Posted at 14 June 2019

One of Engineering's Biggest Challenges

Paul Skade
By Mahesh Patel
Engineering Manager

During my years with WYKO and ERIKS, I have gained extensive experience and knowledge which has enabled me to maximise my present role as Engineering Manager work...

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There are 3 harbour cranes on the dockside at Port Talbot, unloading cargoes of iron ore and coal. Unloader Number 3 has been operating since the 1960s, during which time it has lifted around 1.6 million tonnes a year, in 50-tonne buckets, with 20-30,000 bucket lifts every 12 months. 



The crane’s four legs are mounted on a total of 10 carriages, running on railway lines along the dock. As the crane weighs around the same as two and a half Airbus A380 aeroplanes (900 tonnes), the carriage wheels need to be able to withstand up to 44 tonnes of load when storm conditions strike. That’s the same as five and a half fully-loaded double-decker buses. At the same time, the drive produces 27,500Nm of torque per carriage, which is the equivalent of 22 Bugatti Veyrons, or 72 two-litre VW Golf Mk VII TDIs. 

With the crane operative high above the ground, dozens of people working beneath, and a ship in the harbour alongside, this is a piece of engineering demanding no half-measures, with no room for error. In other words: the perfect job for ERIKS. 


Shock and ore

The operating environment on the dockside is tough for both men and equipment.

Iron ore and loose coal frequently fall from the crane buckets onto the train tracks, where the dust is picked up by the carriage wheels and makes its way into the mesh of the carriage’s spur gears. This can cause the crane to stall in motion, damaging not just the gears but – thanks to the shock load – other drive components such as the gearboxes, brakes and bearings. 

Together with over 50 years’ wear and tear, and sea water corrosion, the result was frequent drive failures, high maintenance costs, and occasional fines for ships delayed in dock waiting to be unloaded while the crane was out of action. 

Engineering an effective refurbishment solution was the challenge ERIKS faced. However this was made even more difficult by the need to remove two operational – rather than spare – drives to refurbish. Tata Steel would only allow the crane to be out of action for two weeks, and a test dismantle, re-weld and remanufacture 

of a single carriage proved this was an impossible timescale. 

However, ERIKS believes in achieving the impossible. In this case, by offering to manufacture two new carriages from scratch, to keep the crane operational while the remaining carriages were refurbished. 


Heavy lifting

Much of the project’s “heavy lifting” fell on the Swansea Electro-Mechanical Services division, and the Pensnett Product Business Units, all under the project management of Engineering Manager Mahesh Patel. 

Even with 28 years’ WYKO and ERIKS experience under his safety helmet, this was Mahesh’s biggest project to date. 

The project’s scope grew over time, until ultimately ERIKS, in conjunction with SKF and Fenner brands, was responsible for:

  • a new drive, eliminating the high-maintenance open spur gears
  • a Fenner P Series gearbox of greater efficiency than the worm gearbox drive previously in use
  • an IP65 enclosed electromagnetic brake system to replace the calliper brake system, which was highly susceptible to contamination and corrosion
  • more cost-effective SKF spherical roller bearings to replace existing taper roller bearings
  • new wheels, which are over 100kg lighter


The complete package

ERIKS’ complete design, engineering and manufacturing capabilities across a whole range of components not only made it possible to complete the task successfully. They also enabled real added value: a new, lighter wheel design, a more reliable electromechanical braking solution, and two completely new carriages to keep Tata Steel’s dockside operations up and running throughout. 

The scale and complexity of this project was something few other companies could have taken on. For ERIKS, it was business as usual. 


Liked this article? You might want to read Know+How Magazine Issue 37, packed with related articles and more!

It's not just external surroundings that contribute to an aggressive environment, materials that are being processed and what goes through your equipment can also put assets under strain. 

We take a look at some of the issues you face on a daily basis and how to mitigate some of the risks. 

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