Push The Right Buttons

23 December 2020


Even though the standard pendant control is still found attached to many industrial hoists, remote controls have become ubiquitous in almost every sector. Simon Hastelow reports.

Crane control systems have always offered the facility for remote operation of a hoist, whether they are a pendant connected to the crane via a cable, or a wireless control system.

Wireless controls are useful in industrial plants when cranes or hoists have to be controlled from a greater distance, possibly for safety reasons or environmental conditions such as temperatures or polluted air—or if the structure of the building does not permit tethered control with operational safety when transporting objects overhead.

Oliver Meister, marketing manager for HBC Radiomatic says: “In general, wireless control of crane systems has been standard in virtually all industry sectors for many years now. As a global technology leader, we continuously develop our radio systems and our range of services further so we are always able to offer our customers a future-proof product with state-of-the- art technology while ensuring maximum availability of the system. A good example of this is the continuous expansion of our portfolio at available fieldbuses and serial interfaces.

This way, we make sure our control systems are optimally adapted to the latest crane technology.”

This doesn’t mean that pendants are a thing of the past: they still offer simple, ergonomic and easy transmission of control commands such as ‘Up’, ‘Down’, ‘Left’, ‘Right’ and ‘Stop’. The most simple pendants are used only for up and down movement, while other models allow sideways movement too.

The type of housing for pendant controls can differ, such as IP65 rating for protection against dust and water as well as resistance to oils and acids.

Other special housings incorporate seals which are sold as explosion-proof, which are particularly important for hoists and cranes in the oil, heavy metal and mining industries. Some pendants are further available as either one-stage and two-stage operation. This gives the possibility of carrying out the directional movements at different speeds. Two-stage controls often have a haptic feedback when changing between the different speeds of the horizontal and vertical control commands.

Developments within the pendant market are still progressing: “Our pendant stations series X-Touch are now certified CLASS I DIV 1 for the North American market and Zone 1 and 21 ATEX IECEX standards,” says Moreno Mozzati, sales area manager for Coel Industrial Solutions in Italy.

“The new X-Touch series pushbutton stations for auxiliary controls are the result of a blend of Coel’s long experience in manufacturing electromechanical components. All the materials, which come into direct contact with the environment, are resistant to atmospheric agents, oils, temperature changes and are shockproof. X-Touch is built so to ensure complete protection against dusts and water as per IP65 protection.”

“X-Touch push-button stations are offered in 5 different sizes, ranging from 4 to 16 buttons devices and various controls and switches can be mounted on each type. All enclosures are made from aluminium and the switches have self-cleaning sliding contacts in silver alloy.”

But for some installations it’s not enough just to control a lift with directional buttons; in the age of connectivity and Industry 4.0, control systems can receive data from the hook, as well as sending commands to the hoist. We spoke to three companies about the various remote systems available: HBC-Radiomatic, Columbus McKinnon and Cervis.

Peter Stipan, global director, automation division, Crane Solutions Group (part of Columbus McKinnon) says: “Automation, analytics, and diagnostic systems are becoming more popular as factories are looking for more ways to increase their productivity and improve safety in their operations. Equipment performance and productivity can be improved by evaluating the measured data that is continuously monitored by our crane control solutions.

“Semi- and fully automated systems provide precise positioning capabilities, repetitive motion, and built-in safety features to prevent operator injury and damage to equipment. Especially now, with Covid-19, the ability to report information to remote locations and limit contact between operators to maintain social distancing is an increasing trend for many of our automation projects.

“Data acquisition from Magnetek AC and DC motor controls can be collected automatically by the DataLogger Series 4 Drive Support Tool (DLS4). DataLogger monitors performance of more than 50 items, such as hours, voltage, amperage, and more. Data viewing, including run, alarm and fault histories, drive parameters, and drive trending data, is available via LCD scrolling display or by connecting to a PC. Drive trending data is PC-compatible and yields graphical data to aid in viewing drive operational statuses.”

Dan Beilfuss, director of sales, Americas, Crane Solutions Group says: “Columbus McKinnon continues to look for ways to address customer challenges and for areas where we can improve equipment operation and provide the information customers want from their cranes. This includes the capture and tracking of data and status information, which can enable predictive maintenance, speed up repair time, and facilitate fault detection.

“As part of our upcoming development efforts, Magnetek Intelli-Connect Diagnostics and Analytics will be joining the company’s Intelli-Crane family of automation solutions.

Diagnostic solutions enable the quick and easy programming, maintenance, monitoring, and troubleshooting of an entire system, from the controls to the gearbox. Information can be delivered in real-time to a laptop, smartphone, tablet, or human-machine interface (HMI), to help manage equipment 24/7 from any location. System analytics and diagnostics, including delivery of information such as positioning and motion, equipment status, and energy use, help to simplify maintenance, troubleshooting, and operation.”

Talking about remote data capture options, Kevin Hadley, director of sales, service, sustaining engineering and marketing at Cervis, says: “We do supply such products in engineered systems but not standard packaging, meaning when applications require data capture and presentation, we have the tools to satisfy the requests. Generally, the data is captured via analogue or digital inputs or potentially via data bus monitoring. Once this data is collected we have various means to present it to customers.

“We have done so via onboard memory retainment requiring user access and removal. In addition we have offloaded data wirelessly to a central data collection point for user access. As well, we have developed WiFi and Bluetooth radios specially for data transfer. These radio links are separate from our crane control radio links and offer potentials of users accessing the data via portable electronics or WiFi link.”

Market Conditions and Innovation

As with every other area of the industry, trading conditions have been challenging but each of the companies we spoke to had a positive outlook.

“The US market has been challenging this year, primarily due to Covid-19. While essential businesses are investing, capital spending has been delayed or put on hold in many sectors. As more states are returning to work, activity levels are starting to pick up in pharmaceuticals, food and beverage and consumer staples. Entertainment-related businesses and non-essential consumer goods remain soft,” says Stipan from Crane Solutions Group.

“Sales performance in 2020 is better in some sectors than others. We have not experienced regional acceleration or lagging as much as we have seen a general industry lag that bottomed in mid-summer and has been steadily climbing since. Certainly, capital expense has been limited but the service sector has been active,” adds Hadley from Cervis.

Talking specifically about new developments within the sector, both recent introductions and forthcoming products, each of the companies proved that the market is hardly standing still. Stipan says: “We recently released two products that enhance safe lifting and movement of a crane and hoist.

The Magnetek Intelli-Protect system is a pre-packaged no-fly zone system that prevents cranes from running into obstacles within their working bay.

Another new automated solution, the Magnetek Intelli-Lift system identifies and prevents off-centre picking of a load with a hoist. This safety feature alerts the operator that the load is not located directly under the hoist and prevents it from lifting the off-centre load.

This prevents a load from immediately swinging after lifting off the ground, reducing personnel injury and equipment damage.

“Combining advanced safety and performance features in one easy-to-use control, the MagnePulse Digital Magnet Control (DMC) Series 2 efficiently controls DC lifting magnets and provides system monitoring and diagnostic information that can be easily accessed from anywhere in a facility. Digital control of the magnet’s demagnetising current allows the magnet to clean the load faster and more consistently, helping to increase facility throughput.

“The OmniBeam feature allows customers to enable any combination of up to ten magnets to precisely match individual load requirements.

Over-temperature protection utilises a magnet’s resistance to determine its temperature, preventing magnet damage and increasing life expectancy. Plus, efficient energy use reduces magnet heating up to 50%, minimising the need for magnet changeouts and decreasing downtime.

“MagnePulse is ideal for operation of industrial lifting magnets in heavy-duty applications. New diagnostic capabilities of the MagnePulse DMC Series 2 improve communication between the drive and operators and simplify the process of accessing the drive and its performance data. Having immediate access to critical equipment and system information can help increase the safety, uptime, and productivity in a facility.”

Meister from HBC-radiomatic says: “HBC has now their latest spectrum transmitter generation with newly developed 5in vivid-color displays.The larger displays allow for the clear and well-structured arrangement of even more valuable information and offer access to a comprehensive library containing commonly used images and symbols for the customised screen configuration. The high-resolution screens ensure an attractive and configurable presentation of the most diverse notifications and data from the machine—such as engine speed, oil pressure and load weight, in addition to important error messages and warnings.

An extended range of softkeys combined with the radiomatic iCON navigation control enables the easy and intuitive operation of the display, which can also be configured and optimised to meet the exact needs of the operator.

“Another HBC innovation is the radiomatic photon live camera assistance, which delivers live video images to the radio control’s colour display. With this clever feature, the operator is provided with a clear view of the machine and working environment, even in areas with limited views or blind spots. HBC has lately extended their radiomatic photon portfolio with new additions, including a switchable two camera option and a mobile solution for portable cameras.”

Hadley at Cervis mentions the company’s OP-SYNC Operator synchronised tandem crane control: “Generally speaking, OP-SYNC is used when two cranes are required to operate at the same time by the same operator.

The operator selects the cranes to be used in tandem and the communications control and report back to the operator confirmation of RF integrity.

“What this means from a safety standpoint, is if one of the cranes should have RF signal interrupted its mainline contactor would open and begin a stopping operation. At that time, the second crane being controlled in tandem would also respond to a stop condition. Traditional tandem systems do not have this built in safety feature and risk one system in the tandem scenario stopping while the other continues to operate compromising the load.

“Nothing is there to alert the operator one crane is stopping while the other is operating at full speed. One can anticipate what would happen to a load (compression or extension) between cranes if operator is not paying attention to the move. It is important to note this is done without the need for expensive secondary systems that may require licenced radio frequencies—it is an embedded feature of the Warrior Tandem systems.”

Discussing the HHMS transmitter from Cervis, Hadley adds: “It is one of the most innovative developments the crane and hoist handheld market has seen in years.

Specifically, it’s push-button that can provide two-step, three-step, any-step and stepless variable speed commands with redundancy. The two-step version of the switch offers an unmatched level of redundancy in that the first and second steps are fully redundant using four exclusive contacts when commanding step one and step two.

“The three-step version provides redundant switch closures for step one with additive steps two and three. We are using the any-step and stepless feel variations to provide significantly improved variable speed control for multi-step and stepless drive control. This is a 100% contactless switch providing unmatched longevity due to there are no switch contacts to wear. Testing of the switch 5M actuations with no fail.”  

The Warrior HHMS overhead crane control system from Cervis consists of two, three and any-step push button transmitters as well as small medium and large millduty console boxes for multi-step and step-less applications
The new HBC Radiomatic 5” colour display can be fitted to all of HBC’s spectrum transmitters
The Magnetek Intelli-Lift System detects a load misalignment or snag condition and alerts operators with a visible and audible warning before a dangerous situation occurs
The Spectrum L from HBC combines a 5“ display with a comprehensive equipment package allowing a customised solution with a wide range of functions
Coel Motori X-Touch pendant series X-touch are now certified CLASS I DIV 1 for North American market and zone 1 and 21 ATEX IECEX standards