In A global first, Port Elizabeth-based engineering firm, Afri-Coast Engineers have pioneered the world’s first ever training crane for on-board ships, launched last week in the city’s harbour.
Afri-Coast, collaborating with their client, Bidfreight Port Operations (BPO), broke new ground on the development of what is likely to become a global benchmark for training and development in the maritime industry.
The R2-million training crane arose, like many engineering and design challenges, from the identification of a problem, says BPO regional general manager, Jimmy Prinsloo.
“We had been struggling to train crane operators. In South Africa we do not have shore cranes to load or unload cargo off and on to ships, so most of the work is done on board by ship cranes. The operation of these cranes is very technical and high risk for the stevedores who are responsible for the loading or unloading of a vessel. They require excellent hand-eye-coordination – you have to be able to catch the swing, that’s the secret,” said Prinsloo.
But all operational cranes on-board ships are designed for one-man only and the cabs are too small for training. In Europe, this is not as prevalent a problem, where there are whole training ships designed to school trainees.
“We embarked on a global journey to find a simulator that would meet our needs – a journey which surprisingly led us back to Port Elizabeth,” he added.
After realising they would need to build their own simulator crane, BPO’s leadership enlisted the support of their regular co-collaborator, local engineer Carl Jurgens, and initially approached two other engineering firms – one in George and one in Johannesburg – to design and construct it.
Both firms backed out when they realised the scale and scope of the project. “The task was not easy. There are not prototypes worldwide to benchmark or reverse engineer against; furthermore the simulator needed to be an exact replica of the ship cranes – but needed to feature a bigger cab for training purposes. The only items you could buy over the counter for the simulator were the controls and the electric motors, the rest had to be designed and manufactured.”
Enter Afri-Coast Engineers, which took on the unconventional challenge head-on. “This was a very risky and challenging project to be involved in,” said JP Mulder of Afri-Coast Engineers, who was on the design team.
“Normally we deal with static not dynamic structures, and the job was far more mechanical than it was construction. But it was a great challenge that led us to innovating and creating something that has never been done before. What more could an engineer ask for in their lifetime?”
BPO, Jurgens and Afri-Coast Engineers jumped on board what would be a seven month project. With nothing to go on, other than some sketches and a big idea, the team designed and constructed the pioneering, customised simulator training crane to the specifications outlined by BPO.
“All fabricating, welding, drilling, engineering, construction and assembly was done in Port Elizabeth. There are some minor adjustments and electrical tweaks to be made, but as it stands, we have all given it a big thumbs up,” Prinsloo added.
The implications of this global first on the maritime industry are significant, BPO believes. Wandile Mzamo, BPO operations director, who was there to witness the launch said it would satisfy a huge number of training and development needs both locally and globally, as well as opening up a global market for manufacture and reproduction.
“We want to target the African countries on the coastline, because many countries on the continent still use geared vessels. By driving innovation, Bidvest – which owns BPO – has opened opportunities of a global scale.
“Not only does this feed into national imperatives on maximizing opportunities in the maritime industry’s blue economy (ocean economy), under Operation Phakamisa, but we are able to service small ports across the world and even those in the United States of America, which do not have shore cranes. This is an amazing feat for Port Elizabeth,” Mzamo said.
The simulator will be based at the Port Elizabeth Harbour where it is anticipated that over 500 stevedores from across the country would be trained, starting with the 36 based in the city.