As the sole UK supplier of materials handling equipment to Saint-Gobain Building Distribution (SGBD), a global market leader in building and construction materials, Rushlift maintains and specifies a wide range of equipment for an extensive variety of businesses, amongst them, telegraph pole manufacturer Calders & Grandidge (C&G).

“It’s a fascinating, iconic business,” says Rushlift’s director, Dennis Shaw. “It is slightly unusual compared to the rest of the SGBD portfolio, particularly in terms of the loads and the corresponding materials handling issues.”

C&G have produced over a million poles, as well as sleepers, fences and other products, with the wood arriving via nearby Port of Boston, from Brazil, Scandinavia and Africa. Once on site, timber is moisture tested and laid in graded stacks for further seasoning. From then it takes six to twelve months, depending on the size of the individual pole, for the natural drying process to be completed. Dressing (peeling the outer layer) and fabrication then takes place, with a special exemption allowing the use of creosote impregnation to give the poles a service life of between 40 and 100 years.

For over 20 years, the company has used agricultural tractors to pull trailers of poles up to 24 metres around the large site. Having become familiar with Rushlift through the maintenance of the forklift and lorry-mounted crane fleet, the C&G team asked for help in solving the problem of what to do with the ageing trailers.

“As soon as we got to know them,” says Dennis, “the team asked if we could find a better way of working. A relatively simple request, but the challenge was immense.”

With tight, long runs, on uneven ground, the trailer width was crucial, whilst the weight of the poles presented a capacity issue. Handling the poles via a trailer mounted crane also gave rise to a stability consideration, whilst the reach of the crane also meant significant power would need to be channelled via the tractor units. Safety would be paramount, but the busy application and significant investment meant longevity and reliability were also crucial.

“Mobile plant is the life blood of the operation,” says production manager, Mick Shooter. “We are transporting many hundreds of poles around our manufacturing site daily to meet On Time In Full (OTIF) customer service requirements. Our investment needed to demonstrate consistent reliability, the trailers are expected to run long hours, day in and day out. We needed to bridge the gap between an aging fleet and a new model sufficiently robust to withstand the daily demands while improving performance.”

The first step was to find a manufacturer of bespoke trailers, willing to work on the project. Irish manufacturer, Chieftain, impressed Rushlift, not only with their R&D set-up but also their experience in the waste and recycling, rail, forestry and other specialised industries.

After consultation visits both to and from Chieftain’s County Tyrone headquarters, the development of the specification was established and the first trailer arrived in 2013 to begin a period of rigorous assessment.

Says Mick: “We worked in partnership with Rushlift and Chieftain, including visiting the makers’ site mid-build, to tweak the operating format which also enhanced performance. We were quickly taken with the design footprint, Health & Safety was a key feature; user friendly controls, good all round visibility, stability during operation, clearly it is an operator’s machine.”

“One of the most pleasing aspects of the two year process,” adds Dennis Shaw “was that C&G understood the issues and worked with us to find the ideal solution. Once the first trailer was on site, there were considerable modifications made. We looked at it as a working prototype, and the customer understood that every step of the way.”

After the team calculated the maximum trailer width and maximum capacity of the Palfinger forestry crane, they also looked at its placement. By mounting the crane at the optimum location, and by reducing the stair width, it allowed additional ballast to increase the stability and weight capacity of the trailer. Ordinarily, a crane of this type would be mounted on the back of a lorry unit, relocating it to the trailer meant the transfer of power from the tractor’s secondary drive unit had to be modified and reinforced, to prevent damage from excessive vibration.

“Conventional wisdom told us the power transfer on the prototype was the correct way to do things,” says Dennis. “In practice, we felt there had to be a better solution. We added a bracket to stop wear to the bearings and ultimately this innovation allowed us to provide better technology, a more modern design, a larger capacity trailer, and a larger crane with a longer reach.”

Added to that were a number of upgrades to both the tractor and crane operator compartments. On a hot July day, the air conditioning units are particularly popular, whilst the monitoring system alerting the tractor operator to the correct deployment of the trailer legs, means the operation can be carried out safely every day.

The fourth trailer has now been installed and the investment of around half a million pounds has led to greater efficiency, less trailer movements and improved productivity. Dennis confidently predicts the units will last much longer than their intended ten years. “We’ve future proofed it, without a doubt. With all four, productivity is going to be significantly enhanced, for many years to come.”

“Our operators have a great deal of experience on these machines, their input was critical to getting it right,” concludes Mick. “We found ways to optimise the longer chassis and that’s provided an 11 percent additional load capacity benefit. It speaks volumes that we have taken three more Chieftains, and completed the replacement project on time. Likewise, committing to investment of this magnitude in the Boston site, by parent company Saint-Gobain, suggests sustained confidence in the health of the business.”