Stretching out

Making a record-breaking EOT crane

The facility has a high level of automation but there are some jobs that still require a human touch.
The facility has a high level of automation but there are some jobs that still require a human touch.
After manufacturing and weld testing the girders were lifted for painting and final assembly.
After manufacturing and weld testing the girders were lifted for painting and final assembly.

On a surprisingly gloomy December morning PMV receives a call. Someone’s just built the biggest EOT or gantry crane ever assembled in the UAE. It’s a phone call that demands a visit.

Compared to its fellow
Emirates, the second most northerly Emirate Umm Al Quwain feels a much more spacious and industrial place as PMV makes its way off the Emirates Road.

A visitor to Dubai or Abu Dhabi could stay in both, experience the restaurants, malls and beaches without ever passing through the dusty and busy climes of Jebel Ali or Mussafah. Not so the grittier Umm Al Quwain, with its massive cement works and oil and gas plants dominating the horizon. In many ways it is the Hamburg or Guangzhou to the Berlin and Hong Kong of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

It’s a location that is particularly fitting for a company like Lootah Lemmens Crane Systems. The company is a fully functioning marriage of the northern European engineering expertise of Lemmens, the Dutch overhead crane specialist and the local knowledge of UAE conglomerate Lootah Group.

Since the JV’s inception in 2005 the company has made serious in-roads into the crane market in the GCC, providing EOT (electric overhead train) crane fabrication services from its purpose-built facility in Umm Al Quwain.

Ashish Goyal, general manager at Lootah Lemmens, explains that it was started when Lemmens realised that it needed a physical presence – more exactly a fabrication facility – to compete in the region. A sales presence simply wasn’t enough.

“It’s a 49/51 split between the two (with Lootah owning the bigger share),” he says. “Lootah is one of the biggest names here and Lemmens have been making cranes for 40 years (since 1969). So it’s a winning combination.”

Goyal has enjoyed the fruits of this relationship drawing on the architects of both companies to develop Lootah Lemmens. In fact Abdullah Lootah and John Lemmens were instrumental in providing the impetus in constructing the facility in Umm Al Quwain.

John Lemmens in particular has been pro-active in guiding the first five years of the company. “John and I shared a vision of where we thought the company could go.”

Although only open for two years, the Umm al Quwain facility has proven to be a pivotal piece in the companies jigsaw, uniting its different aspects like design, production and aftersales under one roof. The facility can cover a complete range from manually operated cranes to fully automatic cranes, from 200kg to 500 tons capacities, explains Goyal.

LL’s approach to design and fabrication is typical for the industry at large but almost unique in the GCC. For a start it’s highly process driven – a systematic approach that follows from sales to specification, design, final production, delivery and aftersales.

Once reliant on creative input from Lemmens’ operation in The Netherlands, the company is now capable of
conducting pre-design in Umm Al Quwain and local customers can be served entirely in-region.

Goyal explains that during pre-engineering the team at the ISO-registered facility take on the often challenging demands of customers by finding virtual solutions in auto-cad to their real life problems.

Frequently this means LL offers multiple options on designs and the materials that can be used. For a company that is essentially a fabricator it growing into the role of design consultant, and, on occasion, encouraging clients to
re-think their original plans.

“Every site is different and presents new challenges. We work side-by-side with our customers,” enthuses Goyal. “Right from the start we put a business plan together so they have a complete view of the project.”

With this done the task of sourcing materials (eased by Lootah’s trading network), is started, delivery times agreed and production begins at the fabrication production centre.

“Our strength is our flexibility,” he says proudly. “We say we can deliver tailor-made solutions and we’re confident we can offer pragmatic solutions to material handling problems and approach with a sense of creativity.”

There’s a great deal of risk and money wrapped up in the projects the LL finds itself participating in, and third-party certification is essential to ensure that the crane will function within on the structure.

Not surprisingly Goyal is keen to stress that his company’s ballooning creativity is always tethered to a realisation that
getting a design wrong could be both dangerous and expensive.

“It’s the biggest thing when you are hanging a girder that has to take 175 tonnes – and the huge stresses that means - onto a structure. We are testing all the way through production.”

The general manager is particularly buoyant when we meet. LL is preparing to deliver one of the biggest EOT cranes ever assembled in the Middle East to Oman.

The 25m span crane features two girders and will be capable of 175 tonnes of main lift (30 tonnes of auxiliary), when it is installed in the manufacturing facility of Voltamp Transformer in Sohar, Oman.

For a company that has previously manufactured EOT cranes that can carry 40 tonnes, it’s massive leap. In the crane world, where size is everything, Goyal feels the crane is a landmark for both the company and the region.

“It shows what we can do here and in the region,” he says, and then smiles: “We’ve shown we scale up our production and have raised the bar for cranes in the Middle East.”

Up close and personal
On the day we meet, the two girders of the crane are undergoing final work at the purpose-built facility. A few days later they will be disassembled for delivery.

Despite the comfortable surroundings of the office, a window of opportunity is open and the urge to go and have a look at the twin beasts is difficult to resist.

PMV is guided down some stairs and towards the cavernous workshop. Even before entering, the sparking of arc light welding is heard but it is the two red sleeping monsters that dominate the space when in full view.

Up close you appreciate the immensity of the girders that will soon be suspended high over the facility in Sohar. Still awaiting their yellow paint finish, they resemble shafts from a superstructure of a sea-going vessels rather than landlock cranes.

Each girder is made of three steel sections which are held together by a dozens of bolts and By the time they are completed they would each have received 350 welds.

Goyal explains that it will take several weeks before the 3 tonne beast will be in position.

For now the girders sit in special assembly fixtures and jigs which Goyal says were specially designed to ensure straightness, quality, aesthetics and safety.

“As per the design, each plateis 2.5m high with stiffeners and was to be assembled (in the form of a girder) which was a difficult job as they become such a big structure when joined to reach the 25m span. While raising the plates for assembly, a slight slip of the sheet could have caused a major casualty.”

Overhead crane girders are manufactured upside down and have to be turned over during assembly. Goyal says the giants wil need a special set-up to take care of the jerks when the huge beams are turned over by the factory’s own overhead cranes for their final paint job.

“Due care had to be taken to have no jerk as it could get transferred to the structure of the factory which could have provedfatal for both the factory, as well as the equipment.”

Beyond the girders is a vast area containing robotic spraying bays and smaller workshops and stations. A high level of automation is used to ensure that a otherwise labour intensive operation is well managed and the margin of error that comes with building such large structure is narrowed.

As such the tanks and generator plants that are on the outside ensure water and power can be provided, however fickle the local electricity grid. “We are not making commodities like pieces of equipment. We need to be as efficient as possible.”

As if to emphasise the point, he stresses the amount of testing that will be required before the girders are dismantled and prepared for transporation to Oman. “We’ll make dozens of checks, there are so many parts to test.”

The second five years
Looking back on what has been a successful first five years, Goyal is now turning his attention to a period where the company can start taking market share from the better known names of Damag and Konecranes in the region. Especially in sectors the company where the company has a proven track record.

Lootah’s strong industrial links has opened doors for in the steel and cement sectors, supplying companies like Emirates Steel, Prompt Steel and Gulf Steel in the UAE. Now it is stretching out to maritime projects with MIS Arabia in Saudi and the energy sector with Voltamp in Oman and Dragon Oil in Turkmenistan.

“We’re doing a lot of channel marketing,” he says. “Our associates are active in Qatar, Saudi and Oman. I ask them to do a lot thinking of the kinds of jobs that will suit us.”

Now the Sohar crane is to be placed on high, the next trick will be to maintain the company’s lofty ambitions.

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