When Premier Cranes and Rigging were invited to help with preparatory civil works at the West Gate Tunnel Project, they knew this could be their big break. The project however, proved to be more valuable for the company than they originally thought.
It was December 2017 and work at the West Gate Tunnel Project in Melbourne’s west was slowly picking up after a year and a half of community liaison and planning. Two of the first tasks before beginning the twin tunnel construction under Yarraville between the West Gate Freeway and the Maribyrnong River were to install protection barriers along the busy West Gate Freeway and remove existing light poles and overhead gantries.
Luckily for Premier Cranes and Rigging, a fast-growing Melbourne-based crane business founded by mates Steve Warton and Matt Clark, they were among the first crane companies to get called in for the job.
“It was the classic turn of events,” says Warton. “We had already worked with some key people in charge of arranging the contractors on two separate projects. A couple of these were the Williams Landing Railway Station and the Ravenhall Prison projects. From their experiences working with us, they knew about our ‘can do’ approach. They also knew we had experience working on tier-one infrastructure projects, so they came to us first.”
The initial project scopes were narrow. The first task involved site establishment and installing the road barriers along the existing freeway. The second one was more complex and involved removing existing overhead gantries and light poles. The team at Premier Cranes were ready to give it their best shot.
Premier Cranes already had an in-field crew of fifty to sixty and a crane fleet mostly featuring Liebherr cranes from 20 to 350 of tonnage, as well as a fleet of Frannas, including AT40, and five MAC25 plus the AT20 units – All tier-one compliant.
A year later, the work stream had multiplied, and the Premier Cranes crew on the project had grown closer to 100 people.
A ‘CAN DO’ APPROACH
From the early stages of work at the West Gate Tunnel Project, Warton says they backed their experienced crews.
“Our key leaders of that time worked closely with our crane crews, they really led the boys to get it done the right way. Together we just brought the right attitude to the table. Every day and every night, we strived to be better.”
This ‘can do’ approach of always saying ‘yes’ and helping with extra tasks inevitably saw the profile of Premier Cranes rise with the engineering teams on the project.
“The project had very sharp timeframes because of the road closures. So, by getting our hands dirty and getting our ‘one percenters’ right, we made sure that we were doing more work every night than planned for that timeframe. Our drive, past experience and our understanding of the work streams also helped the young engineers on the ground deliver on their responsibilities,” says Warton.
“As an example, the industry standard would be to sling the heavy gantries up, then stand back and wait for someone else to undo the strong, complex connections; whereas our crews just got in to get those connections undone themselves. This is just an example of our approach. And very quickly the word spread.”
With the eventual arrival of the massive Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) and construction officially starting in early 2019 on the tunnel’s North Portal in Footscray, the scope of work for Premier Cranes became a lot bigger. With that, the next round of challenges started for the team.
From lifting 30-40 tonne precast concrete beams and 12 tonne planks within tight areas and restricted head heights to helping locate and install the 57-ton steel rings at the tunnel entrance, every day at the project presented new challenges that the experienced Premier Cranes team had to navigate through.
With the workload reaching extraordinary levels by this time, Warton says the team had to work hard to keep up with the standard they had set.
“It was the classic ‘duck underwater’ example. On the surface, we were presenting well to our clients. Beneath the surface, we were paddling faster than anyone would know,” says Warton.
But the busy work schedule, which continued through 2020 and even during the COVID-19 restrictions in Melbourne, was also a blessing for Premier Cranes. Through this period, Warton says, the business learned to bring structure to the day, and get a better handle on things, by discovering #TeamLifting with their people, a company philosophy focused on growing and lifting the team and clients alike.
“When we initially joined the West Gate Tunnel Project, we were seen as these ‘new kids on the block’ by others in the industry. Nobody thought that we would be able to keep up as the project ramped up. They were wrong,” says Warton.
“We knew, however, that for Premier to be sustainable and scalable in the medium and long term, we had to get more structured. Now that itself was quite a journey.”
STRUCTURED TO SCALE
In many ways, involvement in the West Gate Tunnel Project was a journey Premier Cranes was destined to be a part of.
As Clark explains, it highlighted and encouraged the them to build a scalable structure through a full systematisation of the business, which started with the company setting out its Strategic Intent.
“Premier’s Strategic Intent sets out where we want to go as a business, and a key aspect of that is empowering our people. We realised, through reflection over the past few years, that if we want to be able to scale, we need to specialise our people in their respective departments,” says Clark.
“So even though now we still have people who wear multiple shoes, eventually as Premier grows, we will easily specialise by filling every position as described on our organisational map. Our aim is to make it easier to recruit and on-board new high calibre people and of course new equipment. We know that it’s only by empowering our people and giving them the responsibility to get the result that together we can push to achieve our Strategic Intent.”
THE ONLY DIRECTION IS FORWARD
Going forward, the Premier Cranes team are eager to replicate their approach used on the West Gate Tunnel Project to be a part of similar and bigger lifting projects.
Already, the team has taken on more projects such as the Hurstbridge Line Upgrade, the Monash Freeway upgrade, and early boring works on the North East Link project.
“The value we add with our structure is clearly showing,” Warton says.
As work on the infrastructure projects picks up, the team at Premier Cranes are ready to take on the work peaks better than ever before.
“As a crane business that started with basically nothing and became one of the leading crane companies in Melbourne, we have high aspirations. With the infrastructure work boom that’s going around now, we can certainly replicate our value proposition on all future projects for the clients’ benefit, and for our team,” says Warton.
“With the alignment of our business processes at the backend, we are confidently responding to the short- and long-term needs on these projects. We have committed to other work streams and we are now showcasing ourselves further with our in-house Engineering and Project Management teams.”
With a high level of cadence, decentralised leadership, a shared vision, and the cranes to back it, Warton heralds #TeamLifting as an approach to be rivalled.
This article was originally published in the July edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.