Planning ahead

4 December 2020


Lift planning software originally gave crane operators and contractors the ability to document tricky lifts and explore any parameters that could become a safety issue. Now, they are so versatile with added 3D rendering that the plans can even be used as marketing aids when competing for a contract. Simon Hastelow reports.

The old adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail” especially holds true in material handling operations. Even the most straightforward lift needs a plan, to make sure the lift happens safely within the limits of the equipment, site conditions and personnel. When a contractor has a documented lift plan it’s almost like having an additional insurance policy that the lift will go smoothly.

A1A Software based in Florida, USA, develops software and interfaces for the construction industry. The company got its start by developing the well-known lift planning program called 3D Lift Plan, and it now offers other business management tools specific to the needs of crane and construction equipment owners.

“3D Lift Plan is a lift planning and risk management tool for crane owners, enabling users to create detailed jobsites and other procedural documents, such as critical lift worksheets, rigging lists, and ground bearing pressure worksheets. 3D Lift Plan has always been a cloud-based software, eliminating the need for user updates. All software updates are available to users without any action needed on their part,” says Tawnia Weiss, president of A1A Software.

“In addition, it boasts an industry leading crane database with accurate OEM load chart data for current and older models of cranes—everything from Altec to Zoomlion. We have relationships with several crane OEMs (Link- Belt, Manitowoc, Tadano-Mantis, and others), which sponsor their crane data making it free to their customers. If we don’t have your crane in our library we can add it.”

Liebherr has offered its LICCON job planner software for around 30 years, for planning, simulating and documenting crane jobs. It allows the computer-aided simulation of crane jobs using the load case parameters of load, radius and hoist height.

The crane operator can search for the most suitable crane in the Liebherr fleet for the job. LICCON can also calculate the maximum support forces and wind speeds and the operation of the software functions is very similar to the crane control itself. It can be used on a PC or Notebook, and is also integrated into the crane control in the crane cab.

“Mobile and crawler crane customers throughout the world have been using the LICCON job planner for many years. It is an essential tool for satisfying the very highest demands, particularly for planning jobs for large cranes with innumerable possible configurations and also jobs using the VarioBase variable support base,” says Wolfgang Beringer, marketing and communication manager at Liebherr-Werk Ehingen.

“The principal of the whole program is based on identical crane data in the PC and LICCON control system on the various cranes. However, owners of mobile and crawler cranes manufactured at the Liebherr Plant in Ehingen can look forward to a more modern design, easy operation and the possibility of 3D visualisation.

These features will gradually be integrated in Crane Planer 2.0, which has been developed in the main by Liebherr in Nenzing. Presently the crane model LTM 1750-9.1 including the 800t upgrade is integrated already. We will successively integrate further crane models.”

LiftPlanner is a 3D crane and rigging planning software developed in 1995 in Minnesota, USA. The software—which can run on either AutoCad or BricsCad—is custom-made to include the cranes in a contractor’s fleet along with any other associated equipment.

It includes other elements such as vessels, exchangers, towers, steel, supports, lugs, trunnions, chokers, shackles, lifting beams and piping. Anything that is used on-site can be recreated within the system.

“Once a company makes the determination that LiftPlanner is the software that they want to buy I generally point them to the current crane library and that gives them an extensive listing of about 400 cranes. They choose the relevant units according to what they have in their current fleet, which are added to their installation. If they have a newly offered crane that is not listed we can develop that and add it to their LiftPlanner inventory,” says James Meehan, managing director of LiftPlanner Software.

“We tend not to add new cranes speculatively to the LiftPlanner crane list, at some point a customer is likely to order that crane specification from us, so we add it to the standard list on request. Often a company will also have their own niche and want elements added which they use day-to-day so we add these to the software for that company.”

Planning Regulations

In the US, ASME P30.1 provides industry standards for lift planning. It is accepted best practice that all lifts, not just critical lifts, should start with a lift plan. In addition, many contractors, construction owners, and the military have their own requirements for executing lift plans prior to commencing crane set-up and load handling.

“Depending on the country you are in, every country in the last decade has made strides towards making lifts safer. There are compelling reasons to do it because if you injure people, the OSHA (US Occupational Safety and Health Administration) reporting standards records your incidence of injuries versus operating hours, and when that ratio rises then you will be paying a lot more in insurance. The best way to address safety is to tighten things up in the planning stage,” says LiftPlanner’s Meehan.

“A lot of installations such as refineries will have a criteria that states: If you are going to lift more than 75% capacity of any crane then you will require a lift diagram. At 90% capacity you will also need that lift diagram to be reviewed by another engineer. So the criteria becomes more stringent as the lift becomes trickier of the circumstances become more consequential,” Meehan adds.

“Using a tool like LiftPlanner is equally useful to prove something is impossible with a lift as it is to show that it can be done. For instance: maybe the area is too tight for a particular crane or not enough room to manoeuvre. The whole premise for Lift Planning it to replicate real life site conditions.”

“Lift planning tools are expanding beyond the crane rental market to contractor segments that own or frequently use cranes, especially infrastructure and oil and gas markets. We are also seeing an increased demand in the US for lift plans by users of smaller equipment, such as mini-cranes, heavy-industrial forklifts, carrydeck cranes, and rotating carriage telehandlers,” says Weiss from A1A.

But the use of these software solutions doesn’t have to be restricted to the planning or engineering office. Lift plans can be often created or modified on site, either to accommodate a previously unplanned lift or to modify an existing plan if the environment, conditions or plant to be used changes from the original planning documents.

“A new web tool in 3D Lift Plan enable users to input lift planning information using a tablet, without having to create a full lift plan. These web tools are useful for in-the-field decision making,” says Weiss. “Most notable is Sketch Pad, which allows estimators or others involved in initial job bidding or lift planning to draw on screen with their finger.”

“After entering an address, a Google Map displays as background. On this aerial view, it is possible to note the lift location, crane setup location, and other site-specific information. The sketch can be saved to 3D Lift Plan and will auto-create a lift plan for the user, which reduces steps and streamlines documentation.”

LiftPlanner can also update a planning document to react to late changes. Meehan says: “There have been occasions where a lift was supposed to use a certain tail crane but then late in the project that crane was no longer available. We have been able to deliver the new crane specification overnight which satisfies the details of the amended lift. Allowing the contractor to modify the lift diagram in time for the lift to take place.”

Slick Rendering

As the software capabilities have developed over the years the detailed 3D images and renderings that lift planning solutions can produce have become very useful for other departments in the industry, not just the contractors on site.

“LiftPlanner can produce very detailed 3D renderings which have become useful for the marketing and sales people when pitching for a contract. Marketing images such as these appeal to the management level people who make the decisions,” says Meehan.

Liebherr’s Crane Planer 2.0 also offers 3D planning. The cranes, buildings and landscapes can be integrated photorealistically and even integrated with Google maps if required. “A detailed 3D site plan can be created in a matter of minutes without needing a complicated CAD program. Users do not need any deep knowledge of 3D software and they do not need high end hardware,” says Beringer.

A1A software introduced the industry’s first VR simulator for lift planning. 3D Lift Vision enables users to execute a 3D lift plan in VR mode using a virtual reality headset or an app or desktop software. 3D Lift Vision extends the ability of 3D Lift Plan to be used as a communication and risk mitigation tool.

“Crane rental sales teams can use it to demonstrate to the customer where cranes and personnel will be placed, as well as their ability to make the lift according to the proposed lift plan. For risk mitigation, the operator and entire crane and rigging crew can practice the lift before arriving on site, allowing them to assess equipment and personnel placement, whether anything has changed in the job site environment that will impact the lift, and for the operator to practice the load’s travel route,” says Weiss of A1A.

“We are also releasing an integration between 3D Lift Vision and VR Conflux to enable virtual safety meetings. Last year, we enabled connectivity between 3D Lift Plan and iCraneTrax, our fleet management software, which allows users of both products to save 3D Lift Plans to iCraneTrax job records, check the availability of a crane to be scheduled before selecting it for lift plan creation.”

As with every other industry, software development never stops and in the lift planning field there are also possibilities opening up with new technology that was simply unheard of just a few years ago.

Meehan from LiftPlanner adds: “I always keep an interested eye on developments with laser scanning. To survey an entire site they can set up a laser scanner and the system will shoot a laser at everything it can see, which is the most accurate way to quickly measure an expansive area and create a point-cloud. So far it has been painfully expensive to do, but the costs are coming down. So while we have not had any great call for that feature yet we are ready to implement it. This will give us the ability to model a lift insitu in a precise replication of the terrain on site.

“There are similar efforts to improve the accuracy of underground sonar. Some of our metropolitan crane customers are interested in this. They want to know if there is any jeopardy in setting up in a particular area such as historic tunnels or other utilities such as power lines. These details could eventually be added to the lift drawing.”

Integrating all these various threads to create a virtual job site where every lift, manoeuvre and load handling procedure can be planned and visualised weeks or months ahead of time should eliminate any on-site surprises and boost productivity even further.

Planning the steps to the Whitehouse

Star General was awarded a project to remove and replace the limestone steps leading the South Portico of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC, for the National Park Service, which undertakes the maintenance of the building.

Extreme Steel Crane and Rigging was contacted by Star General to bid for the crane work necessary for the project. During the bid process the company used the load information from the customer and 3D Lift Plan’s crane search function to find that the 60T Link-Belt HTC- 8660 II was the right crane for the job. It sent a portfolio of sample lift plans to Star General to showcase the attention to detail.

Once the bid was awarded Extreme Steel Crane and Rigging started to build the site completely in 3D Lift Plan, importing ground textures from aerial photographs and then using the scale tool to accurately scale the images into the program.

Once the jobsite was built in 3D, it placed the crane in its setup location, using 3D Lift Plan to verify the working radius, the pick and set points, and to show the necessary rigging that they would use for the project.

The ground-bearing calculations provided critical information for Star General and the National Park Service. The company was able to confirm that the cranes’ cribbing and outrigger mats would be more than suitable for the work.

Extended cab behind a stockade wall

“Cranes are always coming out with new features and we have to evaluate how we are going to replicate those new features in the software,” said James Meehan, managing director of LiftPlanner Software.

One such crane was the new Liebherr LTC1050-3.1, which is a small and compact crane but has an extendable cab. It was to be used for lifting a new air-conditioning unit onto a 34m tall embassy building in the US, which was surrounded by a 4m tall stockade-style wall separating it from the road. The crane was used to lift the load from a flat-bed the other side of that wall and up onto the roof, clearing a 1m tall parapet.

The plan drawing and renderings were produced with all of the variables for the lift and crane.

Planning to bridge the gap with software

3D Lift Plan was utilised by La Grange Crane Service on the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) Item 113 evaluation from day one and was paramount in being awarded a brige project with confidence from Copenhaver Construction and IDOT.

Using 3D Lift Plan to correctly scale the crane and jobsite for the installation of a replacement bridge allowed La Grange to accurately bid for the project as a 60USt crane job and allowed it to price accordingly. 3D Lift Plan enables contractors to envision not only the crane, but how a crane will interact with all other obstacles a construction site imposes. La Grange Crane Service is a third-generation, family owned and operated crane rental service in Chicago, USA, with an expansive fleet ranging from boom trucks to 550USt cranes.

The entire La Grange Crane team is trained and encouraged to utilise 3D Lift Plan from the earliest stage possible. Before La Grange Crane’s customers can move forward with budgetary pricing towards a project bid, safety of all parties must be considered. Sizing up a crane properly is the smallest part of the equation. 

The new Sketch Pad feature in 3D Lift Plan from A1A Software can put a representation of the planned lift in situ on Google Maps while the data is manipulated in real-time on site using a mobile tablet device.
Crane Planner 2.0 from Liebherr offers detailed 3D site planning in a matter of minutes using an intuitive web interface and without the need for a separate CAD program.