We have received the sad news this week that veteran Australian crane entrepreneur Robert Way has died after suffering a heart attack yesterday (3rd September). He was 86.
Way - Robertson, Rob, Bob, Bobbo - started the crane overload company that bears his name – Robway – in 1977 but had been involved in the crane industry for his entire working life. He began his crane career in 1952 when he won a contract to load and transport tram bogies as part of metro Adelaide’s tram removal programme. In order to carry out the work, he needed a two tonne crane so had a local engineering firm build him a three tonner with a basic four metre fixed boom, with a two metre extension, mounted on an army surplus left hand drive Reo truck from the Korean War.
This led him into the rental business by default as other people looked for such a crane to lift and shift heavy items, so he established a crane rental company Robert Way Cranes. In an interview with Cranes and Lifting Magazine last March, he said: “We were restricted mainly to four tonne mobile cranes, but customers were wanting to lift heavier loads at greater radii, and this led to overloading and overturning. We started installing basic load indicators on our cranes and proposed introducing these via the Australian Standards of which I was a member for 15 years. However, the unions objected to the use of basic load indicators and automatic safe load indicators because they considered that the owners would use them for spying on the operators. Fortunately the unions now fully support their use.”
"Perhaps I could have started using basic load indicators a bit earlier than I did, although we trained our own driver/operators to military standards, but there still wasn’t enough emphasis put on training Australia wide. One without the other doesn’t equate.”
This focus on crane safety led Way to sell his crane rental business to Brambles and establish Robway Equipment Sales in 1977 to design and build crane and safe load monitoring systems, starting off installing his systems on Manitowoc crawler cranes coming into the country. He built the business into a well respected international venture, with around half of all revenues coming from exports. In 1983 he changed the company name to Robway Safety Systems after a restriction with Brambles expired.
In the late 1990s he designed the standard load moment system for Favelle Favco telescopic crawler cranes and installed a large number of them for both domestic and export sales, extending substantial levels of credit to the company which caused him significant financial challenges to his business between 2001 and 2002, possibly leading to his decision to sell the business in 2003 to Andrew Powell and Andrew Toop, with Powell holding a controlling 60 percent stake. Way remained involved with Robway for a while on a consulting basis.
Powell acquired Toop’s holding in 2010 and sold the business to Canada’s LSI in 2012 to create LSI-Robway, which was acquired by telematics specialist Trimble two years later. The business started to struggle under Trimble control and in March 2017 ownership returned to South Australia, when Powell bought it back and focused on restoring its finances.
Robert Way was always ready to play his part in helping others and the industry in general, and thoroughly enjoyed the social aspect of the crane business. He always attended events such as the annual CICA convention right up to the end. Speaking of industry associations in 2018, he said: “It started in 1952 when there was a mobile crane division of the South Australia Road Transport Association made up of a handful of people. This organisation brought together people with problems and ideas to share.”
“This then developed into a more professional state association by using the SA Chamber of Manufacturers for our secretariat. As the industry kept growing, we then established our own secretariat and finally merged with CICA.
Together with these state associations, it was my pleasure to meet and share ideas with people, not only from around Australia but from around the world. After several years trying to get the state associations to agree to an unofficial national conference it finally happened in 1979 at Broadbeach where approximately 150 people attended. This proved a great success and was followed by the conference committee meeting in Perth and it was then that the CICA was conceived.”
“This has proved to be one of the greatest achievements in the history of cranes in Australia.” His contribution to safety in the crane industry was widely recognised and he became the first recipient of CICA’s Con Popov Memorial Award in 1998, which recognises an outstanding contribution by an individual to the crane industry over a considerable time period, and made a life member of the association in 2002. He was also the guest of honour at the CICA South Australian Excellence Awards night at the end of November.
Robert Way loved life, and never tired of it, he retained a twinkle in his eye to the very end and perhaps will be satisfied that after a long and fruitful life the end came suddenly, without a long slow deterioration. Sadly he is the second CICA Life Member to go this year, with Bob Parker having passed away in May.
Robert was one of the last of the post war crane men that designed and built their own cranes in order to get started, he will be missed by a great many in the crane industry and beyond.