15_AWB-Metro_Doha

Delivering this in just over two years is even more impressive given that machine S-868 had to be shut down when seawater flooded its bore. Over 1000 new spare parts had to be sent over to Qatar from the Herrenknecht headquarters in Germany. But just three months later it was back in action.

Commenting on the achievement, Dr. Eng. Saad Al Muhannadi, Qatar Rail’s Chief Executive Officer said: “Completion of tunneling on the Doha Metro is yet another major milestone for the project and one we are delighted to have achieved on plan and to schedule. Until now 7.5km of above ground tracks viaducts have been installed and base slab and foundations have been completed on 33 stations. Roofs have been completed on 8 stations and roof slabs are progressing at 27 different stations. We are delighted to have been able to achieve all this within the timelines and budgets allocated and this is due to the hard work and dedication of all parties involved.”

Tunnelling started in July 2014 on the northern part of Red Line by TBM “Lebretha” in Al Qassar site. Now that tunneling has been completed we are moving to the laying of the tracks, awaiting the arrival of the train mockups, and working on the completion of the interiors of the stations with mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) works),” says Al Muhannadi.

The first phase of the Doha Metro project is expected to be complete in 2020. By 2030, all the three networks – Doha Metro, Lusail Tram and the long-distance rail, which will link Qatar with the GCC Rail network – are expected to be complete. By 2020 Doha Metro’s 37 metro stations are expected to be operative, with an average journey time of two minutes between adjacent stations.

Contractors:

Red Line North the ISG joint venture – Salini Impreglio S.p.A./ SK Engineering & Constructing Co Ltd/ Galfar Al Misnad Engineering & Constructing W.L.L (22.8km of tunnelling)

Red Line South the Qatari Diar Vinci Construction JV (QDVS)/ GS Engineering & Construction Corp./ Al-Darwish Enginering W.L.L (32.6km)

Green Line contractor PORR Bau GmbH/ Saudi Binladin Group Company Ltd/ Hamad Bin Khalid Contracting Co. W.L.L.(33.4km)

Gold Line the joint venture Aktor S.A./ Larsen & Toubro Limited/ Yapi Merkezi Insaat VE Sanayi Anonim Sirketi/ Sezai Turkes Feyzi Akkaya Marine Construction/ Al Jaber Engineering LLC) (23.3km)

More Doha metro articles here

Going for Gold

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A Liebherr 630 EC-H 40 Litronic whcih can lift 5.8t at 80m reach on site at Las Bambas, Peru

Did you know that tower cranes are used extensively in the gold mining process? Neither did I until Cranes Today magazine asked me to investigate for their September issue. The first step was to find out more about gold mining itself and the key processes that strip the gold from the source rock. Expert Paul Wheeler at the Cambourne School of Mines explained:

“The chemistry of the process is that gold has great affinity with cyanide, so if you add this gold with large surface area (after crushing) to react with the cyanide solution the gold will then form a solution as a cyanide complex. What you can then do is add carbon into this mix and the carbon has an even greater affinity with gold which gets loaded on to the carbon from the solution.”

The final outcome is a substance called loaded carbon which is then taken to an elution plant where an acid wash strips the gold from the carbon after which the smelting process can take place. “It is a big industrial chemical engineering process as we are talking about very large volumes of rock to get small quantities of gold.”

This big industrial process needs cranes to change the crushing plant, insert equipment, maintain the motors and gearboxes and tanks. Firms such as Liebherr, SA French and ETAC all took the time to tell me more about how their cranes are used in the  mining industry and a full report will be in Cranes Today very soon.

Tunnel Vision

Over the past couple of weeks I have been looking into the research that is underway at UK institutions related to tunnelling. There was more than I expected. My 2000 word article is currently 3124 words. But I can’t bear to cut anything out. Should I omit some of the amazing work underway at Cambridge University which is using increasingly sophisticated sensors to give real time data that can be compared with the centrifugal and numerical model data? Or should I edit back the report on work at Edinburgh University where explosive spalling of concrete during fire and the influence of ventilation are major research topics?

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Edinburgh University’s testing rig for studying the explosive spalling behaviour of concrete during a fire

I could miss out some of the incredible work being done at the University of Leeds Institute of Resilient Infrastructure where world leading research is being carried out into the cumulative effect of seismic loading on tunnels – something that design codes don’t currently cover. They are going to use sensors on two live tunnels in Chile where there there is an astonishing amount of earthquakes every month. Have a guess how many (the article will tell you – unless I have to cut that part)!

With the raft of tunnels planned in cities around the world the research at Imperial College London into the effect of tunnelling on existing tunnels, surely must be included. More specifically the university has carried out an incredibly detailed study into the impact on cast iron tunnels. Similarly Nottingham University is focused on the interaction between tunnels and buildings and its research is giving more effective tools for evaluating the effects of tunnelling on piled structures. City University too is focused on tunnel/structure interaction as well as undertaking research supported by the Pipe Jacking Association.  A current research project looks at the effect of tunnel excavation on escalator tunnels. Another focuses on ground support at the tunnel face and the effects on stability and surface settlement.

New technology and construction methods too have to be included. Dr Alan Bloodworth, who this week took over as the head of the UK’s only dedicated tunnelling and underground space MSc at Warwick University, has been studying sprayed waterproof lining systems, examining whether composite action occurs between the primary and secondary sprayed concrete linings due to the bonded waterproof layer (it does). How can I cut that?

And what about the future? Universities have research plans a plenty. I simply must include those or how will people know that Cambridge wants to create virtual tunnelling models and research the redistribution of loads around cross passages; that Edinburgh is working on new design strategies for mitigating concrete spalling in tunnels during fire or that Leeds University will create a virtual platform where the public can view the earthquake response of tunnels in Chile?

As I said there was more than I expected. There is nothing boring about tunnels!