Meet the man who ensures projects literally get off the ground — with help from Goliath
Albert Bell is two men in one. A quietly spoken, well-mannered, proper gent at Harland and Wolff (H&W) since 1970, Albert is the company’s maintenance manager. This means he is responsible for every bit of kit and equipment, from the forklift-truck fleet to the shipbuilding gantry cranes Samson and Goliath.
Without his maturity, wisdom and technical know-how, many H&W projects might not get off the ground.
In Albert’s case, getting things off the ground are central to what the yard does every day. Stuff needs to be lifted and shifted all the time when you’re building huge structures like offshore wind turbines and platforms.
The other Albert Bell is the twinkly eyed man whose fascination with manufacturing, building and assembling complicated things has not diminished in a career that spans more than 40 years.
His enthusiasm shines through despite the punishing schedule he and his colleagues face every day.
Albert arrives for work early. The day doesn’t officially start until 7.30 but the first thing he does is check the weather — and wind conditions in particular. Cranes which reach 300ft or more into the sky are vulnerable to strong winds and the mouth of Belfast harbour is not the calmest place in Ireland. He’ll decide if the cranes can be used that day. He also goes through his emails and looks out for any surprises which may have cropped up during the night.
Albert and his team of a dozen or so maintenance engineers, fitters, crane drivers and electricians are advocates of PM — preventative maintenance. “If we don’t keep on top of the collection of dockside cranes, pump houses, welding equipment and all the other plant essentials to maintaining services on board vessels which come into the ship repair yard, or for use in the assembly of wind turbines, or whatever else we are building in the manufacturing halls, we face potential shut-down. That has never happened and I’ve no intention of letting it happen.”
Quick break from wherever Albert might find himself — on top of Samson or Goliath checking lubricants on the two massive locomotive-sized diesel generators which pump out enough horsepower to lift 850 tons (with the power of one engine alone), or down at the ship repair dock ensuring a Venezuelan tanker’s bilge pumps are still functioning — to catch up with more emails.
This might be a good time for meetings with the project team. The project team plans the order book. It’s Albert’s job to ensure that all the necessary plant is available and performing at 100%, so the contracts can be completed in the promised time. Time is money and the strain on the plant, which includes seven dockside cranes, the two gantry cranes, low mega-loaders and much more heavy machinery, means PM is in constant practice. “As soon as the project team has no need for a piece of kit for a few hours, we move in like a pit crew to make any repairs and other maintenance work. It requires good team work and communications with a lot of different people.”
Lunch for 30 minutes provides Albert another chance to catch up on emails, find out if any machinery needs looking at and maybe a chat with boss Alan Haley about what’s coming up on the order book.
At this stage, Albert could be looking at the arrival of one of the jack-up vessels back from an offshore wind farm location in the Irish Sea, looking at delayed arrivals because of bad weather, or whatever could be next on the work sheet.
By now, Albert is trying to get home. Daughter Lynsey got married the day before Kate and Wills, so he said he had an excuse to stay on a bit later for a few months. Now that’s out of the way, he’ll be trying to get home at a reasonable hour.