For the past fifteen years the commercial vehicles operated by brewer Greene King to support its cellar services operations have been equipped with compact electric cranes from Penny Hydraulics so that technicians can load and unload heavy items and complete their work without the risks normally associated with manual handling and lifting. The equipment also supports the brewer’s objective to provide the best possible service across its estate so that beer is always served at the highest quality.
"One of the biggest benefits of the crane is that one engineer can work on their own without having to do any manual lifting," says Trevor Huggins, manager of training and development cellar services at Greene King. "We originally specified the cranes in the mid 1990s to promote efficiency and health and safety and we still fit them to all of our new vehicles. We believe in investing in the vehicles and load handling equipment that help our team to provide excellent cellar services so that our pubs always serve beer at its best."
Established in 1799 and now turning over more than £1 billion a year Greene King is one of the UK’s best known brewers with some of the most successful brands including Old Speckled Hen which is now the most popular premium take home beer in the country. In addition to its 1800 managed and tenanted pubs located across the country the company also owns a number of popular restaurant brands. The brewing side of the business is responsible for the production and distribution of the extensive beer portfolio as well as activities such as the installation and maintenance of cellar equipment for pubs.
"It’s part of our responsibility to create an environment for each of our pubs to serve perfect beer," says Trevor Huggins. "To do this we have to install and maintain a wide range of equipment and ensure it continues to operate properly. We can only do this if the cellar services team has the right vehicle and load handling equipment."
Many years ago the cellar services team operated a fleet of car derived vans. When the department merged with another part of the business in 1996 these vehicles were retained but each had to carry more tools and equipment. This made the load space very cramped and when technicians were on site they often had to unload to access the items they needed and then reload everything after completing their work which was time consuming and unproductive. As equipment grew in size it became difficult for an engineer working on their own to unload their vehicles safely. The cellar services team understood that they needed bigger vehicles but had to present their case to the senior management.
The business was going through a transformation at the time and one of the incoming directors spent a couple of days incognito with cellar services to gain an understanding of how the team operated. After discussing the various issues faced by the technicians he suggested a trial of a larger vehicle.
A VW Transporter was brought in and the company soon decided to standardise on this larger vehicle. At the same time it decided to equip each vehicle with proper on-board storage facilities so that items could be kept safely and securely with easy access. The final part of the new specification was to install a compact SwingLift crane supplied by Penny Hydraulics. Ten new vehicles were commissioned and since then the fleet has grown to 40 vehicles.
"We decided to kit out the vehicles properly," says Trevor Huggins. "The new vehicles looked more professional and did the job we wanted. Providing the team with the right equipment to do their work safely and efficiently supports the overall objective of making sure our beers are served at the highest quality."
The vans are used for installation and maintenance of all equipment involved with beer raising including coolers, gas, pythons, racking and fonts. The specification has broadly remained the same over the years. Each new VW Transporter vehicle has a side door and an additional bulkhead to create two interior load spaces. The Penny Hydraulics SwingLift crane is fitted inside the rear doors and is used primarily for loading and unloading coolers from the vehicles although it can be used for other items if required.
"The cranes are reliable, easy to use and robust," says Trevor Huggins. "They are compact and fold away when not in use so they don’t get in the way but only take a few seconds to put up when needed."
The standard specification is for a crane with a maximum working load of 150kg, which is ideal for the majority of loads handled by the cellar services team, although a few vehicles have been equipped with a larger capacity 250kg model. Both have an identical design which helps simplify installation and operator training. The lightweight cranes incorporate an electric winch that is operated with a remote control wander lead to raise and lower the load The coolers generally weigh between 80 and 100kg and are on wheels so they can normally be rolled into position once they are offloaded. However, on the rare occasion they need to be lowered into a cellar from the roadside the crane can be used, assuming the vehicle can approach building.
The Penny Hydraulics cranes have proved to be extremely versatile and reliable. So much so that Greene King is often able to transfer a crane from an old vehicle to its replacement rather than buy a completely new unit. All that it needed to do this is to install a new pillar inside the rear doors of the van to match the dimensions of the existing crane. The unit is then transferred to the new vehicle and its electrical services connected. The work is normally completed by Greene King’s own fitters.
"The cranes could last for many years as long as we continue to look after them and use them properly," says Trevor Huggins.
Alongside the supply of cranes Penny Hydraulics has provided a service maintenance contract covering all of the vehicles owned by Greene King. This includes not only the regular statutory inspection of the cranes, normally completed at least once a year, but all ongoing maintenance of the units. The company has also provided ancillary and complementary services such as PAT testing of electrical equipment carried on the vehicles. Routine service calls tend to be scheduled so that one of Penny Hydraulics’ nationwide team of engineers can meet up with their Greene King counterpart at a suitable location, typically one of the pubs, so that both can get on with their work. Call outs, for example to replace frayed lifting straps or cables, are scheduled whenever needed.
"We’ve kitted our own team to do additional jobs in the pubs," says Trevor Huggins. "Our aim is always to repair on site rather than replace an item because it’s more efficient and less expensive for the business and more convenient for the manager or tenant."