Construction hire companies are a key element of the international heavy industry economy. CC Crane Hire is one of South Africa’s biggest and most well-known companies, with a long list of projects under its belt.
CC Crane Hire’s Facebook page is an exercise in unbelievable scale. While some of its albums show relatively small transformers and trailers on the back of flatbed trucks, scrolling down shows recent projects at Gibson Bay Wind Farm in South Africa’s Eastern Cape and bucket-wheel replacement on a mining reclaimer at the Kendal coal mine in Witbank.
The wind farm construction is a complex ballet of multiple crane arms that seem impossibly unbalanced as they lift turbine blades into the air. The reclaimer wheel is vast, dwarfing the crew standing in front of it, and dozens of pictures detail the complicated process and vast quantities of machinery required to position it to be replaced. It’s a real insight into the scale of the logistics and mechanical precision required by a modern heavy lift company.
Fielding a fleet
CC Crane Hire is one of sub-Saharan Africa’s most well-known heavy lifting equipment providers, serving the DRC, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania. The company has a large fleet of vehicles designed for all kinds of tasks, including 43 cranes, 19 crane trucks (between 18.5 tonnes and 68 tonnes with up to 12 metres of deck space) nine truck tractors and two load bed carriers capable of carrying up to 100 tonnes (seen in a spectacular drone video on the company’s Facebook carrying house-sized sections of pipe).
In addition, the company can also call upon lighter assets including 75, 65 and 50 tonne load-carrying low beds, a 45 tonne step deck, extendable trailers including two fifty metre models, a multi-axle trailer and a variety of buses, concrete mixers, diggers and construction vehicles, trailers and escort cars. Keeping all this equipment on the road is a major task, and the company also employs a network of backups and engineers to make sure all jobs are completed smoothly. Other more static projects involve the installation of lifting machinery, most recently various lifters and rigging equipment at the Port Elizabeth ore terminal, another niche in the industry.
CC has also taken advantage of new technology to boost its operations, with software monitoring solutions that allow clients to accurately track all cargo movement, as well as supervising and managing on-site operations. This ties into CC’s business model, which emphasises turnkey solutions that allow clients to get straight to work using the company’s equipment, with minimal oversight required from CC itself.
The company operates as part of a group operation alongside Tsoma Trading and CR Freight, operating throughout southern Africa, a setup which allows it to provide a much wider range of services ranging from structural engineering to training, milling and plant design. In the past the company has worked in shipbuilding and electrical engineering for Vodacom and MTN Nigeria, and its management have a solid working knowledge of customs, police liaison, cargo assessment, pricing, and arrangement of escorts and route surveying to support the transit of large, abnormal or very heavy loads. CC also conducts extensive training both for its own crews and for its customers, to ensure that equipment is used efficiently, adding to the turnkey nature of its operations.
State of the industry
The crane industry in South Africa has undergone a turbulent couple of years as its operations are intimately linked to the flagging construction sector. The construction industry, both the small-scale home building segment and the much larger scale mega project segment, has consistently failed to reach the highs reached during construction around the 2010 World Cup. Government and civil projects since then have been marred by labour unrest, project delays and other side effects of a subdued economy, with profits and new projects declining throughout 2014 and 2015.
There are many reasons for this – currency depreciation, labour inflation and the persistent bugbear that is falling commodities prices have all resulted in less funding and ambition in the infrastructure, energy and mining sectors, all of which are the kind of projects that require high-capacity construction cranes and heavy abnormal load transport.
Like many other contractors in the industry, CC expanded its operations internationally across sub-Saharan Africa. As many sub-Saharan economies are expanding and diversifying into new sectors, both their demands for power and their ability to fund large-scale infrastructure projects is increasing. While the commodity price falls have undercut the heavy lift and construction vehicle sub-industries by reducing the amount of investment in mining and heavy transport, large renewable energy projects like dams and wind farms are blossoming in many areas as is railway construction.
Chinese investment, one of the major drivers of development in the African markets, is behind many of the large-scale projects throughout the region, including the new light rail system in Addis Ababa. With China facing a new trade war with a protectionist and unpredictable United States, and Chinese investment in Africa shaking off its image problem, this sort of large-scale investment looks set to become more common. As such, it’s possible that better times are coming for the industry.