Mobile men

Almost as old as the country, UAE-based Gallagher International mobile crane hire has expanded with it.

Gallagher International, ANALYSIS, PMV

Almost as old as the country, UAE-based Gallagher International mobile crane hire has expanded with it.

When you think of Dubai, you think of cranes. As often mentioned in these pages, there is a real shortage of all types of lifting machines at the moment, but the area in which the shortage is most acute is mobile cranes.

As few contractors can afford to buy the machines, let alone store or maintain them, it is most common to hire a crane and driver from one of the specialist firms in the UAE. One such company is Gallagher, part of the GMMOS group of companies.

Formed over two decades ago, the company has expanded with the Emirate and it now boasts a large fleet. "We currently have almost 51 cranes" explained Arty Wartanian, General Manager, Gallagher.

"Almost - because one has been retired, but we just recently got another three cranes, actually, a 50, 100 and a 120-tonne about a month ago."

Fifty mobile cranes is quite a fleet, but it is a drop in the ocean when dealing with a market the size of Dubai.  However, it is specialist lifting that is Gallagher's unique selling point.

Supply of cranes is of course the main issue at the moment. "It's very difficult to find them" Wartanain commented "New cranes are very difficult to find. It can take between one to two and a half years."

However, they are generally unwilling to buy from auction, stating that buying used machinery can be a needless risk unless you know the crane or the previous owner.

"Our field is different from a construction site, we are sending cranes here and there, it is like a taxi business. We need the story of the crane, you know the history of it."

Fortunately, the firm have a source in Germany, through which most of the cranes come. While not by any means new - a handful date back to the 1970s, they are all impeccably maintained. Most of the fleet are made by Leibherr, though several are from Demag.

"It is like making a comparison between Mercedes and BMW, you could say" Wartanian explained, though he added that it is very hard to find qualified technicians to deal with the complex computer equipment involved in the Leibherr's telemetry system.

Other than the German names, there is at least one Kobelco in the fleet, and we spotted at least one Faun carrier with a Grove crane in the yard. This was the unit that was in semi-retirement, only used for light duties around the premises.

Although the 30-year-old machine was perfectly safe, the cost of buying eight enormous all-terrain tyres, even if they were available, rendered running this machine unviable.

Ah, yes, tyres. Every fleet operator dreads having to replace the black circles. At least the situation is better now than in recent months, according to Neil Corbasson, VP GMMOS.

"Last year we couldn't get any tyres at all, now the situation is improving" he said, adding that there were still long lead times, and the prices were high.

There weren't many cranes in the yard at the time of our visit - unsurprisingly most were earning their keep on site. However, there was a big 120-tonne Liebherr moving heavy fabrications about in an adjacent GMMOS yard.

This large rig is a fairly recent acquisition, and it boasts the various refinements over earlier models, such as a tighter turning circle thanks to a more manoeuvrable chassis. This particular crane had also recently received a fresh coat of paint in the company's trademark green.

"If you ask people in Dubai, they might not know about GMMOS or Grandweld (another part of the company)" explained Corbasson, "But mention Gallagher and they say ‘Ah, the green cranes.'"

Wartanian added "We have one that we got last year that hasn't been painted. A customer saw it and said ‘GMMOS renting from outside? What happened?' I said no, it just has not been painted.  We painted it before it went out again, because it doesn't look good."

As the facility in Jebel Ali has all the machines and facilities to maintain the fleet, cranes belonging to other customers are welcome to be booked in. During our visit, a team of technicians were working on a crane belonging to another firm.

Qualified operators, welders and mechanics are notoriously hard to get at the moment - and even harder to hold on to. However, Gallagher has managed to enjoy far better staff retention rates than most.

"Most of the people have been here fifteen to twenty years, or even more. I came into the Gulf in 1970 and started here in 1974 and one of the supervisors used to be a crane operator in 1974."

Corbasson said, adding "Arty is like their father... Or he is supposed to be! We have children of employees working here, with the father on one crane and the son on a different crane." Corbasson added. "We actually have staff who are over sixty years old and we have to renew their visas every year."

The management put these retention rates down, in part, to a steady training curve. "They start as riggers and then can go up to become operators."

"They start as crane operators on 30 tonne cranes, then move up to 50 tonne cranes. You know, the operator of the 400-tonne crane used to be a rigger. He went through 50 and 100 tonne cranes, and now he is one of the best and not that old - perhaps mid-thirties" said Corbasson, adding "We train all our welders too. In Kazakhstan (where the company also has an operation) we prefer to take people from the street. If a man is in his early twenties and wants to make some money, we teach him how to be a welder.

"After a certain point if he wants to make more money we teach him how to be a fabricator.

"We find training in house is very important. Because when they go out as helpers, not able to drive the crane, they get familiar with the customers and the sites. The customers like to see a familiar face. It is very good for both" he said.

With the future of the company now assured, thanks to private finance investment, it looks certain that the racing green cranes will feature on Dubai's cityscape for many years to come.

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