Support systems16 January 2023
At the heart of a crane is the operator and there is an array of devices to help them do their job safely and efficiently. The fast-moving nature of the sector, however, sees companies innovating to remain ahead of the game. Christian Shelton reports.
As technology designed to assist the crane operator evolves we’re seeing both crane manufacturers and independent equipment specialists update and diversify their portfolios – expanding into different but complementary areas.
Take French company AMCS Technologies, for example. It is best-known in the industry for its range of crane zoning and anti collision systems.
The company, however, has now extended its ‘construction site safety’ focus with the launch of its own crane camera.
Video cameras for cranes play a key role in ensuring operator safety and preventing on-site damage, saving money and time, says AMCS. As such they have proven themselves a crucial asset and an essential aid for operators.
“As supplier of safety solutions for job sites it is therefore logical that we have launched a new high resolution video camera, the Cam 61, which we believe is the ideal solution for construction and industrial applications looking for innovative solutions,” says the company’s sales director, Radoine Bouajaj.
According to AMCS, the Cam 61 offers optimum vision for lifting operations thanks to a number of attributes. It is fast and provides a clear image.
There is no lag or delay in the video signal and a 36x optical and 16x digital zoom block means the operator can zoom in to really see what they are doing.
These factors all help reduce operator stress, AMCS points out.
All video functions are fully and intuitively customisable so operators can set it up the way they like.
The camera includes a sensitive light sensor and a day/night vision Infrared Cut Filter (ICR) filter for applications in low light conditions.
All image parameters can be controlled (brightness, contrast, saturation, focus, day/ night (including thresholds) and zoom presets and custom zoom trajectories are also available.
The Cam 61 camera provides fully configurable and triggered recording of data for seven days (or more) to a network location and/or an SD card.
A live view of the camera can also be viewed remotely.
According to AMCS, this all results in an undisrupted workflow for high quality images, supported by an intuitive user interface that also reduces the required training for operators to a minimum.
More than 30 wireless cameras can be managed on the same site and the cameras all have long life batteries and are shock resistant.
The camera was tested on various jobsites and is now available worldwide.
“We have made this development a strategic asset in this worldwide context of components shortage, making sure to have sufficient stocks to meet our customers’ demands,” Mohamed Chettibi, AMCS CEO, says. “We wanted to develop a sustainable solution and control production at all stages and also open new market opportunities.”
The technology-based nature of many operator assistance systems means the sector is fast-moving. Specialist manufacturers need to keep up to speed, updating and evolving their offerings in order to remain relevant.
This is exactly what lifting, rigging, and load securement hardware manufacturer The Crosby Group is doing.
The Group owns the BlokCam crane camera brand and, at Bauma 2022, it showcased a range of upgrades to BlokCam’s established X2 and M3 crane camera systems with the aim of further improving safety and reliability.
Crosby says the X2 was the first fully modular camera system on the market compatible with tower cranes, while the M3 was the first fully modular camera for telescopic and mobile cranes.
The Crosby Group has now updated the range with a new version of the X2 and M3, presented as the Crosby BlokCam X3L and M3L.
The two systems benefit from many of the same upgrades including: a new transmitter that can connect to up to two sensors; a repeater that comes with ball joint mount (reducing the ports required); a new sensor with integrated audio and video plug; and assembly with an improved Wi-Fi signal.
The X3L and M3L versions are available with a lithium-ion battery and charger, compared to the NiCAD (nickel-cadmium) battery with the standard product.
Key comparisons between the lighter lithium-ion and NiCAD are a longer battery life, four-and-a-half hour’s recharge versus eight, and a charger versus a docking station, explains Crosby.
The lithium-ion battery also has a light-emitting diode (LED) to indicate charging status.
Thomas Dietvorst, director of Crosby’s Technology Solutions division, says, “The upgraded system is better, faster, and smarter – improving safety and reliability. The game-changing BlokCam product range has been an excellent addition to the Crosby family and is a standout innovator in the portfolio, as recognised by the UK’s LEEA [Lifting Equipment Engineers Association] giving us its Best Innovation Award.
"We are proud to bring these ongoing generational improvements to our growing customer base.
“In addition to construction and renewables, which are widely regarded as the technology’s pioneering markets, we see continued adoption in transportation, offshore construction, nuclear, rail, mooring, and others. These products have delivered clear enhancement everywhere they’ve been used, and the user benefits are highly improved.”
In the renewables sector especially the Crosby BlokCam system is being used in a pioneering way.
By strategically placing multiple BlokCam crane cameras, transmitters, and monitors on cranes, towers, and cabs the systems are being used to create complete human-free lifting zones.
Peter Hird, business development director at The Crosby Group, said, “At the height of demand on UK construction sites pre-pandemic BlokCam camera systems [mainly X2s] were installed on 550 tower cranes, which equated to 85% of the marketplace. The wind energy market followed suit, to the point that safety and environmental standards below-the-hook have been transformed in the sector…
“We’re using technology that has already proven to be gamechanging in industry, but by creating networks of cameras like this, it takes best practice to a new level.”
Loader crane manufacturer Hiab, part of Cargotec, has also launched an upgraded camera assistance system for crane operators on its forestry cranes.
Its HiVision camera system enables equipment to be operated from the comfort and safety of the truck cabin; now the company has launched the HiVision 2.0 plus made and improvements to HiVision for its Multilift demountables.
HiVision for forestry cranes uses external cameras to show the crane’s surroundings, which the operator can see using virtual reality (VR) goggles inside the truck cabin.
This, Hiab says, improves productivity, reduces the weight of the equipment, and provides a more comfortable and safer working environment for the operator.
HiVision 2.0 has an improved camera system combined with a powerful computer and goggles. This supports a higher frame rate as well as a better resolution and brightness to create a more natural viewing experience.
“The new HiVision 2.0 reduces the issues of dizziness or blurred vision, commonly associated with the use of VR technology,” explains Davide Pernice, director, Global Product Management, Forestry, Hiab. “The solution continues to offer improved precision, safety and comfortable work environment of our forestry cranes and has proven very popular with the customers who bought the first version.”
HiVision for Multilift offers multiple views from three cameras, container landing spot information and dynamic reversing steering lines for safer, easier and more convenient operation of the hooklift, using a touchscreen display inside the truck cabin.
In the new version, Hiab has improved the camera image quality to offer customers safer operation and better efficiency in difficult light conditions such as direct sunlight, pitch dark, as well as rain and snow.
Obstacle detection software is an additional safety feature that minimises the risk of injury to people or damage to equipment.
Other crane manufacturers are looking at diversifying their areas of expertise and moving into new areas, developing equipment that previously they may have outsourced from a specialist.
At Bauma 2022 tower crane manufacturer Wolffkran, for example, demonstrated its new High Speed Positioning System (HiSPS).
The HiSPS is designed to eliminate load sway and so increase safety and work efficiency on construction sites.
Wolffkran says the system is a technological milestone paving the way to the autonomous crane of tomorrow and claims to be the first manufacturer in the industry to develop and launch such an assistance system.
“Digital assistance systems are one of the biggest trends in the construction industry,” comments Thomas Heidrich, Wolffkran CTO. “And the high-speed positioning system takes us a major step closer to a digital, autonomous crane."
The company says that while it typically requires a lot of experience on the part of the crane operator to prevent a load from swinging when moving it across the construction site, this can be done very easily with its newly developed HiSPS.
"Normally, the operator controls the crane from which the load is suspended,” explains Viktor Mosolf, team leader digitalization at Wolffkran. “This inevitably causes the load to swing due to the crane's movement. With our HiSPS assistance system, the crane operator no longer primarily moves the crane but instead controls the load with support of the system, which virtually eliminates the sway."
Crane control is achieved by two battery-powered sensors attached to the trolley and the hook block.
Coupled with a control unit in the switch cabinet, they detect the rope's movements and automatically adjust the motion and speed of the crane accordingly.
The assistance system can be switched on and off as required and operates for up to two weeks on one set of batteries.
Loads already swinging can be brought to a standstill within seconds which makes work easier in strong gusts of wind, says Wolffkran, reducing the risk of accidents and damage caused by swinging loads.
This optimises the anti-collision system as not only the crane but also the load in the working range limitation is automatically stopped.
"Safety distances from other buildings and cranes can be reduced, which makes setting up the construction site more flexible, particularly in densely constructed inner cities," explains Mosolf.
The Wolff HiSPS also provides more efficiency on the construction site because the crane can be operated from the ground by remote control more readily than before, Wolffkran adds.
This saves the crane operator time-consuming climbing up and down from the crane and frees up time for other work on the ground while waiting for the next lift. The HiSPS is available on the new Wolff FX 21 Clear family (see the tower cranes feature on page 20).
Within the next two years all Clear cranes from the current production will be delivered with the preinstalled system as standard, says Wolffkran, while existing cranes can be retrofitted.
In a second phase the system is also intended to be available for Wolff luffers.
Crane manufacturer Liebherr is also looking at stopping the excessive swinging of loads with an in-house designed assistance system.
It showed an interactive prototype of this at Bauma.
“Intelligent assistance systems are there to make work easier for crane operators,” said Tobias Scholz, global market manager, Liebherr-Werk Biberach. “These assistance systems also contribute to safety on site, which is why we are committed to their ongoing further development.”
Liebherr’s new assistance systems will work in harmony with its latest long-life EMS-4 touchscreen display with the new Tower Cranes Operating System (TC-OS) user interface – which comes as standard in EC-B and EC-H series tower crane cabins.
The 12-inch display, which launched in April 2021, has been designed to assist operators as much as possible. The menu structure has been designed so that they always have a good overview. This, it says, offers extra safety and a more comfortable user experience.
Even in difficult lighting conditions, which are often encountered in crane cabins, the anti-reflective and dirt-resistant touchscreen is designed to provide optimal readability.
There are different viewing modes available for day and night work. The display can also be tilted and rotated.
An external screen for the hook camera is no longer necessary as the image can be integrated into the EMS-4. This means that all available data is visible to the crane operator on one device.
The new display also increases operator comfort in terms of crane cabin settings, says Liebherr.
The air-conditioning system and windshield wipers can be controlled via the multi-touch display. It is also possible to use the ergonomically positioned membrane keys for this.
Everything is networked together so that each control element displays the same information, says Liebherr.
Also at Bauma 2022 Liebherr showcased its LiReCon teleoperation unit for tower cranes which, it claims, offers an insight into what future machine operation will look like and the opportunities this will bring.
Liebherr’s vision is that the LiReCon teleoperation unit will one day make it possible to control cranes from the ground.
For now the LiReCon has a stand that can be stationed directly where the site supervisor works enabling crane operators and site supervisors to interact with each other and discuss changes in person without delay.
LiReCon also offers the option of switching between different tower cranes, enabling a flexible response to situations on site as they happen.
Whatever the future holds it is clear that, for now, ensuring a nice, comfortable environment for the operator to concentrate in is important. As is the use of the best technology possible to increase safety and efficiency.
Whether this technology ultimately evolves to take over entirely from the operator only time will tell. Until then, though, we can rest assured that the crane operator can be supported in the best way possible thanks to the work of engineers from both specialist providers and crane manufacturers alike.