In the future, overhead cranes will do exactly as they are told. This, at least, is the vision of Mannesmann Dematic, which exhibited a prototype voice-controlled chain hoist crab at the Hannover Fair in March. Voice recognition technology remains far from perfect, and there is little evidence that customers would be prepared to pay the premium for such products, but when the technology improves and the costs come down (as they always do with developing technologies), Demag is placing itself to take advantage.

Mannesmann Dematic’s voice control system responds to the commands ‘lift’, ‘lower’, ‘right’ and ‘left’, which the operator gives by speaking into a microphone fitted to a headset. As an alternative to headsets, systems with a microphone fitted inside the machine or hoist are potential solutions for the future, says Dematic.

The control system works independently of the speaker, so time-consuming voice recognition training is not necessary. Dematic claims an impressive recognition rate of 99%, which can be achieved even when there is a lot of background noise.

The voice-controlled chain hoist crab is equipped with evaluation algorithms, which enable it to maintain a high recognition rate for different dialects or if the spoken word is relatively unclear. The system is more complex when it comes to multi-lingual applications, however, since commands would have to be implemented for those foreign languages most likely to be required.

The German manufacturer suggests that as voice control systems are increasing accepted, the industry should consider the creation of a suitable ‘Esperanto’ which includes all commands.

The fundamental benefit of voice control systems is that the user has both hands free, and so is able to guide, hook up, suspend or position loads with maximum care and precision, as well as hold on to a ladder or similar equipment at the same time.

Mannesmann Dematic’s prototype is designed for lifting and lowering, as well as for cross travel. This scope can be extended, but it requires additional commands which the user must be familiar with in advance.

In addition to the chain hoist crab which was on exhibition in Hannover, voice-control systems would be suitable for other materials handling applications, the company says. Diagnosis systems could also be voice-controlled, which would enable service personnel or customers to call up information from control systems.

Mannesmann Dematic says that by producing a prototype, it has done the groundwork to put a practical control system with high recognition rates into standard production if and when the market is judged ready for such an innovation.

Laser measurement

Another Demag development is a laser measuring system for exact positioning of travel rails. Smooth crane travel characteristics depend on the precise interaction between the crane and the crane runway, so it is important to detect early signs of wear, whether caused by intensive use, machinery vibration or other factors. Exceeding the agreed tolerance limits for crane runways and ground rails not only impairs the travel characteristics and thus the optimum availability of the installation, but frequently also poses a risk to man and machine. The signs of these conditions, Mannesmann Dematic explains are extreme wear on the wheels, rails and guide elements, deformation or cracks in the load-bearing components, the obviously rough running of the crane combined with incorrect positioning of automated systems, high power consumption, an above-normal rise in the temperature of the drive motors and the stalling and stopping of the crane installation on the track.

The availability and safety of a material handling installation depends significantly on the dimensional accuracy of the travel rails. The LMS laser measuring system consists of a radio-controlled, self-propelled rail test car, a self-levelling horizontal laser and a notebook for controlling the system and for evaluating the data. With the LMS laser measuring system, values relating to the condition of crane runways and ground rails can be determined accurately and immediately put to use, thus avoiding substantial costs.

The LMS obviates the need for the time-consuming walk along the crane runway and the associated lengthy downtimes on the factory floor. Instead of having to install comprehensive protective devices, the LMS need only be used for a few hours and with minimum effort, says Mannesmann Dematic.

An integrated positioning device is used to position the radio-controlled rail test car and the laser on the rails to be surveyed. The rail test car can approach freely selectable points on the rail and thereby measure the deviations from the theoretical centre axis of the laser. The laser point is scanned on the diffusion screen mounted on the rail test car by a digital camera and plotted in the coordinate system.

The laser measuring system does not depends on optimum conditions. Even in dirty, dusty or gas-filled environments it operates within a range of 300m, guarantees a measuring accuracy of ±1mm on crane runways and ± 0.5mm on ground level tracks and rails, measured over a distance of 100m.

Mouse click delivery

Making best use of technology is nothing new for Mannesmann Dematic. Since November 1998 it has had project drafting software for crane installations available on the internet. And since then, some 3,700 enquiries have been made via the interactive planning tool.

The crane planning consultant offers customer support for project-drafting single and double-girder overhead travelling cranes, slewing cranes, as well as monorail systems from Demag’s KBK crane construction kit. It is primarily designed for companies in the workshop construction sector, as well as workshop and crane installation planning engineers.

By simply entering key data, the visitor to the homepage can design a crane installation to meet his individual requirements ‘within a matter of minutes’, the company says. A single mouse click is also enough to call up a specific offer and technical data from the manufacturer regarding the clearance and fitting dimensions as well as the crane power consumption. In this way, the prospective customer can access structural data relating to wheel loads, a CAD drawing in the format required, and prices and delivery times.

An additional benefit for the prospective customer is that he can cut costs by obtaining precise data for coordinating the workshop and crane design right down to the last detail.

Mannesmann Dematic has also been active in e-commerce for two years. Customers can call up ‘Drive Designer online’ and order products from the entire geared motor and wheel block range via The company believes that these products are particularly suitable for e-commerce as they are part of a large modular system and can be configured by product logic processes.

The significant advantage of Drive Designer online is the option for fast and unlimited selection of geared motors from the customer’s own PC. There is no need to install any additional programs and it requires only very little memory.

The system, available in 13 languages, offers direct enquiry facilities via e-mail as well as technical documentation, such as operating instructions and component part lists, for example. This makes it possible to determine complete product configurations on a PC and to order them by specifying the quantity and article number.

Mannesmann Dematic has now tested the e-commerce system with six customers. This year it is being extended to about 200 customers in Germany plus some others abroad. Such has been the response to Drive Designer online, says Dematic, that it is now offering the KBK crane construction kit and hoist product groups on the Internet platform as well. While orders are currently limited to the selected group of customers, the other information can be called up by any interested party.

Fast response and delivery times are absolutely essential for the success of a supplier in electronic commerce. Mannesmann Dematic has plans for an order tracking facility, which will make it possible to determine the location of ordered articles while they are on their way to the customer.