Overhead cranes and Italy's northern powerhouse2 November 2023
Northern Italy has produced some of the world’s finest engineering and continues to do so. Julian Champkin reports.
Italian engineering is, of course, renowned. And the centre of it, if it has one, is in the north of the country, at the feet of the Alps where mountains meet the plain. Reasons are, as ever, founded in history. The region has narrow valleys that channel meltwater from the Alps into fast-flowing rivers that, at the start of the Industrial Revolution, supplied water power for foundries and factories. Today, many of Italy’s engineering companies, including hoist-making companies, remain there, many of them still family-owned, sometimes through three or more generations.
Export has been another part of Italian engineering tradition that continues, the more so as mergers and acquisitions are nowadays global affairs. ‘Made in Italy’ is on a par with ‘made in Germany’ as a marker for engineering brilliance and an attraction for customers. Cimolai Technology illustrates both of these. It is a northern concern, headquartered in Piedmont in Carmignano di Brenta, to the north-west of Venice. The company is a worldwide leader in the design and supply of lifting equipment with a speciality, among many others, in boat lifts. In June last year it announced a strategic partnership with New York-based US Hoist corporation.
The link-up is aimed primarily at the US marina and shipyard industries: Cimolai will rely on US Hoists to drive sales of their products throughout the Northeast, Great Lakes and Mid-Western regions. Cimolai has an already-established base of its own in Florida, and US Hoists’ team of specialised technicians will team up with Cimolai Technology’s aftersales division to offer US-based parts and service on all Cimolai machines currently installed in the US and Canada.
One of the first projects of the Italian/US partnership will be a world-beater. Cimolai Technology has been awarded the contract to supply a very large – the company describes it as “ginormous” – boat hoist on tyres that will be installed in the industrial and maritime park Hyak Tongue Point in Astoria, Oregon.
Its capacity will be 1,500 tons – which does indeed merit the term ‘ginormous’ – the height will be 29m and it will run on 32 rubber-tyred wheels. It is, in fact, going to be the biggest boat hoist in the world. Power will be fully electric, from longlife lithium batteries, representing, says Cimolai, a new and important achievement in environment sustainability.
The hoist will be set to work in an area strategic for the Pacific Northwest marine industry: Hyak Tongue Point is close to the mouth of the Columbia River and easily accessible to commercial workboats and barges, Alaska-based fishing vessels and offshore tugs and commercial crafts.
Not that Cimolai is neglecting its home territory. A somewhat more usual boat hoist, though still large at 30-ton capacity, has just been commissioned for Marina Punta Gabbiani at the head of the Adriatic, north of Venice. This too is fully electric-powered.
Misia Paranchi is also based in the region, in Lombardy on the outskirts of Milan. It has been making hoists for more than 35 years. Its current XM series consists of 11 sizes with capacities of between 1.0t and 50t.
They are available in different configurations, including low- and standard-headroom monorail, footmounted – either fixed or suspended – or double rail ‘crab’ units. The range allows the XM series to meet any requirements of capacity, hook travel, hoisting speeds or load spectrum.
Misia again is export-oriented. Its experience can typify the export history of Italian hoists over recent decades.
Fraser Fairgrieve, of Misia’s sole UK distributor UK Hoist Sales, tells the story as it concerns the UK. It starts 35 years ago: “Back in 1987, I worked for a company that was manufacturing its own range of overhead cranes, and to remain competitive we wanted to standardise on the components we fitted.
“The wire rope hoist we were using at the time unfortunately proved unreliable and therefore costly. One of my then colleagues decided to search outside the UK for a costeffective alternative. These were the days before internet and search engines, so it was not a straightforward thing to do. But we found Misia Paranchi and visited their factory in Milan. [We decided] to purchase an initial few units to be fitted to our own cranes.
“After months of operation the hoists had worked well in all extremes and we had found the reliability we were looking for. We signed a deal to become sole UK and Ireland agent, and from then on we fitted Misia components to all the cranes we manufactured. At that time, as we were the first to use Misia here; Misia was an unknown. Soon after, interest from other crane manufacturers began to trickle through and we began selling to these people also.”
Fargrieve continues: “In 1997, I moved on, but took the Misia agency with me. Then I made the decision to concentrate just on the supply of Misia crane components and crane kits, so in 2010 I founded Hoist Sales UK.”
The aim was to give independent crane manufacturers a better chance of going up against the ‘big boys’, winning contracts they would normally have no reasonable chance of achieving.
“And Misia components are a big part of that. Superior delivery times, and hoist units and spares available from stock have helped us achieve that: spare parts in particular are vital as no end user should be in a breakdown situation for a long period of time.
“We also form close relationships with our customers,” he says. “Many independents are working on site in the daytime and quote their projects in the evening. Our clients and friends know that they can call or email us in the evening or weekends and we will be available to assist them. They appreciate the personal service. Now with wire rope hoist units, end carriages and control panels we are able to sell complete crane kits to the crane industry and Misia has become a leading brand within the UK and Ireland for crane kits and components.”
As an example of how sales can cascade, take Fairgrieve’s – and Misia’s – experience with Harrisons Engineering of Clitheroe in Lancashire, in the UK.
“About six years ago we required a new low-headroom overhead crane,” says Ryan Howson, Harrisons’ engineering manager. “After trying various companies Fraser Fairgrieve of Hoist Sales UK came back offering a Misia machine with a more than reasonable price, and a service agreement with it that was second to none, and an unmatched delivery and turnaround time. That was our first Misia crane – we found it simple and functional and since then have purchased more and more. We are currently in the process of purchasing some more overhead cranes taking our total to 24 Misia cranes.
Howson adds: “Over the years we have built a strong relationship with UK Hoist sales. We have upgraded our capacity, changing various cranes from as little as 5t to our biggest cranes of 32t or a combined lift of 64t. Hoist Sales UK builds to our own specifications, using Misia components. The specifications are sometimes exacting ones that need to take account of the structures we build; because of this we rely on slow-moving cranes in order to turn and manoeuvre them.
“Fraser suggested cylindrical hoist motors with disk brake, IP65 protection, class H insulation, fitted with thermal probes and forced ventilation, suitable for use with 50HZ frequency inverter control. These cranes have been above our expectation and have worked flawlessly. Being a steel manufacturer ourselves we decided it would be best to fabricate our own box beams for the 32t cranes (2x16t hoist on a double box beam). This is something we are looking at bringing to the market for others that want box beams and heavy-duty lifting along with Hoist Sales UK. The Misia cranes we have purchased have always worked well and fulfilled their functions – we have had little or no issues during in our six years of using them.”
Scaglia Indeva group is based in Bergamo – again in that northern powerhouse triangle. Industrial manipulators – for example, for production-line use – are a speciality: back in 1975 Scaglia produced the world’s first electric manipulator. Manipulators until then had only pneumatic control and actuation.
“Industrial electric manipulators have been developed over time and today with electronic control and electric actuation they represent the ideal solution for significantly improving safety and ergonomics in material handling,” says marketing manager Silvana Donati. “The anti-load drop systems of our Liftronic series manipulators help safeguard not only the product being handled, but also the operator; such systems are only possible with electronic control. The ability to tailor each system to the specific application work cycle means that Liftronic manipulators can be incorporated into an Industry 4.0 organisation as well as Industry 5.0.” A recent study, she says, confirmed previous findings that the Liftronic series manipulator provides significant savings in greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional pneumatic manipulators.
“It compared the use of Liftronic and a pneumatic manipulator for the same work cycle, which consisted of picking, rotating, lifting and then releasing a 160kg load for a cycle time of two minutes for a 7.5-hour work shift.” Using the Liftronic manipulator in place of a pneumatic manipulator gave emission savings equivalent to about 6.0 tons CO2/year, or the emissions of about four Fiat Panda petrol-engine cars with an annual mileage of 15,000km.
Like Misia, Donati Sollevamenti, based in Legnano north-west of Milan, is also export-oriented: ‘Made in Italy, designed for the world’ is how it describes itself. Electric chain hoists, manual and electric jib cranes and electric wire rope hoists are all in its portfolio, and its DMK series of electric chain hoists can be used fixed, or mounted on a hand-pushed or an electric trolley, and also in low-headroom or self-climbing configurations. The series comes in four basic sizes with capacities from 100kg to 4,000kg.
Single lift-speed models have a fourpole motor and are available at 4m, 6.3m, or 8m or 16m per minute speeds for single chain fall hoists and at 2.5m, or 3.2m or 4m per minute for dual chain falls. Twospeed models are also available, and standard hook runs are up to 12m, or more on request.
An extreme application of the DMK series electric hoists manufactured by Donati is on the emergency system of the Monte Bianco cable car in the high Alps.
The climate in the Alps would put any type of mechanical equipment to the test. In the case of load lifting systems, cold, ice and wind increase the rate of wear and the risk of breakage of components such as chains and steel ropes, guides, emergency brakes and motors.
Metals exposed to low temperatures can experience loss of pliability and increased fragility. In these conditions the risk of the material shattering if subjected to unexpected stresses such as collisions or bending increases.
Donati’s hoists have proved to be highly reliable in the mountains even at high altitudes and in harsh winter temperatures. This is one of the reasons why the DMK series electric hoists are used for the Skyway cable car of Monte Bianco that connects the ski resort of Courmayeur to the Punta Helbronner peak at an altitude of 3,466m.
The hoists come into play if the cars get stuck on the wires of the cable car. In this type of emergency they are used to lift the rescue vehicles up to the track ropes, an operation that must be carried out in less than 15 minutes.
Two hoists have been installed at the Pavillon intermediate station at an altitude of 2,173m and another two at the Punta Helbronner station. The hoists for Punta Helbronner were transported by helicopter.
Since their installation the hoists have passed all the routine inspections despite temperatures that drop to -35°C in December. Given the conditions of use, ice deposits have occasionally formed that were easily removed by the maintenance engineers.
Italian engineering it would seem is continuing to deserve its high reputation.
Misia’s agents Hoist Sales UK was asked to quote for an underground crane and gantry system to cover a maintenance area 13m wide under the Cumbria hills. Several visits were made to the site below ground with the customer, to take dimensions of the area to be covered as the requirement was for the crane to service the special loaders and excavators, which cannot be brought up to the surface for repairs and service.
“Once the area and lift height required was agreed, it became obvious that a conventional single hoist unit would not be able to service the need to refurbish the units,” says Hoist Sales UK’s Fraser Fairgrieve. “It was then decided to go for the two-hoist option, which would jointly give the height of lift and also separately service the smaller units.
“The customer required digital display load cells for each hoist and radio control for the twin hoist to work separately and jointly.
“Because of the restricted access in the underground tunnels the whole assembly had to be stripped down to the basic components, and then re-assembled underground in the only level area near the maintenance office. The whole assembly, stanchions, gantry and crane were lifted into place by a hand chain hoist attached to special eyebolts located in the tunnel roof.
“The whole contract was complete on time, mainly due to the exstock Misia wheel boxes and wire rope hoists required, held in stock at Hoist Sales UK. This gave us the comfort to know this contract would run on time and without supplier delays.”