GLOUCESTER-BASED KEITH RHODES MACHINERY INSTALLATIONS LTD OFFERS A WIDE RANGE OF SERVICES TO THE SPECIALIST ENGINEERING SECTOR. BOB BEECH GETS AN INSIGHT INTO THE PROBLEMS FACED WHEN MOVING THE LATEST KIT.
While the British economy has undergone many dramatic changes in the past three decades, with far less focus upon heavy industry, there’s still a great deal of specialist engineering undertaken by many companies. The machines and equipment used by these companies are very sophisticated with one machine carrying out a range of tasks that used to require a number of smaller machines. This creates a whole new range of challenges for specialist machine transport and installation companies. Handling
modern computer numeric controlled machines requires highly trained, multi-skilled sta , capable
of operating a wide range equipment. Companies competing in this sector tend to be relatively long established concerns, often run by individuals who, above all, relish a challenge. Many of the techniques that were developed in the early years of the operation, when vehicles and equipment were far less sophisticated, have been adapted for the modern era and have been passed on to new generations of sta .
Keith Rhodes Machinery Installations Ltd, is a perfect example of this type of operation, originally starting out as a one-man band in 1982, with a Land Rover and trailer, equipped with simple manual jacks, skates and rollers. The enterprise flourished and Rhodes quickly built a reputation as somebody who got the job done efficiently and safely. Gradual expansion led to bigger vehicles, truck-mounted cranes were still in their relative infancy, but Commer and Dodge four wheelers, fitted with three- and five-tonne capacity cranes were a step forward, but the acquisition of a three-axle DAF rigid with a 26-tonne/metre Fassi crane gave the company a major increase in capacity and the range of jobs it could undertake. Forklift trucks of various capacities and sizes were acquired, increasing the range of services, other lifting equipment including mobile cranes came into service, including the essential Iron Fairy, which was almost standard issue for machine movers in the past.
Rigid trucks led to artics, with high-capacity cranes mounted on the trailers, this gave greater flexibility to the operation, step-frame low-loaders were added to the fleet, both fixed and extendible, along with trailers with covered bodywork. Forklift trucks and other equipment increased in both capacity and sophistication and the company, like many in this specialist sector invested heavily in specialist lifting, jacking and skidding systems in order to keep pace with changes in the marketplace.
With a current regular workforce of seven multi-skilled drivers/engineers/installers, this flexibility means that the company covers a wide range of services. Job titles are not a big priority within the organisation, flexibility and a willingness to learn are key attributes. Chris Palmer, who has been with the company for seven years, started out in the workshop after serving an apprenticeship in a commercial garage, but now has a very broad role in the organisation.
“I now spend a great deal of my time dealing with the planning, organisation, preparation of method statements, work plans and other associated documentation required before starting work,” says Palmer. “In addition, I share with Keith, responsibility for site visits, deal with customers, produce quotations and carry out a host of other administrative tasks. Also if required, I put on a pair of overalls and drive a truck, operate a crane and work alongside the rest of the team. I find that many of our regular customers like to deal with people who have practical experience, it gives them more confidence in the organisation.
“It was quite a challenge for me to get involved in the administrative side of the business after previously being strictly hands on,” he continues, “fortunately I am very much at home with computers and enjoy learning new skills.
Some long-standing customers still like to deal directly with Keith, which is not a problem, in recent years our customer base has expanded, so we are able to tailor our approach to suit the situation. We carry out a lot of work within the aerospace and nuclear industries, the work is very demanding and the clients have very high standards, which in turn means that we have to meet their exact requirements on every job.”
Finding staff capable of this type of work has never been easy, it can be physically demanding and mentally challenging, but if they are properly trained and given the right equipment to work with, it can be very rewarding for the right type of individual.
“It’s now more difficult than ever to and young people who want to come into this type of business, above all they have to be willing to learn, deal with challenging situations and see the job through to the end,” says Palmer. “Often people from an agricultural background are the best candidates, they’re used to working with specialist equipment from an early age, used to working with minimal supervision and generally not watching the clock.
“Once we find a suitable individual we will train them to do as many jobs as possible, put them through their LGV tests, teach them how to use every piece of equipment, train them how to use our cranes and forklifts of all sizes. After this they will have a real range of skills, not just give them a qualification card that means very little without practical experience, the job satisfaction derived from working as part of a small team and completing a really difficult installation job is tremendous.”
While there are fewer individual machine tools in use, many are physically bigger and heavier, also health and safety considerations mean that many are now fully enclosed with panel work. This can be vulnerable to damage when lifted and moved. Installation teams have to use adjustable spreader bars and non-damaging lifting straps and great care must be taken to find the precise point of balance. Also the lack of clearance on the underside of machines means that very low-pro le wedge jacks and transport skates have to be used and understanding just where to position them is critical. Ironically as machines have become bigger and more complex, many of the factory buildings are smaller and more specialised, often situated on smaller industrial estates and technology parks.
All of these factors and more have to be taken
into account when conducting a site survey. Floor loadings in particular are critical. Heavier machines require bigger forklifts and other equipment to move them, this then creates a vicious circle of more imposed weight on the ground.
“We always make a very careful assessment of floors and other areas where we have to work, the simple mantra is always be extra cautious and plate over the surface unless we are absolutely convinced about the load bearing ability of any surface,” says Palmer.
“Our biggest Versa-Lift 40-60 forklift can lift 27 tonnes, plus the weight of the truck itself and it runs on solid tyres, so the point loadings are tremendous, very few surfaces will withstand that unless it is very thick reinforced concrete specifically designed to cope with the weight. There are further factors to take into account, including the risk of causing additional damage to floors with heavy steel plates, especially in premises where there is any risk of contamination. Normal practice is to use hardboard as a protective layer, but we have found the heavy-duty plastic sheeting used inside livestock transporters is ideal for the job, it doesn’t break or leave any marks on the floor.”
The current fleet has recently been updated with two new Euro 6 6×2 80-tonne tractor units. The company has stayed with DAF after the reliable performance of a pair of similar specification XF95.530 tractors. The new XF/510 FTS tag axle tractors, with hub reduction drive axle and twin tyres on the rear tag axle, have been carefully specified to meet the company’s exact needs. This includes 16-speed manual gearboxes, gearbox retarders and engine brakes. Well-equipped Super Space Cabs give the best possible environment for drivers and crews.
“We did look at Volvo and a few others, but came back to DAF because of our previous good experience with both the trucks and back up, the local dealer is close by and we have dealt with them for many years and know all of the staff,” explains Palmer. “The tag axle layout works well for us, they are very manoeuvrable, we often have to get right inside buildings with both the crane trailers and standard step-frame low-loaders, the ability to dump the air on the tag axle means the tractor unit will turn on a sixpence, making the trailer respond faster when reversing.”
The company changed the diff ratio slightly to suit its needs and had the rear air suspension re-calibrated to put more bias onto the drive axle.
“This is important when pulling a trailer with a rear-mounted crane, sometimes it’s difficult to get enough weight onto the drive axle, especially when climbing a hill in the wet.”
DAF also offered a very competitive package, including a repair and maintenance contract: “Our trucks do far less mileage than with most other operators,” says Palmer. “They might well be sat on site for a couple of days, their main purpose is to deliver the machines, we do a proportion of abnormal load transport, but our main focus is machinery installation. As a result, we keep our tractor units for longer than normal, we also have a 6×2 twin-steer DAF and a 6×2 Iveco, they both perform well. A V8 580 Scania rigid with rear-mounted crane pulls a drawbar trailer when required and is a very versatile machine. It’s getting on a bit now, but is very reliable, we also run a smaller Iveco rigid, plus the vans that are equipped for both installation work and escort duties when required.”
Many UK machinery hauliers are following European practice and specifying fully enclosed curtain-side bodywork on their trailers, finding drivers with the necessary skills to effectively sheet and rope an irregular-size load such as a large machine tool is getting increasingly difficult. Also health and safety considerations make it increasingly difficult for staff to climb on top of the load to roll out a heavy tarpaulin. Modern trailer bodywork with a full length sliding roof, extra deep curtains, width extendible rear pillars and lifting roof/cant rail designs is very versatile. When built onto low-height step-frame trailers, out of gauge loads can be carried inside the trailer body. Ironically there is little time saving compared with sheeting, as it takes quite a while to prepare the trailer for loading and then close it back up again, an experienced individual with ropes and sheets can be nearly as quick, but the load is 100% weather proof inside the trailer body.
“We have a mix of trailers in the fleet as well, with Faymonville, Andover and Montracon step-frames and low-loaders, both open and with sliding roof curtain-side bodywork, plus Schmitz Euroliners,” says Palmer. “Covered trailers look to be the way forward, we only run into Europe when required for certain customers, but work closely with other European operators, many have moved right away from open trailers for all but the biggest loads. We have two new Faymonville step-frames on order, one four axle pretty much to standard spec and a three axle with enclosed bodywork, it has width-extendible rear pillars, a sliding roof, a two-piece full width rear ramp with side shift and a reinforced bed to withstand the weight of the bigger Versa-Lift and Hoist Liftruck 25—35 forklifts. This was the first new Hoist machinery forklift to be delivered in the UK, it’s performed well so far, it’s very similar to the Versa-Lift with the hydraulically extending wheelbase to increase the lifting capacity. The Versa-Lift has a few more advanced features, but the newcomer is definitely a good machine, they are a good alternative. In total we have in excess of 20 forklifts, all sizes and mast combinations, it gives us the flexibility we require.
“We favour Fassi cranes, our biggest is 100tonne/ metre, they are well built and give very fine control in a con ned space, jerky hydraulics are the last thing you need when trying to inch a machine into place.
We’ve had Palfinger in the past, they are very good as well. We also have a 60-tonne mobile crane, if we require anything bigger, or are working away from home, we regularly hire from some of the nationwide specialists. Our small tracked spider crane is a useful machine, particularly in a con ned space, it will t through most doorways when folded up, we have an 18-tonne mobile gantry system, again we hire in bigger capacity systems if required.”
Machine storage is another service offered, for both new machines awaiting delivery and used machines seeking a new home, also the preparation of equipment for export and arranging shipping is undertaken.
“Often the least visible equipment is the most important, while the shiny trucks and big equipment grab the attention, simple bits of kit often make it possible to complete a really difficult job, these details, along with the combined experience and skills that we have amassed over the years is what really counts,” says Palmer. “We find there’s increasing competition from normal transport companies with high-capacity cranes on trucks, often they can handle the lifting and transportation; but struggle once they get the machine back on the ground. We have various skate systems of up to 100-tonne capacity, plus almost every type of jack and lifting frame imaginable, we have containers full of it, some is older than me, but every once in a while a job comes along and we find the ideal piece of kit.”