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The Liebherr MK 88 combines the mobility of a classic truck crane with the functional advantages of a tower crane

Mobile tower crane a first for New Zealand

Hi Lift Cranes New Zealand is family owned and one of the longest-established crane hire businesses in Auckland. General manager and director Barrie Mabbott recently took delivery of a Liebherr mobile tower crane, the MK 88. Here he provides the background to the acquisition.

“Back in 1999, I merged my panel propping and formwork hire business with Hi Lift Cranes. It was operated by Ken and Joy Drury and their son David as a general taxi crane business. David was trying to change the direction of the company to focus on the installation of precast concrete, which was a relatively new way of commercial building construction and not that prevalent 20 years ago. At the time, blockwork was king in New Zealand, but through the work of Alan H Reid Engineering promoting concrete lifting systems, the precast concrete industry was taking off,” says Barrie.

In late July, Hi Lift and Liebherr jointly hosted a successful launch event for the MK 88

“The New Zealand market has developed differently to Australia where precasters tend to own their own cranes, and the supply, delivery and install is one package. In New Zealand, crane hire companies get a lot of work from main building contractors to install precast concrete, whilst the precasters supply and deliver only. This has allowed us to corner a niche in the market supplying cranes, labour and propping systems as a package and build the Hi Lift brand.”

Ten years ago, Barrie started working more closely with governing director Ken Drury, helping with the cranes side of the business, and when Ken stepped back from the day-to-day running of the business, Barrie took over the role.

“You can’t do that as a relative newbie without a good bunch of people around you, and Hi Lift has always found and kept good people. I’ve got a core team whom I value very highly and they’re vital to the successful running of the business,” he says.

Good relationships

Hi Lift is based near the airport in Wiri, south Auckland, and tends to focus on the Auckland market. “We have a good relationship with the contractors, mainly medium-sized, who specialise in building big sheds, supermarkets and low-rise apartment buildings – the businesses that make up 80% of the commercial construction industry in and around Auckland. We don’t look for work too far out of Auckland, and when we do it’s because an existing client has asked us,” Barrie says.

Hi Lift Cranes’ fleet is geared towards ‘grunty lifters’, including a brand-new 160 tonne Liebherr

“Our crane fleet is geared towards erecting precast so we don’t generally go for long-boom machines, more those that are ‘grunty lifters’. Our fleet ranges in size from a brand-new 160 tonne Liebherr, an older-model Demag 150 tonne AC435 which we generally use as a site crane, a couple of Grove 5130s, and a couple of Grove 4100s, one brand new and one six years old. There’s a Liebherr LTM 1100, a couple of older 80s, a couple of LTM 1055s, a couple of 30 tonne Katos, a Franna, and at the bottom end a 10 tonne Kato.

“We don’t have big mobile cranes in the fleet, so we’ve never been able to compete in the ‘maintenance market’ applications such as re-roofs, changing condenser and air-conditioning units, working with elevator companies etc. We can’t do any of that, generally because we can’t reach,” he says.

The road to New Zealand

Barrie is involved in rowing and is a selector for Rowing New Zealand. As part of the role, he goes to Europe each year to watch the world rowing championships. “On one of the trips, I saw a Liebherr mobile tower crane in use for the first time. I called our local Liebherr agent, Tom Curran, and he told me about the MK 88. He sent me a video and some specifications, and these got me thinking. I asked him why we hadn’t seen any of them in New Zealand,” Barrie says.

“Tom said, ‘You won’t see them in Australia or New Zealand because they are too heavy to get on the road, and there can be travel restrictions due to the large front and rear overhangs.’ Travel restrictions don’t really bother us because some of our older cranes have boom trailers and are always travel-restricted outside peak hours for travel around Auckland, so that was never really an issue.

“I asked Tom how much overweight was the MK 88? He said, ‘Not really that much, but no one has been keen to bite the bullet and invest in one so far,’” Barrie adds.

Tom arranged for Barrie to visit the Liebherr factory in Biberach, Germany, two years ago where Liebherr put on a display and demonstrated the crane. “I went up in the cab, had a play with the controls and thought, ‘We must be able to make this work.’ I invited the sales engineer from the factory to New Zealand and a few months later we sat down in my office and figured out some nuts and bolts as to how we could get the MK 88 ‘roaded’. A year later, and the machine is here,” Barrie adds.

Perfect for inner cities

The MK 88 has a compact, manoeuvrable design and is therefore perfect for jobs in densely populated inner cities. The mobile tower crane is frequently used as a taxi crane and is highly adaptable and absolutely made for short-term hoisting work.

The crane spent three months in Liebherr’s Auckland facility before Barrie could take delivery. “I wanted the machine to weigh under the permitted axle weights and not crib into the allowable tolerances. The team from Transport specifications were commissioned by Liebherr to weigh the crane. They used individual scales under each wheel and weighed the machine over 100 times. It was heavy either on axle one, two or three, with only axle four consistently under. When I say heavy, it was between 10 and 100 kg, so it wasn’t a lot, but you can’t alter things too much on the carrier or the upper unit because there isn’t much to adjust that isn’t permanently fixed to the crane,” Barrie explains.

The crane can be fully erected in 11 minutes by one operator

“We got it ‘roaded’ in the end by doing a mix of things. The MK 88 comes with a standard Liebherr toolbox on the back and we stripped weight out of that. We removed the outrigger pads and outrigger feet off the front to reduce weight, and they’re carried on a support vehicle now. Liebherr stripped some weight out of the hook and traveller assembly.

“It sounds a simple enough fix now, but at the time, every set of weighings had to be scrutinised by Liebherr’s Biberach team and any suggested remedies approved by them, so as not to void the machine warranty and not compromise the crane lifting capacity.”

In late July, Hi Lift and Liebherr jointly hosted a successful launch event for the MK 88 which showcased the abilities of the machine to a large group of construction industry people. “The interest in the machine was intense. I feel we’ll have a busy time ahead of us as news about the MK 88 spreads,” Barrie concludes.

Watch the Liebherr MK 88 mobile tower crane in action: youtu.be/NYEIKQOVJ0U

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