Mammoet on what it takes to deliver

Every day, in the waters that run outside Mammoet’s European Headquarters, countless ships sail past the windows. The Focus engineering team sitting inside De Bolder watch avidly as ships carrying structural innovations float by. With Mammoet’s eagerly anticipated Focus 30 crane on the horizon, they gain inspiration from each technology they see, and think of how they can use it on their own creation.

We spoke to the team behind the Focus 30 to uncover what it takes to create a ground-breaking solution, what motivates the team and what the future holds. Senior Lead Engineer for the Focus crane project, Erik Visser, explains that: “We all became engineers because we love big structures – we like to see how things work and how we can change them, or do them differently.”

Fortunately for everyone at Mammoet, Erik and his team have spent the last 18 months developing a unique crane structure that does everything differently.

Mammoet has delivered lifting capacity on a massive scale to countless customers – but what about projects where space is the chief concern? In oil refineries, inner city construction sites and live petrochemical plants, crucial infrastructure surrounds all critical path tasks.

In this environment, traditional crawler cranes give rise to a number of issues. A laydown area is needed for assembly, tying up space for weeks at a time. This gives rise to delays, as this space can no longer be used productively. All the while there’s an increased risk as the boom is assembled over production lines or surrounding structures.

Mammoet created the Focus 30 to address these concerns. The 2,500t class crane will be the first vertically assembled heavy-duty pedestal crane in the world; a crane that builds itself. Its 120m boom can be assembled within a 30 x 40m footprint, taking as little as ten days. For perspective, that means it can be erected in the space of two tennis courts, side-by-side.

The Focus is designed with a pedestal that enhances stability and allows it to exert the low ground bearing pressure required on many brownfield sites. Its foundational structure ensures the highest standards of safety and includes the Focus 30’s variable superlift system.

This increases the crane’s capacity and provides a flexible radius during operations. With a lifting capacity up to 1,000t and a 30,000t/m load moment, it delivers a large operational window; especially in congested areas.

Clearly, the Focus 30 is the result of many months of discussion, planning and calculation. But who are the team working behind the scenes to take this from the drawing board to the construction site?

The engineering team behind the Focus 30 is diverse. It contains 15 individuals from different nations around the world, all with different levels of experience and areas of expertise. According to the team’s youngest member, Quintin de Jager, that’s what made the group so successful, “There was a really good mix of people in the team and everybody contributed.”

“Agreed,” Erik adds, “The balance of experience and age differences really helped during the conceptual phase. When you are trying to be innovative, having the most experience doesn’t necessarily mean that your contributions are the most important, and that’s where the fresh approach from the younger guys like Quintin was invaluable.”

The team was divided into four specialties: structural design, shop drawings, crane engineers, and drive and control components. The different types of skills from these specialties were pivotal to the team’s success, states Quintin, “Because we all have our own areas of expertise, we had the freedom to be outspoken and have our opinions valued. I think that was really important in the beginning when we were trying to get to grips with the concept and determine what was actually possible.”

The initial inspiration for the Focus goes beyond the engineering team. At Mammoet, they are always trying to find the next innovation in heavy lifting, and the demand for this type of solution had been present for some time. However, a specific concept had not been finalized until a little over two years ago, when Global Director of Business Development and Innovation, Jacques Stoof, undertook specific research with some of Mammoet’s customers.

Under his guidance, the Innovations team came up with the idea: a self-building crane that can be erected within a small footprint. “Then, once the idea had been finalized, it was up to the Engineering team to develop the concept,” Erik highlights. What came next, in the latter half of 2018, was a six-month process between both the Innovations team and the Engineering team. Erik smiles, “There were a lot of meetings and a lot going back and forth between us. We had to match the customer demands and commercial aspects of the innovation to the technical feasibilities. And I’ve got to admit, sometimes they were asking us to include things in the concept that were not physically possible! So, we just had to tell them that straight.”

After spending months attempting to find the perfect balance, including a concept too expensive to produce, the teams finally agreed on a feasible specification in January of 2019. After which, they had to find a budget for the Focus, and lobby for its approval to the Mammoet Executive Board of Management and shareholders. By March, it had been approved.

Erik’s reaction to the news? “That initial feeling was pure excitement. We work on lots of different projects and not everything becomes a reality. So, when it does get approved, and all your hard work pays off, there’s no better feeling. But once that initial feeling passes, there’s also a realization – now the real work begins, let’s go out and get it!”

Epitomized by Erik’s comments, the team’s determined attitude to keep on rising to the challenge has been evident since the Focus 30’s approval. They completed most of the main steel design and component specifications by August, and the secondary steel was completed during January 2020. As we reported two weeks ago, construction of the crane is now underway.

The process has not been without its challenges. As Erik highlights, “You learn a lot more about cranes during the detail engineering phase.” That meant the team were faced with many specifics, interfaces and challenges that had to be solved, while not jeopardizing on any of the design criteria set in the main concept specification.

One such problem concerned the erection process. Quintin explains, “On conventional cranes, the winches are positioned at the back of the upper structure, but we needed this space for the main boom erection.” He expands, “This problem gave us all a serious headache, but eventually we had this eureka moment – placing the winches at the front of the upper structure, and this provided a whole new perspective to how the erection and the completed crane works.”

With the Focus already contracted for its first project in 2021, this begs the question: what’s next for the engineering team? “We really believe in the Focus concept,” declares Erik, “so hopefully, once the first model goes into operation, we can start working on a 20,000t/m Focus 20, or other variations of the Focus, and really define the market for confined space lifting.”

He continues, “When you combine the technical and the commercial side of innovation, that’s when you get real results,” before he adds playfully, “which means we will have to go back to Jacques and start this whole process again!”

It seems that the Focus crane has a bright future ahead – and the engineering team look forward to seeing their creation in action.