Sum of its Parts

Sarens’ ‘Big Carl’ Makes UK Debut

By David Whitehouse

Transporting the world’s largest crane is no more difficult than any other project cargo – provided meticulous pre-planning is undertaken and detailed coordination strategies are in place.

The crane in question, the Sarens SGC-250, is known as Big Carl after an executive at the Sarens company in Belgium that built it. It was conceived and developed to support the growing trend towards modularization in construction. Big Carl is 250 meters tall and can carry 5,000 tonnes in a single lift – the equivalent of 32 single-story houses, or 1,600 cars. At a radius of 100 meters, the crane can still lift 2,000 tonnes. It has 128 wheels for slewing and lifting and 96 wheels for traveling. In short, it is a beast.

Last year, Big Carl was divided into modules and moved from Ghent, Belgium, to Avonmouth, UK, part of Bristol Port, for temporary storage before a 45-mile trip to Hinkley Point in Somerset on the Bristol Channel. Broken down, it totaled about 300 parts. The plan is for it to be on site for the next four years for construction work at the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

On arrival at Avonmouth, Collett & Sons worked to a discharge plan from ship operator Briese and the cargo was offloaded from Monika without disruption to the wider operations of the port. And while the components weighed more than 3,000 tonnes in total, “the project for us was no different to anything else,” said Miles Adams, commercial manager at The Bristol Port Co.

Bristol Port has invested in new cranes to meet the ongoing demands of the construction of Hinkley Point C, the largest and most complex civil engineering project in the UK. Within permitted development rights for cargo operations, Bristol can carry out development without needing to ask for planning permission. The port has also set aside land to store outsized loads that can’t be moved by road, which can be transported by barge to the site.

Early Planning

Planning for the move started in early 2019 when all of the stakeholders met at Avonmouth to discuss the
project operations, said Liam McLoughlin, head of projects at Collett & Sons.

“The key to running large-scale project operations of this kind is being afforded a suitable lead time prior to the operations in order to plan,” McLoughlin says. “If managed correctly, this lead time can be used to engage the various stakeholders and find out their requirements and expectations. Once established, a clear line of communication assists with the pre- and live operational planning.”

In the initial stages, the discharge berth was selected and the access to the storage area at the port was studied and assured by the Collett project team. Subsequently, a traffic management plan was devised and agreed by all parties.

Sarens provided shipping line Briese with a detailed packing list containing dimensions and weights of the different parcels, drawings and information including information on which pieces were the heaviest, and which were weather sensitive and had to be loaded under deck. This information formed the basis for ship selection and then the arrangement of a stowage plan, which Hella Bruns, quality manager at Briese Chartering, likens to playing the old video game favorite Tetris.

By getting as much information about the design of the cargo beforehand, Briese was able to plan precisely, to keep all the parties informed, and to be prepared for loading, cargo securing, and discharging, Bruns said. Briese also had to allow for the fact that Avonmouth is a tidal port, meaning that the vessel was only able to enter at certain times.

At Avonmouth, it took Yorkshire-based Collett two 12-hour day shifts to unload all the components from the ship, with the firm using all the port’s available crane services, including cranes, mobile cranes and specialized transport vehicles.

The long working hours needed for the discharge and for other port operations meant that additional standby operatives were required to complete the handling. There was also a requirement for vehicles with side protection as drivers and operatives associated with the crane move needed to get onto the trailer beds for lashing and slinging.

Coordination of the move was managed by a Collett project manager, who liaised on a daily basis between the port and the contractor in the laydown area. A pre-program was issued, but due to the complex nature of the operation, it had to be revisited on a regular basis and revised. Each revision was sent forward for information and discussion.

Out of the Way

From the early stages and throughout operations, the team was sensitive to the welfare of other users of the port, Collett’s McLoughlin said. For example, the plan laid out a transit route from the quay to the laydown area. The route effectively saw the vehicles double back on themselves prior to delivery to the laydown area. While this wasn’t the most direct route, it made use of open spaces at the port for the vehicles to perform necessary special maneuvers and it avoided crossing the path of other port traffic. This meant that disruption to other port users was avoided, McLoughlin said.

Collett also undertook a familiarization process in advance of the deliveries to Hinkley Point C. The site, which receives hundreds of deliveries each week, had a number of protocols that needed to be followed, McLoughlin said. These included 48 hours’ notice of deliveries, which had to include the vehicle registration and full disclosure of driver details and use of the Hinkley Point delivery management system which provided dedicated routes for the deliveries, as well as dates and timeslots.

“Successfully managing and providing a program to meet the site requirements was a challenge that took the time of a dedicated Collett project manager throughout the seven months,” McLoughlin said.

For Briese’s Bruns, relationships mattered. She pointed to the long-established relationship of trust with Sarens as the foundation for the smooth running of this project. “As long as everybody is informed about major steps and special requirements, a solution can be found and a project can run well,” she said.

The bottom line, as McLoughlin puts it, is “working as a collective, with engagement throughout, is a must.” 

David Whitehouse is a journalist who spent 18 years with Bloomberg, before turning to a career as a freelancer.

Image credit: Collett & Sons; Port of Bristol.