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The Right Tool for the Job

What complicates purchasing decisions is that there are nearly always choices to make, in terms of product and supplier—including the wrong ones, says Andy Charlesworth, business development manager at Modulift.

I've been in this industry a while. I joined a company that manufactured high-performance ropes back in 1990 and have held various positions since, most of which have related to lifting and rigging equipment of some description.

Over three decades I've been in proximity to hundreds of purchasing decisions. Some have been well informed and astute, resulting in safe, efficient use of equipment that has delivered tangible advantages to one-off applications or repeated heavy-duty cycles. Others have been woeful. In the latter situations, most of the time blame can be attributed to ignorance and / or a short-term approach being taken to the acquisition. In its simplest form, the wrong decision is frequently the cheapest and concerned only with 'today' versus 'tomorrow'.

Everywhere I've worked, it's been the same: more than one product or tool can be used and there's some that are better suited than others. A rope, by definition, is a length of material made by twisting together strands. Yet, there are many different types. One might be suitable to occasional use in an indoor environment, and another to ongoing utilisation offshore. Problems start when the first rope is used in the second application. It's ok for lifts one and two, but after that it starts to display the signs of misuse and the crane or machine reacts accordingly. It's the same principle with rigging hardware, spreader beams, etc.

It's possible to source the right product from the wrong supplier. Even the best products require maintenance, service, and after-sales support. Particularly in the industrial market, the availability of technical support, in some cases around the clock, should be as important as the product itself. The best suppliers I've worked for or alongside have been those that have always answered the telephone to provide technical guidance and answer questions. In other words, it's never been solely about taking orders and customers' money. During a critical lift, taking place overnight during an outage, that access to expertise can be the difference between success and failure.

Undoubtedly, a long-term vision is imperative to successful buying decisions, particularly if a product is going to be used for tasks of a repeat nature. On a contract lift where a single load, of clear weight and centre of gravity, is required to be raised, it's still important that the spreader beam, for example, is sourced based on expert guidance and backed by appropriate standards and certification. But where multiple lifts are required, safety standards must be as high each and every time. This might mean sourcing a particular beam at the outset, or acquiring additional equipment aligned with a lift / rigging plan on each occasion.

We wouldn't buy a family car that might only be safe on the Monday morning school run, would we?

In the wrong hands

My next piece of guidance relates to using the equipment. I'm particularly keen to deliver this message to newcomers to the industry. On any site, there are many items and products at a person's disposal. Even within the rigging store (or loft) there are slings, shackles, beams, harnesses, chains, hoists, winches, and more. Across the broader site, other plant and technologies are aplenty.

Depending on the location, the kit will be labelled and stored to differing levels of clarity. I've seen organised rigging stores where everything is clearly marked with dates of last use and inspection, kept behind lock and key. And I've also witnessed a mountain of multicoloured slings in a wet corner of a yard. Equipment storage is another blog in itself but I want to stress the point that nobody should use any piece of equipment that they have not been trained to use.

Rigging is a skill in its own right and not something anybody can turn their hand to. No, this beam, that shackle, and those chain slings won't be adequate just because they happen to be close to hand. No, the most qualified rigger in the world isn't competent on height safety matters just because he or she understands geometry and forces. It's simple: if someone is instructed to use a piece of equipment that they don't know how to use, unless it's a spade, they shouldn't pick it up and put it to work. Raise the matter with a supervisor immediately.

It's ok to say, "I'm not trained, can I have access to training, or can someone else complete that task until I'm ready?"

I'd encourage any person, new to the market or a veteran, to ask questions, regardless of how basic they might seem. The guy or girl on the other side of the jobsite that uses all the equipment on offer, all day, without ever asking for help, might not be competent in the use of any of it. I always feel safer around the person of an inquisitive nature.

I want to hear questions like, "Where does this go? Can I apply this theory here? How does bending and compression differ in spreader beam science? Is this sling long enough?"

Remember, the consequence of cutting corners in our industry can be fatal.

Next Generation

For that reason, and others besides, it's an extremely rewarding sector to work in. I'd certainly encourage young people to join the lifting business. Few realise the diversity on offer and the global locations where professionals in this sector ply their trade. There are other so-called glamorous industries that don't require their personnel to leave a single city. Where's the fun in that? Most of my peers and I have travelled the world.

It's a great marketplace to achieve individual and collective goals. Even in the early nineties, lifting had got under my skin and I saw myself staying here. Leaving school at 16 years old put me at the bottom of a long ladder but there are many achievable steps that can be taken through the right support and hard work.

I'm a proud campaigner for the industry, but I'm certainly not pushing people to leave education early in all instances. After all, apprentices and graduates offer different things to our market and we need them both. The important thing is that we open up as many pathways to the sector as possible and that we're on young people's radars.

At Modulift, we're backed by a great product, an incredible team, and awareness of the brand and what it stands for is increasing all the time. As a postscript, those are hallmarks any young person should look for in prospective employers.

Business buzz

We all get asked a lot, "How's business?" So I'll conclude with my take on it. It's impossible not to acknowledge the uncertainty created by the raging Brexit saga, and projects will be pushed back as a result, yet there are many opportunities in the UK domestically, particularly for businesses, like ours, that can meet more technically demanding scopes of work.

The bigger issue with answering questions about the state of markets or commerce is that people too readily put it in terms of what's hot and what's not. All relevant sectors are crucial to businesses; it might be that one is providing greater demand than another at any single point in time, but requirements for more specialised services might come from elsewhere. Many industries are cyclical too so a blinkered focus is naive. Further, what might existing and potential customers think if a supplier only calls on them at the top of the curve? True, offshore renewables is buoyant right now but it doesn't make it more important than something else.

Thank you for reading. 

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