Ray Slade likes a challenge.
So it comes as no surprise that driving a long-load extendable truck and trailer unit, carrying unconventional and unusually shaped items, is right up his alley.
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years now, so I’m pretty much used to it,” says the transport supervisor for Tranzcarr, which is part of TIL’s Specialist Lifting and Transport Group. “But every job’s a challenge and I like a challenge, it’s what keeps me motivated.”
Ray and the Tranzcarr team’s latest task is the transport of ninety-nine 54.9m Vestas wind turbine blades from Port Taranaki’s two-hectare laydown area at the Eastern Reclamation to Turitea, in Manawatū, for Mercury’s under-construction $450 million wind farm.
During the COVID-19 Level 4 lockdown, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has deemed the movement of the blades as essential work, with all necessary steps taken to conform to the Ministry of Health guidelines and to keep everyone safe.
“Logistically it’s a big job,” says Tranzcarr operations manager Bridget Tapper of the transportation. “There’s an immense amount of planning to ensure it is completed correctly and safely.”
Aside from permits, and the technical aspect of ensuring the load is balanced and weighted correctly on the truck and trailer, a large part of the planning is scoping out the journey route for potential hazards – trees, street lights and signs – which may need to be removed or, in the case of roundabouts, traversed.
“We did a lot of homework before the job, and we came down to the port a couple of times to check everything would work out correctly,” says Ray.
This includes making a ‘dry run’ of the route mapped out by an engineer, where a frame is built to simulate the blade, put on the extended trailer and driven the course.
The company’s two Nooteboom extendable, steerable trailers – the only two in the country – are used for the job. Being steerable means the trailer can be manoeuvred separately from the truck. An operator stands at the rear and uses a remote to guide the trailer and blade, which overhangs the trailer by 20m, around tight bends or corners.
But, perhaps most crucial to the project are the drivers. Ray says the key to being a good driver is having “nous” and “a bit of X-factor”, while Bridget describes Ray as a “perfectionist”.
“He checks every little aspect of a route before a load goes past,” she says. “He is very particular.”
“Although there’s no special licence for operating a long-load vehicle, we have our own internal training procedures. Drivers with experience are crucial.”
Ray says the first part of the Turitea job – the transport of the blades from the vessel at Port Taranaki to the Eastern Reclamation – went very smoothly.
“The communication between the guys at Port Taranaki, the stevedores from ISO and us was fantastic and helped us get the job done well. We had a great team operating together.”
Up to 10 blades a week – Monday to Friday – are being moved from the Eastern Reclamation to Turitea. Both Nooteboom trucks are being used for the job and each 250km trip takes up to six hours, depending on wind and weather conditions.
The consignment of blades is the first of two for the Turitea wind farm Port Taranaki is expecting this year. In November, another 84 blades will arrive at the port and be transported to Manawatū.
Starting in early June, several shipments carrying a total of ninety-three 64m blades, 31 towers, and nacelle turbine units for Tilt Renewables’ $277 million Waipipi wind farm, between Waverley and Pātea, will arrive at the port. The components will also be stored at the Eastern Reclamation.
“Logistically, these projects are very exciting and challenging for us, as the cargo is out of the ordinary and large,” says Port Taranaki head of commercial Ross Dingle.
“But we have good storage and laydown facilities here and it’s great our assets, skills and expertise are being used for a new type of cargo.”