MTA 2019 - 0026

MD David Collett, centre, and projects director Eric Crosby, second left, collect their trophy from Ian Mitchell, MD UK & Ireland, at sponsor Hiab, accompanied by comedian Omid Djalili (far left) and MT editor Steve Hobson

Heavy haulage requires some serious planning. Team of the Year at the Motor Transport Awards 2019, Collett & Sons, has a sense of togetherness that lightens even the heaviest of loads.

Collett & Sons is a family firm that has become one of the UK’s leading heavy hauliers as well as retaining its conventional general haulage business. It’s an ownership model that sits well with the heavy upfront investment required in specialist kit as the payback period is a lot longer than the three to five years on more conventional vehicles.

The firm started out in Sutton near Keighley, West Yorkshire in 1928 and MD David Collett is the grandson of founder Richard Collett and one of five brothers now running the business.

It began by taking milk from farms to the local dairy by horse and cart and in 1962 moved to Halifax where Richard and his son – also called Richard – continued the milk collection business on behalf of the Milk Marketing Board. “In the 1970s that stopped but in the meantime they had started carrying farm produce and engineering products,” says David Collett. “My dad bought his first low loader, a secondhand Crane Fruehauf that was bent like a banana, in 1974. He must have been offered a good deal and thought ‘let’s do something different and give it a whizz’.”

In 1985 the firm acquired the 2-acre former Watkinson site in Keighley and bought its first hydraulic modular low loader equipment. In 1996 the two sites were consolidated into 5 acres in Halifax which remains the company HQ and home to the logistics division. By 2008 the heavy haulage operation had outgrown Halifax and a 5-acre depot in Goole was purchased to give easier access to the M62. This has now been expanded to 12 acres. “With the size of trailers we now have we couldn’t get them out of Halifax without removing street furniture,” he says. “We have diversified so it is no longer just transport. As we got into bigger projects we were providing a true end-to-end service.”

In 2014 the firm added a portside depot in Grangemouth equipped with a 110-tonne mobile gantry.

Eric Crosby joined the firm as projects director in 2003. He says: “Ten years ago we had moved a secondhand boiler from Halifax to Ireland. Out of blue we had a call saying ‘the whole factory is going to Morocco – can you do it?’ The answer was ‘yes’ of course, so with Dave’s brother Lincoln I got in the car and went to have a look. It involved stripping the plant out, loading, packing, chartering a ship to Casablanca, discharging the ship, and delivering and installing it in the new factory.

“My approach is to never say ‘no’.”

Collett & Sons has increased its capacity both in terms of the size of load it can handle and the range of services it offers, with just about everything done in-house except supplying cranes and ships which are still hired in.

The general haulage fleet includes crane-equipped vehicles, which are useful for transporting the ancillary equipment needed for moving large loads.

“A lot of the business we do on the heavy transport and installations requires conventional trucks for taking components for jacking and skidding, beams, etc,” says Crosby. “We do everything in-house so if it’s something that needs moving on wheels, we’re interested.”

The biggest change apart from the ever-increasing size of the loads has been the amount of risk assessments and documentation that must be completed before a wheel is turned. So as well as investing in the impressive pieces of kit sitting out in the yard the firm has spent a lot of money on IT so it can produce the 3D swept-path analysis and CAD drawings needed. “It makes me laugh when people say ‘you made that look easy’,” says Collett. “What they don’t see are the six months of planning that went in to the two days it takes to do the job.”


MD David Collett proudly shows off his MT Awards trophy, loaded on a model self-propelled modular transporter at Collett & Sons’ Goole depot

A key growth market has been onshore wind turbines, which are getting bigger but are still transportable by road. Sadly, few are manufactured in Britain. “They have new-generation turbines that have been developed for road transport,” says Collett. “The UK has a chequered history in tower manufacturing. Three or four companies have gone to the wall and there is a lot of consolidation but it is still a market for the future.”

But it is in the really large and heavy loads where Collett & Sons has earned its can-do reputation. “There is no limit on the weight or dimensions we can transport,” boasts Collett. “The only restriction is the infrastructure we are running on.”

Crosby adds: “We have moved over 500 tonnes on the road from Sheffield to Goole. The train weight would have been over 650 tonnes.”

This was made possible when, in 2014, Collett & Sons broke the European record for the biggest capacity load carrier when it ordered a £1.5m 550-tonne capacity girder bridge from its preferred supplier, German manufacturer Scheuerle, designed to carry transformers and generators. “We made the decision to bring something different to the market so we stood out,” says Collett. “One competitor said we were idiots as no one built a 550-tonne transformer. Within three months we had an enquiry from one of the transformer manufacturers saying ‘can you give us a price as we are going to build one that size now that you can move it’. Business is increasing as a result.”

While the National Grid is managing the switch to more renewable generation, the UK’s power infrastructure is ageing at the same time. “Transformers have a shelf life and have to be replaced. National Grid has had 10 ‘supergrid’ transformers from one manufacturer this year,” adds Crosby. “And there are 12 due from another manufacturer next year.”

The firm also buys German heavy haulage tractors, mainly using MAN and Mercedes-Benz rather than the Swedish brands which may offer more power but not the necessary torque convertor transmission.

“When you are moving 500 tonnes it is all about starting and stopping,” says Collett. “You need the right unit at the front – we don’t necessarily need 750hp; we can do it with half of that if we have the right gear and axle ratios. It sounds nice to have a big engine but it’s the torque convertor that is key.”

The self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs) come in four or six-axle modules and can be assembled in various axle configurations to suit each load. The maximum loading per axle can be as high as 40 tonnes but the actual load is usually restricted by the weight the ground can take. “You can only go up to whatever the infrastructure will allow you to do,” says Collett. “When you plot a route from A to B if that says you can only do 16 tonnes per axle then you have to put enough axles in to spread the load.”

Sometimes it takes months to find a suitable route – and very occasionally it even proves impossible.

“That has just happened,” says Crosby. “It was only 15 miles from the port to the site but the route couldn’t take the weight. In the end they shipped it in two pieces to a fabrication depot where it was welded back together and we moved it at 300 tonnes to the installation site.”


One shot at success, smashed out of the park

In a very strong category that was hard to call for our judges, Collett & Sons came out on top with an impressive entry describing a unique project to deliver three 169-tonne electrical transformers for the National Grid in just four weeks.

The Collett team had just six months to plan and execute the moves, which involved shifting the transformers a total of 270km from ports to substations. Two moves took place from Ellesmere Port, one 107km to Stoke-on-Trent and the other 145km to Willenhall, while the third was a 20km haul from Portsmouth to Lovedean.

CollettSons DeliveringWillenhall1 Team

As well as transporting the transformers, the Collett team had to arrange a 1,200-tonne mobile crane to load and unload the transformers at either end of the moves.

Planning involved liaising with several local authorities and police forces to minimise disruption and ensure safe passage for the 66m-long, 5.4m-wide combinations, pushed and pulled by three MAN 4-axle heavy haulage tractor units. Work started early in 2018 and included test drives of the planned routes, swept path analysis, topographical and structural surveys and media liaison.

Preparing the moves saw council engineers modify sections of the route to remove obstructions such as street furniture, the ramping of splitter islands and the pruning of foliage to create the 5.2m high and 6m wide ‘tunnel’ needed to allow the combination safe passage. Parking restrictions and temporary road closures were also put in place.

The judges said the project was extremely challenging, especially as these high-profile moves had attracted a lot of publicity. One judge who had recently gained his C+E licence said he “could only imagine the effort and teamwork required to execute a project of this nature”. Another was impressed with the completeness of the service provided by Collett, while a third noted that the team had only had one shot to get it right and they had “smashed it out of the park”.

Winning the award both surprised and delighted the Collett team at the ceremony in July and the trophy now sits proudly on a model SPMT in Collett’s office in Goole.

“It was a great surprise and we were cock-a-hoop,” says Collett. “We are not Eddie Stobart, we don’t have thousands of trucks and what we do is pretty niche. But we are bloody good at it.”