The sky is the limit when it comes remote working for companies like Liebherr

How crane creators can trouble-shoot from a distance
The sky is the limit when it comes remote working for companies like Liebherr
The heavy transport ship the Albatross departing Cork on March 5, 2017, with its cargo of three 900-tonne cranes, made in Liebherr, Killarney, and bound for Puerto Rico. Picture: Dan Linehan

IS IT possible to service the cranes you deliver globally even when you can’t travel yourself? The answer is yes. As the pandemic hit Ireland the country went into lockdown, Kerry-based Liebherr Container Cranes adapted quickly and continued all essential services — and the company believes it will develop remote working further in the post-lockdown world.

The first Liebherr factory outside of Germany, Liebherr Ireland was founded in 1958 when Hans Liebherr was seeking somewhere to manufacture his new tower cranes for the American and British market. Initially, Liebherr had not considered Killarney as a base for his factory. But a group of Killarney businessmen and local dignitaries met with him while he was staying in the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney and showed what the town had to offer, and it seems his mind was made up pretty quickly.

Liebherr STS at Eurgate Container Terminal Bremerhaven before it is shipped to Eurogate Container Terminal Hamburg.
Liebherr STS at Eurgate Container Terminal Bremerhaven before it is shipped to Eurogate Container Terminal Hamburg.

Fast-forward six decades, what is it like operating in the coronavirus climate? “As a supplier of essential equipment in the supply chain, we have to be available at all times to supply spares and service. With lockdowns and restrictions of different severities and length in countries worldwide, remote service has become crucial for our customers,” said Trevor O’Donoghue, marketing manager, Liebherr Container Cranes Ltd. “We have already provided remote access to our cranes for many years as part of our standard product offering. We use proprietary software on the cranes that allow our engineers to connect to any crane, anywhere in the world and diagnose and service it. In addition, with the absence of overseas travel and restrictions on local travel, we have worked with our customers’ service personnel using generic off-the-shelf apps like WhatsApp and using augmented reality glasses and tools to continue to service cranes.” 

In addition, Liebherr has developed a remote service tool that improves assistance through visual information, so leading to faster and easier troubleshooting. “Audio and video calls, a chat function, screen sharing, image and document exchange, as well as whiteboarding functions are some of the features that have been integrated in the tool,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

“These enable real-time, fast and effective customer support from Liebherr engineers, allowing us to help repair cranes without being onsite. Using all of the above technologies and others, we have been able to virtually commission cranes to enter service. We did this at the height of New Zealand's strict lockdown, where we had no Liebherr engineers at the Port of Tauranga, but using technology and local personnel we were able to get a new Liebherr ship-to-shore container crane into service.” 

This accelerated development and increased rate of adoption of technologies have benefited the customer, adds Liebherr. “Liebherr can continue to service cranes even when we can’t travel. Widespread adoption of these and other technologies such as remote sensing and predictive maintenance means that the necessity for on-site service engineers will be reduced, resulting in less downtime for our customers’ cranes, allowing them in turn to offer their customers a better service,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

Liebherr developed its own remote service tool for improved assistance and faster troubleshooting.
Liebherr developed its own remote service tool for improved assistance and faster troubleshooting.

Crane-loading operations in Cork Harbour in 2017 and 2019 drew curious crowds, when massive gantry cranes were shipped to Puerto Rico and Montreal. Such spectatorship is a distant memory in these pandemic times. During lockdown, production was closed for five weeks while clerical staff were facilitated to work from home. “As an essential service, we were among the first back into some overseas countries where our staff were key to keeping goods moving and allowing ports to continue to keep essential goods and cargoes flowing via Liebherr cranes,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

“Our factory implemented many public hygiene measures early on in the fight against Covid-19. Our manufacturing halls are very large and the large nature of our products allowed us to adapt our manufacturing to incorporate social distancing and other public health measures very quickly.” As with many businesses, video conferencing has become an important tool in its customer interface, as has remote service. “We would have used both of these previously, but the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated change,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

“The quick change to the new normal and the relative ease at which it occurred, was particularly striking. Today, our crane engineers and designers who use very resource-heavy applications are all able to work from home.”   Changes made in recent times were being developed anyway, added Liebherr. “Covid-19 has sped up the implementation and adoption of these changes,” said Mr O’Donoghue.

“The tools and processes we have now implemented allow us to maintain our productivity and service to our customers, but allow us to respond in a quicker and more agile manner, which is a good thing. Remote working and support has proven to be practical. Even when things return to normal, then remote working in some shape or form will be further cultivated.”

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