Taking control

24 January 2018


The need for more data is one of the factors driving developments in crane and hoist controls. Keren Fallwell reports

As customers demand more from their crane controls, manufacturers are responding with ever more sophisticated solutions.

In the past, says Diego Zamberlan, team leader of application engineering, at Autec, the demand was for smaller sizes and more configurability options.

“Today customers are asking for more. They want more customisation, diagnostic visualisation and, increasingly, they want to ‘record’, to understand the commands a transmitter sends to a receiver,” he says. “Data display is one thing but in the future more will be expected in terms of data information.”

Other controls manufacturers agree that data is high on customers’ wish-lists. Hans-Peter Bauer, president of NBB Controls & Components, says today’s controls are a far cry from the past when all that was required was On/Off and Ready.

“Overhead cranes have become more hi-tech. so radio remote systems need to keep pace,” he says. “Increasingly we have frequency converters in use which enable a stepless move of the crane hoist so soft movement and really precise handling of heavy weights can be achieved more easily.” Customers are also looking for “assistant systems” to help operators work more efficiently and safely. A tandem drive system allows an operator to work with two cranes/hooks at the same time, says Bauer. In addition to technological

advancements, safety and energy efficiency are also driving developments, says Stephen Marczi, sales manager at Munck Cranes.

Dan Beilfuss, director of Magnetek Material Handling, says customers want more information from their crane so they can make better decisions and reduce downtime. They also want to be able to make their diagnoses from a remote location. Safety is also a high priority.

“Through the use of a PLC combined with a diagnostic device like Magnetek’s Datalogger or Wireless Diagnostic System, control diagnostics and real-time operation status are available,” says Beilfuss.

“Two-way data feedback between the crane and the user provides actionable information. Operators can monitor a crane with their smartphone, tablet or PC and make necessary adjustments and predict maintenance needs.”

Diagnostics also help crane manufacturers with warranty claims, says Gerd Berger, sales, marketing and support manager at Hetronic.

“Manufacturers always ask for advanced features to monitor things such as movement or operation time of the crane, whether it’s been overloaded, misused by side pulling of the rope or running it constantly into the limit switches.

Sometimes after six months users will say the crane is broken and they claim under warranty but no-one can prove it’s been misused,” says Berger.

In response to this, Hetronic’s receivers contain black box-type technology to record the number of movements, emergency stops and overloadings.

STRONG DEMAND

These demands for new technology are keeping controls manufacturers busy. For Cervis, the primary steel and steel processing sectors have offered good results. Automotive and general machinery manufacturers also produced strong orders during the third quarter of 2017.

“There are a couple of things that have had a positive impact on sales, including preventative maintenance product replacement, general capital expense projects and upgrades of cranes,” says director of industrial sales Randy Butter. One of the most positive impacts on Cervis’s sales in the material handling industry is the new Warrior product line which was launched this year. The new range, which includes light-duty single and two-speed hand-held remotes and a more complex engineered console box, is enabling Cervis to access new sectors and improve market share, says Butter.

Cervis has a reputation for complex engineered systems for heavy industry but the Warrior products are taking the company into the commodities.

“The Warrior pre-engineered products for standard monorail and small bridge crane applications have been trialled and are quickly making a positive impact on our quarterly sales,” says Butter.

“This milestone makes Cervis a full line designer and manufacturer of industrial wireless control products for all three industries we serve—mining equipment, mobile equipment and overhead material handling sectors.”

Butter adds that the Warrior builds on Cervis’s long-held strength in software design. The new series enables the transmitter to connect to the receiver without the need for tools, programming devices, Eeprom logic memory cards or dip switches. This, says Butter, reduces the need for customers to spend more money on programming aids or memory chips and supports a lower cost of ownership.

“We’ve engineered the Warrior 32 product for ease of selecting optional performance features that can program output configurations, including a fourth motion with two-speed control buttons, A/B select, Momentary/Maintained and other future releases. We’ve taken a great deal of applications requirements and created a menu-driven option for users to select their own features at no additional cost,” he says.

The product line offers a compact twomotion, two-speed Warrior 22 receiver as well as the ‘flagship’ Warrior 32 receiver which is an industry first offering from a user configurability perspective.

This receiver, using various internal switch settings, can be user configured to serve standard three-motion configurations, three-motion configurations with A/B select, four-motion configurations, and four wire hoist configurations.

“This allows the industry to have a single part number system ready on the shelf to be deployed into more than one application without the need to get revised software or buy additional part numbers—not to mention having this all at one price point,” says Butter. For applications requiring higher relay counts and/or analog I/O configurations Cervis offers the MU6E—a configurable, expandable receiver typically used in console box applications.

In terms of transmitters, Cervis has the Warrior HH2S two-speed pushbutton handheld, compact Warrior MCB (mini console box), and the larger Warrior CB and XCB for more complex applications.

Cervis offers multiple radio options, including 900MHz, 2.4GHz and 400MHz “Our high-frequency radio options employ an advanced channel-hopping algorithm to avoid and overpower the every increasing RF traffic in industrial environments,” says Butter. “A significant benefit of the high-frequency Warrior products is the radio’s standard two-way ‘continuous’ communication protocol.”

He says the product line’s initial release has been very successful and additional product hardware and features will be added next year.

CONTROL THE WORLD

Italian manufacturer Autec has a global reach, with Europe, Japan and South Africa particularly strong markets for its products for industrial lifting and automation.

To better serve the US and Canadian markets it recently opened Autec North America in Minneapolis. The region was previously serviced by a distributor. Autec has achieved record sales this year, partly because of the positive general economic trend but it is also reaping the benefits of recent expansion efforts, a greater global presence and product launches in recent years.

The Air 8 transmitter in particular is selling well.

“Customers like the fact that it is compact and powerful but easy to use, and with bi-directional communication and data feedback through LEDs,” says Zamberlan.

The Air 8 is light but durable, with IP65 protection that is resistant to drops from 1.5m. A lithium battery can support 40 hours’ continuous use.

“It can be used for many applications, including overhead cranes, conveyor belts, hoists/winches, and jib and gantry cranes,” says Zamberlan.

Autec’s most recent launches are the Sidekick, or SK4, and DYNAMIC+. The SK4 features an ergonomic casing and a belt so the unit can be worn around the user’s waist, allowing them more freedom to carry out tasks. It features bidirectional radio communication with an extended working range and four LEDs for data feedback. Meeting customer demands for more information, a data logger records RC operations.

DYNAMIC+ is a series of four transmitters—DJS, DJL, DJR and DJM—which can be combined with Autec’s new CRD receiver. The receiver offers customisable cabling with the choice of M12 circular connections, a 10-pin reduced plug or a cable gland.

CRD provides up to 12 analogue and 64 digital outputs, available via CANopen interface, two stop outputs, two UMFS outputs, two CAN outputs and four programmable MOSFET outputs. All the remote controls come with a visual data feedback display.

Autec also has products in the pipeline. After launching the FJB joystick transmitting unit Autec started work on bringing the colour feedback display to a compact joystick system. The compact remote control, which has yet to be named, will feature a 2.8in colour display. Autec is also set to release a DIN rail receiver which will be able to be stored in an electric cabinet of a machine.

NBB also reports strong sales growth around the world although political unrest in countries such as Turkey, and economic problems in countries such as Brazil, are negative influences. Also, keeping up with changing standards and regulations is time-consuming, and competition from Asia is another challenge.

“New competitors from Asia are affecting our business more and more with low-price products which often lack essential safety provisions,” says Hans-Peter Bauer. NBB products selling particularly well include the Nano-L and HyPro joystick transmitters and the Planar range of pushbutton transmitters.

Some products feature NBB’s patented SMJ (surface mounted joystick) or SMP (surface mounted pushbutton) design which allows customers to service the units themselves, saving them time and money.

NBB’s most recent launches are the PocketEvo transmitters. The PocketEvo Minor and PocketEvo Minor-LCD are designed for extreme environments and each is available in two versions.

There is also the Nano-M SMJ joystick transmitter which is the biggest remote in NBB’s range. Aimed at large and complicated applications, it includes a camera feedback system for enhanced control.

NBB is now upgrading the design and technology of its Nano and Nano-L range to include safety technologies such as proximity recognition. This will be launched early in 2018.

Hetronic, which is part of Methode Electronics, has enjoyed growth over the past two years and sales in the current financial year are 30% ahead of the same time last year. The company has opened sales offices in the UK and Sweden, where it was previously represented by dealers, and moved into larger premises in Germany where it is doing some customisation and prototyping.

“Hetronic had been in the Munich area since 1982 but in 2008 it moved to the US and Germany became a sort of external partner office,” says Gerd Berger. “Now the German market is strong so we’re manufacturing in Germany again. We’re going back to our roots a bit.”

He attributes some of Hetronic’s global sales growth to the fact that overhead cranes are becoming more complex. As an example he cited Demag which is using “very advanced technology where it’s cable out and radio in”.

One of Hetronic’s latest products is the Ergo120 which the company describes as “the next generation of human-machineinterface professional radio remote controls”.

The IP64 transmitter features a 2.4in colour display, 12 configurable one- or twostep buttons and a response time of less than 100ms.

The Ergo120 also includes options for black box recording, infra-red capability and can be programmed with Hetronic’s H-Link PC system. The H-Link enables the customer to reprogram their device from their laptop, tablet or smartphone. If a customer is unable to do it, Hetronic can use the H-Link to reprogram remotely. “It reduces travel and time costs,” says Berger.

The new model also features Hetronic’s Proximity Detection Module which uses radio frequency to maintain safe zone working. The operator is alerted even if the hazard is behind him.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s dirty or dusty because it uses radio and there’s no lens, which makes it more efficient and safer,” says Berger.

Hetronic will soon launch the Ergo S, a smaller version which will be aimed at high volume, simpler cranes.

“It will be cheaper but it will have additional features like programming and display,” says Berger.

The Ergo120 can operate on frequencies including 4MHz, 8MHz and 2.4GHz and Berger says the challenge for the future is developing products that can operate on frequencies in different countries.

“The future is 2.4GHz because in many countries the licence is free so you don’t need separate certification. However, 2.4GHz is used by mobile phones, weighing systems, door controls, and car controls so there’s a lot of traffic. There’s a lot of work going on to develop products to have a bigger range and not be affected by every little disturbance,” he says.

To mitigate the crowded RF spectrum in a factory Magnetek has launched a new Spectrum Analysis Service. It helps customers navigate what’s ‘in the air’ in their facility, reducing RF interference and costly troubleshooting.

Magnetek will also soon launch the next generation of its Flex radio control transmitters—Flex EX2.

“These rugged radio remote controls are ideal for use in material handling, overhead crane and industrial applications,” says Dan Beilfuss. “The Flex EX2 offers advanced software capabilities, an improved design and built-in infra-red for transmitter configuration with an IR programmer.”

SIGNALLING THE FUTURE

Crane controls will continue to develop in line with customers’ changing needs. Stephen Marczi at Munck Cranes believes crane controls are already advanced but there will be further developments.

“With wireless operator interface via radio controls, along with wireless crane performance feedback, overhead cranes have become an integral part of the plant process automation,” he says.

The next generation product that can improve safety and reliability will come from the field of “contactless energy”. “Although this technology already exists, I feel it will be a few years off before becoming a viable and cost-effective means of providing power to a travelling crane,” says Marczi.

Hans-Peter Bauer believes controls manufacturers will need to offer standardised interface solutions that customers can integrate as a “plug and play component”.

“Perhaps in future the NBB receiver will not be a separate receiver box located outside the machine but an NBB integrated receiver control unit implemented in the customers’ central processing unit. Maybe we’ll have to supply not a complete system but a single board with fragmented technology,” he says, adding that the PocketEvo family was developed with this in mind.

Diego Zamberlan at Autec says the collection and sharing of information will continue to drive developments.

“Take for example the ‘black box’: we will need to be able to understand what happened in case of accidents or problem situations. Load cell technology will advance so sensors will be able to tell us more about the functioning of a remote control system.”

Hetronic describes the Ergo120 as “the next generation of human-machineinterface professional radio remote controls”.
Autec says customers like the fact that the Air 8 transmitter is compact and powerful, but easy to use.
Magnetek will soon launch the Flex EX2 series of wireless controls.
One of NBB’s most recent launches, the PocketEvo transmitters, are designed for extreme environments.
Autec describes the new FJB as a “hefty joystick” transmitting unit.
The Warrior MCB from Cervis is designed for harsh environments, including outdoor use.
Autec’s SK4 can be worn around the operator’s waist.
Cervis’s new Warrior 32 hand-held unit
Hetronic’s Nova L2.4 can be customised for a wide range of applications
NBB is upgrading its Nano and Nano-L range to include technology such as proximity recognition.