A Cavotec MC3300 radio remote being used at a surface drilling rig in Stockholm

A Cavotec MC3300 radio remote being used at a surface drilling rig in Stockholm

The use of radio remote controls (RRC) in the lifting industry has in the past been viewed as an additional piece of equipment that can be used by an operator, as and when, they choose to use it. Although some users are still unsure of the reliability of the technology and would prefer, given the choice, to operate a crane from the cab, the level of acceptance and trust in the technology is changing.

Safety is the reason behind this change. Mounting pressure from health and safety officers and legislation puts pressure on contractors to look for alternative and safer ways to carry out lifts. Depending on the environment, remote controls can help create a safer situation for an operator to complete a lift. This is achieved by being able to move personnel away from potentially dangerous situations to safer areas, such as control rooms or an operator cabin.

“The influence of safety is, and always has been, a premise for wireless control,” Kevin Hadley, director of sales and marketing at remote control manufacturer and distributer of Ikusi products, Cervis Inc, explains, “In the North American market we are seeing machinery manufacturers that are exporting and looking to comply with certain safety standards, such as the ISO 13949-1:2008 Safety of Machinery standard. We are also seeing an expansion of the wireless concept on lifting machines to do more than the traditional boom and winching functions.”

A spokesperson from Italian manufacturer Autec adds, “OEMs are more and more aware of the importance of safety standards. Agencies and governments have been pushing for the constant adoption of stricter safety measures. Implementing safety measures such as high reliability components, diagnostic measures and extensive tests ensures higher safety and reliability of safe radio remote controls, thus reducing risks of hazards, insurance costs, and the probability of litigation.”

As Alexander Hemming, HBC-radiomatic head of product management, points out, this efficiency is vital in today’s climate, “Radio controls increase efficiency, which is especially important under difficult economic conditions. In contrast to the control from a control cabin, the operator can fasten the load by himself without needing assistance. And if the crane is not used at the moment, the operator can perform other tasks without having to climb down from the cabin.

“Additionally, wireless controls reduce unnecessary walking paths because the operator does not need to walk to the crane to move it to his working position with the cable control. He can simply get the crane with the radio control right from where he stands.”

This trend in employing strict safety measures on work sites has increased the level of interest in the remote control industry, as Hemming explains, “Generally, more and more operators understand the benefits of radio controls when it comes to safety, efficiency and operating comfort, so the demand is growing in all industry sectors.”

“We’re seeing a great deal of interest in automation and remote control technologies that enable operators to do their jobs at a safe distance from dangerous machinery and harsh conditions,” Peter Brandel, Cavotec chief technology officer, adds. “Last year, we registered a jump in interest in RRC systems fitted with video links. As a result, we’ve been adapting our existing systems to incorporate this functionality.”

Evolving trends
In addition to video links, two way radio communication, or bi-directional radio, is another example of improved remote control technology. With this feature the operator can view information from the machine they are controlling on a display, without actually being inside the cab. To allow these features to work, visual displays need to be sophisticated and capable of relaying the data to the operator in a clear and understandable way.

To help achieve this, screens are becoming larger and are available as organic light-emitting diode (OLED) models, for indoor use, or transflective models, for outdoor use. Visual displays are also starting to offer individual configuration functions and tend to be colour screens, depending on the application they have been designed for.

Kevin Hadley explains the reasons behind these choices in technology, “In the market there are high end applications where operators need a lot of information about the machine’s activity and, with that, there may be a requirement for higher-end display. Of course battery life and durability play a huge role in the choice of such devices.”

To increase the lifetime of the product, manufacturers are looking at ways to control energy usage. Crane manufacture Palfinger, which has just launched the PALcom P7 remote control for knuckle boom cranes, paid a lot of attention to this issue at the design stage.

The new Palfinger PALcom P7 remote control has a charging station that checks the discharge state and temperature of the batteries before quick charging using an optimal charging current,” the manufacturer says, “This helps extend the service life of the batteries over the long term, while reduced power consumption enables the PALcom P7 to run for up to twelve hours in continuous operation without recharging.”

HBC-radiomatic, has also focused on energy consumption. “To increase working efficiency in the most diverse working situations, HBC has the radiomatic continuous power supply (CPS), where the operator can change the battery of the radio control without power interruption. The function is ideal for long, interruption-free applications,” a spokesperson explains.

Frequency bands
Issues with frequency bands is another area that remote control manufacturers have to overcome. Kevin Hadley explains, “In the US and Canada we tend to operate in the FCC Part 15 licence free bands of 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz, as users are not required to obtain FCC site licences for operation as with some 400 MHz Part 90 radios. With operation in the 2.4 GHz bandwidth we are also able to obtain various export certifications such as RTTE/CE for Europe and other markets as well. Our partner Ikusi of San Sebastian, Spain, has developed a multi-band radio that is software configurable for operation from 400 to 900 MHz range, allowing for use in markets around the world.”

The latest product from Cervic is the HH-xH10 SmaRT Wireless handheld transmitter. Launched at ConExpo 2014 exhibition, the handheld remote has a10-button function control and independent on and off switches. It uses direct sequence spread spectrum (DSSS) wireless technology at 900 MHz or 2.4 GHz, to provide receiver links, even in congested radio environments, the manufacturer said. The transmitter is 13 x 70 x 30 cm in size, is sealed with a front mount rubber membrane and can have up to 20 functions.

“Direct sequence modulation spreads information around a centre frequency using a pseudo-random noise methodology (PN sequence),” Anthony DiTommaso, Cervis engineering director, explains. “The carrier format is usually a digital technique, like binary phase shift key (BPSK) or quadrature phase shift key (QPSK). The baseband information is added to the code sequence, which is superimposed on the carrier. Redundant copies of information are transmitted on different frequencies within the band.

“The PN sequence is known to both transmitter and receiver and that helps with interference rejection,” DiTommaso adds, “Because information is transmitted across a wideband then reconstituted into narrowband after reception prior to data extraction, any undesired narrowband signals will be spread across the wideband, greatly reducing the effect of the unwanted interference. The key is for unwanted signals to remain below the jamming margin. Once an interfering signal exceeds the jamming margin, the ability for a DSSS modulator to accurately retrieve the information from the intended transmitter falls off significantly.”

“We are also continuing to release new configurations of our SmaRT Wireless PG model handheld,” Hadley adds. “At the ConExpo 2014 we introduced a new four-character LED display on the unit. This model is used primarily in the truck mounted crane industry where an increasing interest in load monitoring is desired. The release of this model with the LED display provides the operators a live look at the crane load, as well as application-specific limits and errors that may be present during crane operation.”

To keep the industry supplied with up to date remote control technology, manufacturer Autec has launched a new range of joystick transmitters for its Air series. “Air series products automatically detect the best working frequency at start-up and use bi-directional radio communication, multi-band radio, CAN and serial communication and system configuration software,” the manufacturer explains.

The new AJM, AJR and AJS models added to the Air series are designed for industrial lifting applications and are available in analogue and digital versions. The models comply with PL d/cat.3 according to the EN ISO 13849-1 safety standard. The products can log operation data and work on rechargeable Li-ion batteries, with a run time 40 hours, the manufacturer says.

Controls on the Autec models include the Listen Before Talk (LBT) function, by which the radio channel is tested periodically before every transmission. It also includes Automatic Frequency Agility (AFA), to avoid busy radio channels. Another technique used by the manufacturer to prevent frequency interference is the Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). “Here the frequency of radio communication is periodically changed according to an apparently random sequence of hops known to both the transmitter and receiver,” a company spokesperson explains. “Each radio channel can be used for a very short time.”

“In the event of particular situations requiring multiple systems, Autec offers a Multi Units system, which allows a single operator to control different machines in synchronised or independent mode,” a company spokesperson adds. “All transmitting and receiving units constantly communicate with one another in order to establish a safe and co-ordinated behaviour.”

To overcome issues with frequency interference, HBC-radiomatic offers a range of frequency management procedures, including automatic frequency selection and the automatic frequency management. New models from HBC-radiomatic include the technos 2 control transmitters, designed for tower cranes, magnet cranes, logistics vehicles and container transporters. The technos 2 has a 3.5 inch thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal (TFT LCD) colour display and the radiomatic photon feature, which uses cameras.

“This feature works with up to eight video cameras simultaneously,” Alexander Hemming explains, “They can be installed on the machine or in the working environment. They then transmit precise live images to the display of the transmitter over a separate radio link.”

The technos 2 is available with up to three joysticks, z-axis switches for three drive commands and up to eight linear levers. Other options include a LED flashlight, user identification with data logger and a micro drive function. A Li-ion exchange battery offers up to 18 hours of operating time, the manufacturer says.

New models
Manufacturer Ikusi also has a new range of products, the I-Kontrol range of transmitters. Included in the range are three versions, IK2, IK3 and IK4. All include an EEPROMS recorder for configuration and recording data. Also included is the REPCON function, which allows users to customise device mechanisms, hardware and functionality, the manufacturer says. Additional features include a Super Key, which offers a start button and a 5-position selector switch on the same device. The Super Key has an internal memory and an RFID tag with a unique identification number. The three versions are fitted with graphic displays and include a CORTEX M3 microprocessor.

Crane manufacturer Palfinger’s PALcom P7 remote control, designed specifically for loader cranes. Special attention has been made to areas such as control position, hand rests, padded shoulder straps and setup of the control levers, the manufacturer says. The new remote control has a 4.1 inch TFT colour display designed to be read in bright sunlight. Safety features such as rollover and acceleration sensors that prevent unintentional crane movements, if the unit is dropped, are been built into the design.

“For example, if the control handset exceeds a certain inclination angle or the radio console falls to the ground, the radio remote control system automatically cuts out,” a company spokesperson adds. The PALcom P7 remote control will be available on the market for the European SH-series from 40 tonnes. Models for the series between 10 tonnes and 40 tonnes will be introduced from mid-June 2014.

New from Cavotec is the MC3100 unit, designed for operators to control mobile cranes, tower cranes and other machinery. The unit is Cavotec’s lightest and most compact unit, the manufacturer said, and the height and angle of the controler can be adjusted from the belt.

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