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Treading the Boards

Having delivered an acclaimed presentation at the LEEA Lifting & Rigging Conference Middle East in Dubai, Anthony Culshaw, Modulift’s senior design engineer, guest blogs for the below-the-hook equipment manufacturer.

I’m honoured that our managing director, Sarah Spivey, turned to me when looking for someone to cover her blog this month. I’m not an experienced blogger but I’m going to approach this in the same way I would a presentation. I aim to provide an educational angle that gives the audience (or reader) valuable information.

As we’ve not long packed up our exhibit at the LEEA Lifting & Rigging Conference Middle East here in Dubai, where I gave a one-hour talk on the opening day yesterday, I’ll start by outlining what I feel are key ingredients to a presentation at an industry conference. They were guidelines I followed myself when preparing a paper titled ‘The Design, Engineering, Manufacture and Use of Lifting Beams and Spreader Beams for a Specific Project’ and one I gave a few months earlier at the The Crane Industry Council of Australia’s event in Perth, called ‘Lifting and Spreader Beam Design and Use’.

You can’t judge a book by its cover but the title of a presentation is very important. Note that I didn’t use the name of the company in either one as I didn’t want to give the impression it was a sales pitch or contained commercial content. ‘The Design, Engineering, Manufacture and Use of Modulift Lifting/Spreader Beams for a Specific Project’ or ‘Modulift Lifting and Spreader Beam Design’ would have aroused suspicion among the delegates, which would have had an adverse effect on the reputation of myself and the company.

Therein lies the crux of my point. People want to be educated by conference presentations, not sold to. I’ve been to a variety of industry events and I always take note of conversations and the reaction of attendees after sessions as they leave for exhibition areas or networking functions. Where the presenter has been self-serving or made references to specific products or services, the audience is left cold and often share their discontentment with fellow participants.

Imagine the negative impact that has on a company. Here in Dubai, Modulift had invested in taking a sponsorship package, sending myself and Malcolm Peacock to the event and shipped the contents of our exhibit, while I’d spent many hours preparing and practicing my presentation. If I’d have delivered a paper titled ‘Modulift: Below-the-Hook but Top of the World’ (you get my point), the consequences would have been severe. Delegates would have chuntered on about my thinly veiled attempt to waste an hour of their time with a sales pitch.

A good barometer by which to measure the impact of a presentation is to see how many of the audience approach the speaker afterwards and then, if they also have an exhibition stand, how many make a beeline for it. I was warmed by the reception I received and Malcolm was standing by on the stand as attendees approached him with questions and comments. I always try to congratulate other speakers on presentations I have enjoyed and I’d urge others to do the same; it’s a fantastic feeling to get good feedback and it helps promote the value of educational information.

I’ve enjoyed the challenge immensely of talking to both the LEEA and CICA audiences in the Middle East and Australia respectively this year. It brought back memories of my secondary school years when I was an active member of a local theatre company. I also played and sung in multiple bands over the last 10 years so the stage holds no fear for me.

Back to the drawing board

I will also remember this year for two notable products and I was very proud to have guided the engineering team to successful launches in recent months. The new Trunnion spreader beam offers lifting professionals an efficient, lightweight and economic below-the-hook solution, while our subsea modular spreader beams are suited to deep water lifting and conform to the latest documentation and standards, notably DNV-OS-H206.

The latter was really a case of making a custom range standard, but having been heavily involved in the conception and development of the Trunnion End Unit, I have relished unveiling it at a number of trade shows recently. While I’ve spoken fondly of the stage, I am probably at my most content in this varied role when working on new design concepts and products. Readers of this blog might be interested to learn more about that process.

As it was important to ask myself what the audiences were learning from each and every slide I showed or statement I made in Perth and Dubai, it is just as crucial to ask oneself questions when setting out to design a new product. What does a product do? What problem does it solve? At the route of all innovation is a problem, which is fundamental to the concept of engineering.

The process started last year when I was on site in Ireland with our technical director, Sue Spencer. A team of riggers was struggling to get a pin into the heavy shackles they were using. Hours were wasted with multiple lifting appliances brought onto the site. It struck me that there was an opportunity to design a new product that improved safety, saved time and money, and carried the Modulift hallmark of modular design.

I began the process of looking into a new idea in the same way I always do—with a blank sheet of paper. At this stage many people struggle to get even a single sensible idea down, but I find it important to sketch the first crazy idea that comes to mind. It’s important to keep your brain moving—even if your early concepts are impractical, you are still thinking about the problem. A small aspect of one of these early sketches may end up feeding your brain the idea it needs to come up with much more viable designs.

Once I had arrive at a more developed concept, I could then bring it before the engineering team as a whole. As a group we then discussed technical and mechanical viability before Sarah and Sue were introduced to the concept to seek their approval to proceed with prototypes and eventual manufacture.

It wasn’t a case at this point of handing it over to the marketing team and cracking on with the next big idea. The engineering team remain engaged even now as the product is put to work in below-the-hook applications. The subsea launch has gone smoothly but, as I said, that represents the standardisation of a custom product so the Trunnion was always going to present more challenges and the first six months are very important in working with partners and end users to react to feedback from heavy lift rigging teams.

Lifting applications like this bring our products to life so it was exciting to see 27 spreader beams and other below-the-hook equipment used by oil and gas specialist Alderley for the Shah Deniz Stage 2 BP project in Azerbaijan earlier this year. In the UK we are the only company who could have fulfilled such an order due to the stringent requirements of the project specifications and the sheer size of the order so it was hugely rewarding.

Brushed aside

I would also like to take this opportunity to address a popular misconception about the young professionals in this industry. While progress has been made, we still need to make improvements regarding the engagement and the attitude of the industry towards young people. The ideas of the younger generation are often either ignored or belittled as the lack experience. In many cases this is a valid point however it is the response to that scenario where progress must be made. The performance of young professionals in the industry is by large, a good indication of the training and guidance that they are receiving. If their ideas show a lack of experience then give them the opportunities to gain that experience, instead of shutting doors to them. Let’s teach, train, engage and appreciate young engineers and others making their way in the business.

One way to improve young professionals’ skill-sets and involve them in the mechanics of continued improvement of best practice is to encourage them to attend industry events like the LEEA conference in Dubai, for example. Imagine the knowledge one could garner by networking and absorbing presentations like Keith Anderson’s fantastic rigging workshop that opened the second day of the event.

I said at the outset that I was honoured our managing director, Sarah, turned to me when looking for someone to cover her blog this month. And I am. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. We have great cohesion between the engineering, marketing and sales teams at Modulift. Even at trade shows and conferences we try to ensure we have a mixed representation. Sophie Briggs, our marketing executive, has done a great plan for 2016 and I know Sarah and I are scheduled to represent the company at specific events.

I’m certainly grateful for the opportunities Modulift has given me to become recognised as an authoritative voice within the heavy lifting industry, but there are many others like me who have the ability do the same. This was a blog by an engineer who grew up in the construction industry, has a history of musical performance and enjoys public speaking, but that’s just my story. Do you know the stories of the younger employees at your company?

Sophie also asked me to remind you that we now have over 1,000 followers on Twitter. Follow @ModuliftUK and use the hashtag #belowthehook to engage with us.

Our managing director Sarah Spivey will be back in the hot seat for the first blog of the New Year. You can see her blog archive at Modulift.com/Blog

Thank you for reading. I hope to have an opportunity to blog here again soon.

Anthony Culshaw
Senior Design Engineer
Modulift
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