4 May 2010, I arrived in a region and country I was barely aware of, this was my introduction to a future career in the port and container terminal industry.
The project was to refurbish 10 x Noell RTG (rubber tyre gantry) cranes. My assignment was due to last for 3 months, however, it ended up consisting of 5.5 months in Dubai followed by 5 months in Tarragona, Spain.
The conditions were extremely tough! If you’ve been to Dubai you know the feeling of a heat that is barely escapable. Arriving in May the temperature wasn’t so bad, however, it soon got much hotter. I bought a digital thermostat to record the temperature outside, and the hottest day we recorded it was 53.1ºC. Of course official figures will never top 49.9ºC as reportedly the construction labour will have to stop work.
I learned a lot on this project. It was my first experience of working with PLC (programmable logic controllers) and VSD (variable speed drives). The major works involved in upgrading Siemens S5 to S7 PLC. I installed a copy of the Siemens Step 7 software on my personal laptop and began understanding how the ‘brains’ of the machine work. Each crane required rewiring of the e-houses and completely replacing the crane cabin consoles. This was hot, dirty, tedious work. Often I would take my lunch and 2L of water up to the cabin and stay there for the entire day. It was exhausting coming down again, and once in the air-conditioned office it was challenging to leave!
I taught myself how to drive these 130 tonne machines. I became the commissioning electrician and would test each cranes functions repeatedly prior to shipment. We set all the limits and safety features and I would then drive each crane to the quay-line for loading. Aboard the ship I would carefully drive the crane into position, sometimes just 2 meters from the edge!
We worked with a team of up-to 20 welders and fabricators who helped repair sections of the crane and prepare mountings for a new Caterpillar diesel generator set. These guys were from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines. With such a diverse group I got to learn about their culture and way of life. For example, Bob was from a small island in the Philippines called Ilo Ilo. He used to show me photos of how white the sand was. Ever since then I wanted to visit the Philippines and in 2015 I got to, but unfortunately not to Bob’s island.
One of my most vivid memories was nearing the end of the job. Arun’s (far back right, next to me) was a supervisor/welder and it for his birthday he bought everyone KFC!
It’s not lost on me that those guys may still be there, working hard and sending money home for their families. Many of them had wives and children in their home countries. I believe these guys were treated pretty well, and the company is still successfully operating and conducting similar works.
Update: the director reached out to me via LinkedIn recently and said they are doing well.