By Keith Norbury

A 20-tonne dock gantry crane will be added to the equipment in 2015 at a new training centre for unionized B.C. longshore workers that began operations last fall. The German-designed Kocks crane, also known as a container crane, will train operators to handle every type of cargo, including breakbulk, said John Beckett, Vice-President of training, safety and recruitment with the B.C. Maritime Employers Association. “It’s a full-size, fully operational, full-speed ship-to-shore crane that we are going to use on our site for training purposes only,” Mr. Beckett said.

A modified Boxer 4000 model, the new crane is scheduled to arrive at the training centre in June 2015. The $10 million centre itself, built last year on Mitchell Island in the Fraser River in the heart of Greater Vancouver, went into operation last fall. Mr. Beckett didn’t wish to reveal the price of the Kocks crane, for competitive reasons. But he did say that total cost for the crane and accompanying ground improvements is about $11 million.

The current centrepiece of the training centre’s equipment arsenal is a new $1.5 million 30-ton Liebherr ship’s pedestal crane that was shipped to B.C. last year from Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K. That crane primarily helps teach operators how to handle breakbulk, although it also provides entry-level operator training for other cranes. With the new crane, Mr. Beckett said, the centre will be able to “train operators to operate pretty much every crane” on the B.C. waterfront. That includes instructing topside operators “before they get on a ship” in how to handle a vessel’s gantry crane, Mr. Beckett said.

The same principle applies to the ship’s pedestal crane, which went into service in earnest in November. Operators train on the crane for 10 days before they are even put on a ship. “By the time they get to the ship, they know how to move cargo, both with speed and with precision,” Mr. Beckett said.

The training centre even has a mock hatch built under the crane so that operators can practise moving cargo “under the wings” in the sides of a ship’s hold. “We’ve got a number of exercises that they have to pass,” Mr. Beckett said. “Along the way, you could actually fail your training program on day 3, day 4, or day 6. Because we’ve got exercises you have to pass, you have to show that you’re progressing.”

As for the new centre itself, its progress has exceed his expectations. “The union cooperation is exceptional,” Mr. Beckett said. “We’re moving as fast as we can. The thing that surprised is that the benefits that we thought we would get from the training on this site are actually much greater than we anticipated.”

Rob Ashton, first Vice-President of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union Canada, said he spoke recently with a couple of the union’s topside trainers, who were also impressed by the new facility. “They love having that pedestal crane out there,” Mr. Ashton said. “It gets the guys used to working the handles before they get on the vessels. I’ve been out there a couple of times now and everything seems to be going along smoothly.”

Mr. Beckett said BCMEA has been sensitive to changes involved in aligning programs from different locals that are used to training at separate locations. “But they’ve been very cooperative, and things are working out very, very well,” Mr. Beckett said. BCMEA has also invested $400,000 to upgrade the skills of the trainers, who are required to take a two-day course at Vancouver Community College. It’s been so well received that most of the trainers take the optional three-day version as well.

Mr. Ashton said the union had anticipated some bumps along the way to getting the training centre going. But so far no such problems have materialized. “And when the dock gantry comes, it’s going to make it even that much better,” Mr. Ashton said. That crane will dwarf the ship’s pedestal crane. The Kocks crane will top out at 50 metres high compared with a maximum boom height of 40 metres for the Liebherr. While the new crane is a full-dock gantry on rails, it also has components of a ship gantry crane, a rubber-tired gantry (RGT), and rail-mounted gantry (RMG) to enable training on those types of equipment. Another notable feature of the Kocks crane is what it won’t have: it will lack an anti-sway system. That is by design in order to teach operators how to bring a swaying crane under control.

Aside from improving safety on the docks, the new crane is also expected to improve productivity substantially. Just by removing half of the training from the terminals, the industry will save about $2.5 million a year in lost productivity, Mr. Beckett said. He estimates that the Kocks crane will also save BCMEA about half a million dollars a year in training costs. “But the real savings is to the industry itself,” he said.

After careful analysis, BCMEA decided to buy a new crane rather than a used one. The return on investment of the crane, which has an expected lifespan of half a century, is seven years, Mr. Beckett said. “By the time we were done pricing it all out and the amount it would cost for us to hire the expertise to basically chop up (a used) crane and move it over to our site, we might as well have bought a new one,” Mr. Beckett said.

The search for the crane involved sending out requests for information (RFIs) to twelve manufacturers. Representatives from BCMEA also toured a Liebherr factory in Ireland, ZPMC headquarters in Shanghai, and the Kocks factory in Vietnam.

The electrical components, the machinery and the machine house for the Kocks crane are manufactured at the Kocks facility in Bergen, Germany. But the big steel parts of the machines, such as its legs, are built at an American Society of Mechanical Engineers-certified plant in Vietnam.

Among those who toured the plants along with Mr. Beckett were BCMEA President Andy Smith, business analyst Andrew Barnes, and consultant Joe Murphy “who’s pretty much installed every crane on the waterfront here in Vancouver,” Mr. Beckett said. Also accompanying the entourage to the Liebherr plant was Maksim Mihic, general manager for DP World Vancouver, “who also happens to be an engineer who understands cranes better than anybody.”

Financing for the cranes and the training centre itself has come from cargo assessments of BCMEA members, Mr. Beckett said. “We’ve improved this training site with no additional cargo assessments in the last four years,” Beckett said. “Some of it’s coming out of cash reserves. Some of it’s basically just reallocation of money that’s coming in the door any ways.”

Mr. Beckett wasn’t able to hazard a guess at how many people have been trained at the new centre as of April. However, he did say that the industry’s $12.25 million training budget this year is the largest ever for BCMEA. “And that site is going to be utilized every day for the rest of the year as it has been since January.”

That training budget is up from $11 million last year and from as low as $3.5 million in 2009. “This is no longer training on the fly, training by the seat of your pants,” Mr. Beckett said. “When you graduate from us you are a competent operator of the equipment we trained you on.”

Another project for the training centre is a fall-protection trailer to be used to train workers around the province in the safe handling of breakbulk logs at heights. The trailer, which was designed by Mr. Beckett’s staff and the Fall Protection Group, will be fabricated out of a 45-foot high-cube container. Its features include a ship’s ladder, fixed and removable railings, a suspension arm, Jacob’s ladder, removable steps, and a hatch for simulating a confined space. The trailer will negate the need for BCMEA to rent classrooms, find props, and ship tonnes of equipment to all those places on the B.C. coast where they conduct fall-protection training. “It’s not going to be the prettiest thing but it’s going to be functional,” Mr. Beckett said. “I can put it on a trailer, I can ship it up to Prince Rupert. I can ship it to Vancouver Island. I can leave it on our training site.” At press time, he was still pricing out the work. He was hoping to have the trailer ready by the end of May, when a significant fall-protection program for log handling is set to begin.