Even though Sarens boasts more than 100 offices on five continents with over 4,500 employees worldwide, the company that began as a small family business prides itself on continuing to maintain that close-knit atmosphere today. The company is now a recognized leader in heavy lifting, engineered transport and crane rental services, taking part in massive projects around the globe.
With an immaculate safety record, a long and impressive history in the industry and an extensive geographic footprint, Sarens continues to utilize its many years of invaluable experience in diverse areas.
The company, founded in Belgium in 1920, made steady and impressive advancements throughout the 1960s and 70s, investing in equipment and technologies before incorporating its first barges and Self Propelled Modular Trailers and providing services in the UK. In the 1980s, it moved into the Netherlands, which has proven to be one of its strongest markets. Soon after, Sarens entered Germany, Poland, and Thailand, while continuing to take on new, huge, and noteworthy projects along the way.
In 2009, Sarens opened its first office in North American. The company’s base is located in Houston, Texas with additional locations in Rowesville, South Carolina, Sorrento, Louisiana, an engineering office in Missoula, Montana, and a joint venture with Omega Morgan Sarens, based in Seattle, Washington.
“I’ve seen Sarens develop from a Belgian-based company with some subsidiaries in different countries in Europe and across the world, into a global company with projects in basically every industrialized country,” says Grant Mitchell, Regional Director North America, who has been with the company since 2009.
In the USA, the company specializes in large crawler cranes and project work, handling big projects throughout the States and supplying whatever heavy equipment is needed. The specialized transport and lifting equipment could be on site for a year or more before finishing the job and moving on. “For smaller equipment required on those projects in the USA, Sarens works together with local crane companies to supply smaller cranes to help support them and their work,” adds Sven Janssens, Group Project Manager.
Sarens opened offices in Canada in 2014, with its main depot in Edmonton, Alberta, and additional locations in Toronto and Vancouver.
“It’s a slightly different business in Canada,” says Mitchell. “We have an extensive range of all-terrain and rough terrain cranes, and over 75 machines and specialized transport with up to 1,200-tonne capacity. In the USA, however, it’s a more project-based business with some very large crawler cranes.”
One of Sarens’ latest American projects involves a large 2,000-tonne crane which arrived in January in Las Vegas for an estimated 15-month stay, remaining throughout 2020 and extending three to four months in 2021. When completed, “The Sphere” will house a huge entertainment center and cinema, capable of holding 20,000 people, as part of a hotel complex and hot spot in Vegas, says Janssens.
“It’s an amazing project for us and we’re very pleased to have won the job,” says Mitchell. “It’s going to look incredible. You’ll be able to lie back on your seat inside The Sphere and listen to a program in English, but someone who speaks Spanish can sit next to you and listen to the same film in Spanish. It’s astonishing.”
The crane for the project was shipped from Europe to California and then trucked to Las Vegas and fully rigged by the end of January, to start lifting in February. The massive project is scheduled to be finished, opened and operating by the third quarter of 2021.
Sarens has a number of other large projects underway at the moment, including the largest job that’s ever been performed with cranes and transport in the world. Located in Kazakhstan with Tengiz-Chevroil (“TCO”), Sarens is undertaking the land transportation and installation of Pre-Assembled Units, Pre-Assembled Racks, and oversize equipment for the US$36.8 billion Future Growth and Wellhead Pressure Management Project. Details of the project, which began in 2017 and is scheduled to continue throughout 2020, include Sarens developing and operating two Trans-Shipment Bases in Finland and Bulgaria, offloading cargo from ocean-going vessels and reloading onto Russian Inland Waterway System vessels for delivery into the Caspian Sea.
“We have a very good name throughout the world, and that shows by having taken on this massive job,” says Mitchell. “We have up to 500 people working on the job site who have been there for two years already with another 18 months scheduled. The project is ahead of schedule, and there hasn’t been one lost time accident.”
Along with its engineering and lifting capabilities, the company has also made a point of including a great deal of local content in the project, training local Kazakhstan-based engineers and workers. “We are expanding in that region as well, by having the opportunity to train people in big jobs like this, along with some of the experts that were in the company for many years,” says Janssens.
Executing this job in Kazakhstan is a point of pride for Sarens, and fits in neatly with numerous other noteworthy projects in the company’s portfolio as well, including moving the Endeavor space ship in the U.S. and placing the roof on the Flamanville Nuclear plant in France. One of Sarens’ latest projects, which began in September 2019 — a five-year contract in the UK, building the new Hinkley nuclear power plant — employs the use of the world’s largest crane, the SGC-250.
“Big Carl,” as the 5,000-ton capacity super heavy lift ring crane is nicknamed, will lift more than 600 pieces of pre-fabricated components, with the heaviest lift at 1,600 tons. The crane will run on more than six kilometers of steel rail, 128 wheels for slewing and lifting, and 96 wheels for travelling. Some of Big Carl’s amazing facts include being the largest land-based crane in the world at 250 meters tall in its tallest configuration, lifting 5,000 tons, and taking up to 5200 tons of counterweight.
“Sarens is recognized as one of the world leaders in heavy lifting, crane rentals, and engineer transport,” says Mitchell. “We have a motto in the company: ‘nothing too heavy and nothing too high.’ We take on all the projects where other companies are left scratching their head thinking, ‘How are we going to do this?’ Sarens comes up with solutions on how to do it.”
But despite all the worldwide expansion and success, Sarens is determined to remain a true family company at its core. “One of Sarens’ strengths, aside from its employees, is that it’s still very much a family company even though it’s huge now,” says Mitchell. “With over 4.5 thousand employees, it’s still very much a family business. You’ve always got access to the family, who pride themselves on the door always being open to discuss personal problems or how employees feel they’d like to get on in the company.”
The third-generation family business includes a healthy mix of family and external employees in key positions of power and decision-making. “That’s the strength also,” says Janssens. “The family has allowed the company to have employees shore up the strengths and capabilities.”
Challenges for this global company have included dealing with the collapse of the oil price in 2015, which led to a number of large projects being postponed or shelved altogether, says Mitchell.
“When you’re a worldwide company, you can move cranes and people from country to country, but the collapse created a big downturn as we’re very much linked to the oil and gas industry with our largest cranes. The oil prices have come back slightly and things are a lot better than they were, but it obviously did slow down considerably. But the company went out and won projects, and has gone from strength to strength since.”
It’s a constant movement in large project work, adds Janssens. “There is a constant wave across the globe on where the investments are being made for big projects and due to the flexibility of Sarens and we as world travelers basically, we follow where the projects are.”
At the moment, the U.S. market is very buoyant with plentiful work, says Mitchell, and Sarens is building up across North America, bringing a lot of equipment and good people in, essentially re-establishing itself and growing its strengths.
“But it’s like everything,” he says. “If the U.S. had a downturn in two or three years’ time, things change. Nothing in this life is forever, and we can move ourselves and our equipment to other countries – and that’s exactly what Sarens does.”
Whether it’s employing its specially designed Floating Foundation Installer (FFI) to perform the installation of footings for the New Champlain Bridge in Montreal, or transporting and installing steel bridge girders as part of the upgrade of a coal handling installation at Neptune terminal in Vancouver, Sarens’ numerous projects continue to impress.
“To install a 1,000-ton foundation of the new Champlain Bridge was not only interesting, but technically very challenging,” says Janssens. “And a very successful job as well!”
As Sarens continues to invest in innovation for its clients around the world, it will continue to grow, develop and handle heavy lifting and transport projects, remaining at the forefront as a global leader. “Sarens in North America and our business unit in Mexico are all on the upswing,” says Mitchell. “We certainly see great opportunities in North America for us. We’ve turned over just shy of US$100 million, and we see growth potential for us within the next three to five years to double that, certainly.”