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Views from the cabin

October 13, 2014

Maneuvering a crane at 50 meters requires skill, good fitness and absolute concentration. We meet the men who keep the cargo flowing at Slovenia’s Port of Koper, and learn about their unique working environment.

Koper, a city in Slovenia with some 50,000 residents 10 kilometers from the Italian border, boasts the biggest port of the Adriatic Sea and the only one in Slovenia.  The Port of Koper is a multi-purpose port, equipped to handle and warehouse all types of goods as an important entry point into the European Union.

The crane operators are the ones who have perhaps the most critical and certainly the most exciting jobs in the port.

Stanislav Vičič, 50, is one of them. He has worked at the Port of Koper – Luka Koper in Slovene – for ten years, driving there every day from his home in a town 50 kilometers away. Today Stanislav is working with a reach stacker, a Konecranes-built lift truck with which he is unloading containers from a train that has just arrived at the port.

Stanislav maneuvers the reach stacker with ease. Forty-foot containers look like gigantic Lego blocks when his machine picks them up one by one from the train and positions them quickly onto one of the trucks waiting nearby.

The hardest part of Stanislav’s job? “Sitting in the small cabin for eight hours,” he replies, but he smiles as he says it, as if to make clear that he’s not trying to arouse our sympathy.
 

 

Physically demanding

As you would expect, operating these lift trucks requires a lot from the professionals working on them. The operator must stay focused at all times and be able to see what’s happening all around him. Dropping the container would not only incur a huge expense, but could even be fatal in the worst possible scenario. Accidents are rare, but staying on top of everything is not just a mental challenge but also physically demanding. 

For example, Stanislav mentions some issues with ergonomics in the cabin: “My back hurts sometimes, and the posture is often uncomfortable”, he points out, although he quickly adds that whenever a new truck model arrives, it’s always much more comfortable than the previous one. 

Indeed, over the past few years significant improvements have been made in the cabin designs of cranes and lift trucks. Thanks to new technology and software, the lifting equipment being built today is much more pleasant to operate than before. 

 

The latest evolution in heavy-duty lift trucks is the C series unveiled by Konecranes earlier this year. The C series features a cabin with much-improved ergonomics: the operator has more space and better visibility thanks to a more ergonomic layout and integrated, seat-mounted controls. A seven-inch touchscreen supports an optional integrated rear-view camera and tire pressure monitoring.

Konecranes is continuously working to improve cabin ergonomics.  

“Studying the user experience is vital in helping us deeply understand the operator’s work,” explains Johannes Tarkiainen, Industrial Design Manager at Konecranes.

Specialists at work
 

As Stanislav heads for his lunch-break, Stojan Čepar and Mehrudin Vukovic take us to the STS gantry crane, the biggest crane at the port. The STS loads and unloads the container ships that arrive at the port in an endless stream. On the busiest days you can see the ships forming a queue close to the shore, waiting for their turn to be unloaded.

Luckily, there’s an elevator to take us to the top of the crane. It’s pouring rain, but this practically never delays work at the port.

The view from the cabin is breathtaking. The forty meters of vertical drop over the port leaves us gasping. When the cabin is moved forward, we peer down through its glass floor, which is an exhilarating experience to say the least.

Stojan, who is now 38 years old, has been working here for 12 years, Mehrudin for 13.  They have strict medical tests every year to check that their eyesight, for example, is adequate for the job. An operator needs to see and hear properly.

Stojan and Mehrudin are muscular guys, and it’s no wonder – Stojan is an avid triathlonist, and Mehrudin is a kick-boxer. The work’s physical and mental demands are also factors that make these crane operators proud of their job. After all, there are only 200 crane operators working in Slovenia. These men are specialists.

“As long as I stay healthy, I’ve got no problems,” Stojan explains. “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than this.”

Meanwhile, it’s Johannes Tarkiainen’s and Konecranes’ job to ensure that everything, down to the smallest detail, is taken into account.

“The better the environment the operators are in, the better they can do their work,” Tarkiainen says. 

 

Text: Niku Hooli
Photos: Luka Dakskobler

Fast File

 

  • The Port of Koper was established in 1957. Its cargo throughput surpassed 18 million tons and about 650,000 TEU in 2013.


  • The port is currently shortlisted for the most environmentally friendly European port award 2014 from the European Sea Ports Organization (Association ESPO).
  • The container crane operators at Port of Koper are among only 200 who work professionally in Slovenia.