If you are lifting something heavy – such as a housing module weighing tonnes – security of your load is obviously paramount. Dropping it would be, quite literally, disastrous – for the load and for anyone standing within several hundred metres of it. So you need to be sure that your rigging slings or chains or wires don’t break and that your lifting points are secure and certifiably up to the job.

Pewag is an Austrian company that, believe it or not, can trace its history as a metalworking concern back to 1476. It is still introducing new products, and is doing so frequently. Three recent ones are connected with load security, which is not surprising since the company now specialises in chains and lifting points.

At the 2022 Bauma show, Pewag introduced a new lifting point that it calls PLOW. It is screwable into the load, the load ring is horizontally rotatable through 360°, and for angled lifting ropes it can be loaded to its full capacity throughout a 100° vertical range with a 4:1 safety factor.

It can be positioned at the required angle of load by a patented interchangeable spring clip. The bolt is 100% crack detection tested and has a chromium VIfree protective coating to protect against corrosion, while each product is marked with an individual serial number, which gives full product traceability.

For all its medieval roots, Pewag is well into the digital revolution. Also introduced this autumn is an intelligent crane hook. The Levo hook is for lifting at a distance: it can be controlled remotely, to open and close on a load and thus pick it up without the need for a human operator to get close to the dangerous hook/lifting point interface. A latch closes to secure the load.

“The software rules out an unplanned opening of the hook, which could otherwise have serious consequences,” says Pewag’s Patrick Janisch. “The sensor system also detects a defective remote control or an overload. In these cases, it is not possible to open the hook.”

It also does rather more than lift heavy loads securely: it measures and records information about the lift, such as load weight, temperature and loading cycles.

The Levo comes in the form of a clamp as well, intended for the lifting and lowering of steel plates and constructions from a safe distance. Again, a remote control takes pressure off the operator, in particular in difficult working conditions – for instance when working at heights or in hazardous areas. The Levo manager software, also developed by Pewag, similarly allows configuration of the clamp and evaluation of statistical data.

Steel chains or slings scraping against a load can cause damage. Vacuum lifting is an option for more delicate loads, but maximum weights are often limited unless custom-made solutions are used – suction cups and lifting frames shaped precisely to the load, for example. Aerolift, based in Barneveld in the Netherlands, believe that this is a gap in the market and have moved to fill it. In July this year it launched its EUseries to do just that.

“Currently, we see a gap in the vacuumlifting market for products with a capacity between 1,000kg and 20 tons,” says Robert Lemm, Aerolift’s CEO. “It is a part of the market where people expect a solution to be available but find none. The standard solutions are too light and too fragile for heavier industry, and if they only lift a product now and then, a custom-made lifting solution may not be worth the investment. And all standard solutions go up to only 1,000kg.

“We came up with an affordable lifting solution for relatively simple applications. Think of demoulding precast concrete and lifting metal sheets, for example.

“We designed a modular vacuum lifter, the EU-series. It can provide a wide range of solutions within a certain standard configuration. This allows Aerolift to deliver more quality in a shorter time and at a lower price.”

There are several modules of different kinds that can be used together. “Each module consists of a few options to choose from. The number and type of modules depends on the application,” says Lemm.

“At a minimum, an EU lifter will consist of at least a vacuum unit and a suction pad. First, we look at the required lifting capacity and choose a vacuum unit. Then we consider the dimensions of the product which needs lifting. Does it need one suction pad or many? If it needs more than one suction pad we add a beam, and perhaps a crossbeam depending on the shape.”

It seems a simple concept, but the devil is in the details: “It is quite a challenge to choose the right configurations,” says Lemm. “We have spent a lot of time thinking about the most efficient solutions.

And, of course, we used our 60 years-plus of experience in the vacuum lifting market. What has sold a lot in the past? Which questions have been asked many times, but bounced back due to price and delivery time? That experience and knowledge helped to establish the configurations.

As a result, we are able to provide many different possible vacuum lifters within a standard configuration.”

Is the future then modular? Not entirely, he says: “The modular vacuum lifter is meant to satisfy a wish we see in the lifting market. However, a hybrid solution is also possible – a combination between configurable and customised, such as a configurable vacuum lifter with customised suction pads. But our core business remains custom-made lifting solutions.

The majority of what Aerolift makes will continue to be customised as this is the only and best way to solve all issues most efficiently and safely.

“The gap in the market is between 1.0 ton and 20 tons; the EU-series is just meant for the smallest products up to 6.0 tons. The rest of that gap, up to 20 tons, will be covered with the ES-series. Another modular vacuum lifter is currently in development.”

In recent years, loads have become larger and frequently more awkward to handle. Two developments in particular are noticeable here: the growth of windfarms has required huge blades and towers to be moved and lifted, both offshore and on; and, in the UK certainly, sustainability concerns and the ever-increasing cost of residential property and of building it are at last provoking serious interest, and growth, in modular housing.

Bricks and mortar are a labour-intensive, slow building method requiring skilled labour and good frost-free weather; a two-storey house takes months to build and then almost as long to fit out inside. Prefabricating whole rooms in a factory, from wood-based panels or other materials, can be done in production-line fashion, by less specialised workers and can even include electrical and plumbing fixtures ready in place. It is much cheaper, and very much quicker, and advances in technology mean that the final building can now be made to the best energy-efficient and sustainable standards.

Assembly, however, involves transporting the room-sized modules to the site and then lifting them into place. It is not easy to suspend an entire room from a single hook without damaging it. This may explain why both Britlift and Modulift – both of them UK-based lifting equipment specialists – have been serving the market with spreaders and lifting frames for modular buildings.

Modulift has seen a large increase in the number of projects take place in the modular buildings market since the beginning of the year.

“We’re seeing a lot of companies enquire with us about our spreader beam range, specifically to use in the modular building market,” says commercial director John Baker.

As a result, the company has seen a corresponding increase in the need for its products. The most popular has been the custom-designed adjustable lifting frame. This type of frame is easy to adjust in width and length, can carry out stable lifts with variable centre of gravity, and is easy to transport, making it ideal for lifting modular building.

The smallest in the Modulift range is the MOD 6 spreader beam, of 5.0t safe working load (SWL) and 3.0m span. The largest is the MOD 250, which can achieve a working load limit (WLL) of 300t with spans of 20x20m. In June, the firm began manufacturing its first ever corner units for this beam. Four CMOD250 units transform the MOD 250 spreader beams into a square or rectangular lifting frame suitable for even the heaviest housing units. As well as for housing it is being used in shipbuilding, which also uses prefabricated modules.

One of Modulift’s returning customers, which manages projects and lifts in the housing sector using the modular spreader beam range, this summer completed a project for a new modular hotel. It involved installing modular hotel rooms separated by an integral central corridor. With lifts of up to 18.5t it used both MOD 24 units and a MOD 50 for a one-over-two solution to complete the installation.

“The MOD 24 and MOD 50 spreader beams are perfect for these types of operations due to the flexibility in the weights and spans they are able to lift,” says the client. “They are not the largest beams within the modular spreader beam range but they get the job done.”

“Obviously,”adds Baker, “we appreciate that not everything can be done with the ‘one size fits all’ solution and if customers require custom-built lifting frames for their project, Modulift can design, manufacture and deliver those also.”

Vision Modular Systems (VMS) UK is an offsite manufacturer of volumetric modular residential buildings. Its units are used in the construction of hotels, residential apartments and student accommodation. In particular, VMS has constructed the world’s tallest modular tower block, a residential building no fewer than 44 storeys high in the London suburb of Croydon. The company wanted to improve lifting operations by reducing the weight of the lifting frame, to minimise downtime and improve overall flexibility. It turned to Britlift, which designed, manufactured and supplied lifting beams, telescopic spreader beams, and adjustable chain sling sets.

Britlift’s engineers were able to reduce rigging weight by over 50% to around 2.0t. This enables quicker adjustment during the installation of different-sized modules, reduces the overall weight on the hook, and improves manual handling.

The telescopic spreader beam was a key feature of the design. Liam Botting, managing director of Britlift, says: “VMS recognised that they had to save rigging weight, so we designed and supplied them with something totally new. Telescopic spreaders were not at all standard for this type of application but are now much more commonplace because of Britlift. In fact, this has made us the go-to supplier within the offsite sector.

“Since then, we have won repeat orders from VMS and also provided additional services, such as engineered rigging drawings to lift every module in their project.”

Small screw-in lifting points and huge spreader beams are all in demand. Small loads and large loads need ingenuity to lift them securely. There seems to be no shortage of supply of it.