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Getting the calculations right

As the demand to lift heavier and more complex weights increases, our engineering manager, Harshal Kulkarni, who joined Modulift this year, says it's even more important than ever to precision plan in advance.

I have a great passion for chess which I've played since I was a child. It keeps my mind sharp as I plan my next move and formulate a strategy. The middle game is my favourite bit. As an engineer, I've specialised in integral lifting analysis – the science of calculating correctly how to design a safe lifting process. This requires a similar approach – careful planning and a robust strategy!

To provide an accurate analysis of a lift, it requires the customer to provide their design and it's then integrated with a lifting design model, which produces a combined computer analysis. For heavy lifting - items more than 100 tonnes– these calculations are even more crucial. Fortunately, we have the skills in our team to do this analysis to a very high standard.

Oil and gas industry

I've worked extensively in the oil and gas industry, typically lifting fired heaters – critical pieces of equipment that heat gases or liquids as part of the refining process. These are complex, expensive and relatively fragile items and, as you can imagine, there's a lot that can go wrong when craning this sort of things on to oil platforms in the middle of an ocean!

Equally, heavy lifts can be tricky on land too. In 2014, while working in my previous job for Nass Corporation, I was asked by the Electric and Water Authority in Bahrain to assemble an elevated service reservoir – this is basically an above ground water tower. As you can imagine in Bahrain, water is a very precious commodity, so there is a great demand for water storage.

At the top of the tower to support the water tank there is a metal knuckle plate. These plates are 55mm thick and once fully assembled weigh 120 tonnes. Previously, no one had been able to lift them in one piece, so the individual sections were usually lifted 40 metres high and then welded together onsite at the top of the tower – a very tricky and time-consuming operation.

Saving time and money

So, obviously, if I could find a way, as the design manager, for the knuckle plate to be fully assembled in the factory and then safely lifted into position in one piece, we could save a lot of time and money. But it had never been done before and there's always a reason for that!

So, my team first studied the previous lift plan, then we had a design review meeting to look at improving the process. We asked why the knuckle plate hadn't been lifted in one go, undertook a full risk analysis, and then set about overcoming the problems.

First, we needed the right crane – we chose a mobile crane with a 500 tonne capacity and then adapted the boom, as we needed a telescopic boom that could cope with a 40 metre high lift. The tower was in the middle of a busy water station and the ground was soft, so we had to sit the crane on firm foundations. This was solved by using concrete thrust blocks as a base. These are usually used to stabilise pipes but worked just as well for the crane!

120 tonnes 40 metres up

On the day of the lift it was a bit nerve wracking. The knuckle plate was transported to site, four slings were attached and slowly but steadily 120 tonnes was lifted 40 metres up and then placed carefully on the top of the tower.We all held our breath! You always learn from experience.

We had achieved the assembly of the water station in Juffair in just one week, when previously it had taken two months. My team then went on to build a further four water towers across Bahrain.

I enjoy working out how to tackle these complex heavy lifts – it can be challenging but really rewarding when everything goes to plan.

Working with Nass and Sarens

I trained as a structural engineer in India and then moved to work for Nass Corporation in Bahrain. I also got the chance to work with Sarens, the crane and heavy lifting Belgium-based company, as Nass teamed up with the them as its local partner.

It was great working with these massive companies, but my ambition was to be part of a smaller team where I could get broader experience. The chance to move to Modulift, whose reputation speaks for itself and to relocate to the UK was an opportunity I couldn't resist. I did do my calculations first though, of course. The considered analysis was that the benefits outweighed the risks!

Now that I've moved here with my family, I'm working towards becoming a member of The Institution of Structural Engineers. The MIStructE grade is one of the most widely respected marks of competence in our profession. I've done plenty of exams in the past but not one for a long time, so it will be interesting!

I'm impressed with the quality of Modulift's range of lifting and spreader beams and think the new products are really promising. It's great that they are focussed on meeting the market requirement rather than just a good idea that someone had. We're improving on what we've already got, and they're also multi-purpose.

Heavy lifting products

In the future, I'm keen to develop new heavy lifting products alongside building on marketing our technical expertise. I see our technical knowledge as a product just like our beams. We have a great deal of professional talent with Sue, Marcos and the rest of our team. They're good to work with.

We can just sell our beams and rigs but as the industry keeps on wanting to lift bigger and heavier goods – we recently provided the lifting gear to hoist a 100 tonne heritage steam locomotive – we are also able to supply the planning, strategy and calculations to complete the lift efficiently and safely.

In chess there is the opening, the middle game and the end game. The middle game is the bit where you work out what you want to achieve. The end game is where you consolidate your strategy but achieving checkmate in the middle game means there is no need for the end game. That's the way I like to play. Plan well and have a good strategy and you can complete the task ahead of schedule! 

Thank you for reading.

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