Niki Fitzgerald of Select Plant Hire, the winner of the inaugural Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) Lifting Technician Star of the Future Award, has travelled to Germany courtesy of Liebherr-GB Ltd for a behind the scenes tour of one of the company’s crane production facilities as part of his prize for winning the prestigious award.
Niki, who is employed as an Apprentice Tower Crane Operator and currently working at a prominent site in Oxford Street, London, was named CPA Lifting Technician Star of the Future 2019 at the CPA’s annual Stars of the Future awards ceremony hosted in June at the Heart of England Conference and Events Centre near Coventry.
Traditionally, Stars of the Future has focused on Plant Mechanic Apprentices but for 2019, the scope of the event was widened further and one of the new national titles was CPA Lifting Technician Star of the Future in recognition of the introduction of the new Lifting Technician Trailblazer Apprenticeship.
This first Lifting Technician Star of the Future accolade was sponsored by Liebherr-GB Ltd and the prize offered was a chance to visit one of Liebherr’s crane production facilities in Germany to see behind the scenes how cranes are designed, manufactured and tested before being shipped to customers worldwide.
The visit was arranged so that Niki could spend a full day touring the Liebherr facilities and the decision was made that he would visit the Ehingen factory near Ulm where the company’s mobile and large crawler cranes are manufactured. The aim of the visit being to broaden his understanding of different types of cranes compared to the tower cranes he operates.
On the day of the visit, Niki – accompanied by John Young, Select Plant Hire’s Senior Resource Manager – was welcomed by Arran Willis, After Sales Operations Manager of Liebherr-GB Ltd, who kindly arranged the trip and Michael Heckenberger, Area Sales Manager for Liebherr-Werk Ehingen GmbH, who hosted the visitors for the day.
The tour started with Michael explaining about the factory and products produced there. The Ehingen factory, established in 1969, currently covers an area of approx. 850,000m2 with production halls covering an area of some 240,000m2 with the remaining area devoted to storage, maintenance, despatch and testing approval facilities, so a lot of walking was involved.
The first stage of the visit was boom production where telescopic booms were assembled and tested before being despatched to the final assembly area. The group then moved onto the cutting, fabrication and machining facility which produces a wide range of components for both crawler and mobile cranes including the production of a range of different cabs. Installed inside the hall was the production maintenance apprentice training room, with eager Apprentices observed undertaking a variety of tasks, including basic skills such as the filing of metal.
Niki and John were next taken to the mobile crane final assembly facility where from a base chassis at one end of the large hall, the complete crane emerged, having had all component parts added along the way before emerging at the other end to go to the pre-release area. Within the assembly hall was the production processes to make all of the required hydraulic hoses and pipework with electrical harnesses production within another adjoining production room.
Whilst in this section, the group crossed the path of Willi Liebherr, Co-Head of this vast family-run company on one of his walk-arounds. During the tour of this section, Arran showed the group the various types of exhaust systems for the engines and the methods they need to go through to meet latest exhaust emission standards. He mentioned that the engine exhaust system for the latest stage V costs more to produce than the engine itself.
The next stage of the visit was to another fabrication area that from raw steel, produced the gargantuan booms and jib sections used on the company’s range of heavy crawler cranes before viewing the assembly of the parts to form the complete crawler crane.
Following lunch, Niki and John were taken to the mobile crane test bed where Michael had arranged a surprise for Niki which was the chance to operate one of the company’s prototype 110 tonne capacity mobile cranes undergoing extensive trials – the first non-Liebherr employee to do so. With a typical load attached, Niki under the guidance of one of the testing staff, put the crane through its paces.
This was followed by a chance to drive an all-terrain crane and another wheeled mobile crane around the Ehingen site. The final parts of the programme of an already long day was to visit the pre-release section where cranes underwent a customisation process according to their customers’ specification before delivery, and the renovation workshops where used cranes were refurbished for resale. The programme concluded with Niki being presented with Liebherr apparel and a model crane as a lasting memento of the visit.
Following the visit, Niki commented: “My experience of the Liebherr factory will be one I will always remember and cherish. It gave me great insight into the world of crane production and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity and would personally like to thank everyone at Liebherr for arranging the visit.
“This has been a great chance for me to further my knowledge in my career which I am very passionate about. What really stood out to me about Liebherr’s production processes was their attention to detail and right from the start of my trip, they went above and beyond to ensure I had the best experience possible,” he continued.
John Young of Select Plant Hire said: “We at Select Plant Hire were extremely proud that Niki won the Lifting Technician Star of the Future accolade and it was a tremendous compliment that Liebherr chose to sponsor the award. The visit to their factory at Ehingen however took the award to another level and Arran and Michael at Liebherr proved to be very welcoming.
“The whole factory experience was well thought out and thoroughly professional. Throughout the visit, Niki continually commented that he couldn’t believe the opportunity he’d been given through winning the award. This opportunity I know will stay with him forever and that in the tradition of the Stars for the Future, Niki will rise to the challenge and take the lifting sector through the next generation. We thank both Michael and Arran at Liebherr and to the CPA for arranging this very special prize and the whole experience. As crane people this is something we will never forget,” John continued.
Arran Willis of Liebherr-GB Ltd, who organised the visit, added: “We as a company have always been proud to support apprenticeships and encourage the next generation of lifting sector personnel and are pleased to have sponsored the CPA Lifting Technician Stars of the Year award. It was a pleasure for us to have provided the programme for Niki to spend the day at our Ehingen factory and demonstrate how our products are made and tested, and we are delighted that he thoroughly enjoyed his day with us.”