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Twenty-three

Ross Mcleod - Intebloc Ltd

Lift-off for smart crane solutions…

Ross Mcleod - Intebloc Ltd

Lift-off for smart crane solutions

The crane and lifting industry is worth an estimated $10 billion a year. Without cranes, many industries would struggle to function, including shipping, oil & gas and construction, and a start-up in Aberdeen currently hosted by the Oil & Gas Technology Centre is after a slice of this fast-growing market by making cranes operate smarter and faster...

Ross Mcleod has witnessed the death of a colleague, crushed by a container on an oil rig off Angola, but that is only partly why he’s set up his business, developing a stream of innovative wireless solutions for the crane and lifting industry. Safety and security will always be priorities – for example, preventing collisions – but improved productivity and a reduction in downtime could add a lot of value to the industry, and that's the proposition that Mcleod will be selling to customers later this year, as he launches his first range of products.

Mcleod’s new venture, Intebloc Ltd, prides itself on being a company “founded on innovation through experience,” and some of that experience was gained in highly dangerous conditions. As well as seeing someone killed while working in West Africa, Mcleod has also escaped from a fire on an oil rig, and observed first-hand the panic that can lead to even greater loss of life, as people searched for lifeboats or simply jumped into the sea because communications broke down in the midst of the chaos. Add to that collisions and equipment failures, plus inefficient use of resources, and Mcleod believes that his intelligent solutions will not only save lives but money – in some cases, millions of dollars a day.

“Cranes and lifting are two of the main elements of the supply chain, and our vision is that our solutions will increase productivity and safety – eradicating accidents, reducing costs and also cutting hydrocarbon footprint,” says Mcleod.

Mcleod got his first job in the oil and gas industry at 18 years old, initially as a trainee sales manager at Arco, then spent the next nine years in offshore inspection, working for Sparrows Servtech, focusing on issues such as safety and compliance with industry standards. Next, he worked with Load Systems International, now part of Trimble’s lifting solutions division, specialising in wireless crane and lifting instrumentation.

Two years ago, having travelled all over the world, working in West Africa, the USA and Asia, as well as the North Sea and various countries in Europe, Mcleod decided to set up his own firm, specialising in wireless solutions for the crane and lifting industry, drawing on his own experience – and seeing a significant gap in the market. He could see the benefits of existing wireless crane and lifting solutions, but he also believed there was scope for improvement, especially in cameras and operational software designed to enable much better control of the cranes, as well as more efficient platform management.

Mcleod has seen for himself the kind of problems faced by operators. Accidents and equipment failures can make a critical difference, especially offshore where replacement parts may take several days to arrive. Sometimes, it can take 45 minutes to offload a single container, and when you have 30 containers to shift, and a storm is approaching, every minute is precious.

Product pipeline

The first product in the company's pipeline (due for launch in April 2019) is a tablet-based software solution called Rig-Ware, designed to keep track of the different equipment on platforms, and minimise the damaging impact of DROPS (objects/tools that fall from heights). At any one time, there could be 1,500 different assets on deck, and according to Mcleod, DROPS are usually the major cause of “loss-time incidents (LTIs),” leading to significant problems when equipment breaks down or goes missing. “Rig-Ware is challenging the most common LTI within the industry,” says Mcleod. “Between 2017 and 2018, DROPS were responsible for 59 LTIs in the UK alone, and an additional seven recorded lifting failures. This doesn’t include near misses or non-recorded accidents, so in reality the number will be a lot higher.” Every item on deck also has to be certified every few weeks, so having an intelligent deck management or “stock control” system such as Rig-Ware would also help speed up these regular surveys.

Another new intelligent technology on the horizon is a camera called Inte-View, which attaches to the crane block, extending the reach from the tip of the boom so the crane operator can see into spaces where he'd normally need an assistant to look out for problems – for example, blind spots on the deck or deep inside hatches. Mcleod describes this an “extra pair of eyes” for the crane operator, and expects to have the new product ready for market by August this year.

Mcleod is also building a solution for lifting containers called Lift-Scan, so operators know exactly what to do with their cargo as soon as they scan it, using deck management software which identifies the optimum location for every individual container and piece of equipment, then stores the relevant data. “This alone could improve productivity by something in the region of 30%,” says Mcleod, “by rationalising the use of the deck space and speeding up the lifting process.”

Another major area where Intebloc sees opportunities for high-tech solutions is personnel tracking systems – enabling managers to see where people are in real time, at the same time as alerting personnel to any imminent danger such as moving containers. In the event of an accident, when people need to evacuate, tracking systems could also help organise people, making sure they get into lifeboats, for instance. In combination with the new generation of cameras, Mcleod suggests the fatal accident he witnessed several years ago might never have happened – the crane operator would now be able to see there was someone in danger and the victim would also receive an alarm. His solution, called C-Trac, is scheduled to be on the market towards the end of 2019.

Investment so far

As well as winning an RSE Unlocking Ambition Fellowship in 2018 and being part of Scottish Enterprise's High-Growth Programme for start-ups, Mcleod has won funding worth £100,000 from the TechX programme, managed by the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, plus £40,000 as one of the two “game-changing technology companies” selected by BP Ventures. The money will allow Mcleod to carry on development and provide him with business support. He is also planning to recruit a Chief Technology Officer and a Chief Financial Officer later this year, and has already identified the candidates he wants to bring on board.

Last December, Mcleod “nailed down the numbers” for his business plan, in preparation for a serious fundraising exercise later this year, so he can build his team and bring more new products on stream. There’s still a lot of work to do before the company becomes an established “world leader”, but the product launch this summer will hopefully give Intebloc a foothold in a major global industry – and a platform for growth.

 

 

"Ross Mcleod - Intebloc Ltd". Science Scotland (Issue Twenty-three)
Printed from http://www.sciencescotland.org/feature.php?id=354 on 20/07/19 06:49:19 PM

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