Electric dreams

11 April 2008

SMIE's anti-collision system DLZ342 is designed for tower cranes and allows the operator to store wo

SMIE's anti-collision system DLZ342 is designed for tower cranes and allows the operator to store working parameters

Anti-collision systems are just one example of how advances in electronics allow improvements to safety and overall performance. They are continually being upgraded to meet the needs of busy work sites where many cranes work together, surrounded by semi-built structures and other construction machinery.

In February 2007 a new European Standard for crane electronics, EN 14439, Cranes. Safety. Tower Cranes, took effect. The standard included an annex dedicated to anti-collision systems, which contains criteria; for example, to ensure that operators are trained in using the systems.

Jean-Louis Olivier, CEO at anti-collision system specialist SMIE, based in France, says the new standard is a landmark in the industry. “This is something very important to us.

People had been working towards this standard for 13 years. It is brand new in Europe so it will help some countries that are not familiar with anti-collision systems.”

In the middle term Olivier says work is under way to make anti-collision sensors more autonomous by developing radio transmissions. This would have a major impact on a number of applications, one example being cranes that travel on rails. At present cables are needed to link the travelling sensors to the main unit. “Wireless sensors are something that companies worldwide are working on and we are keen to incorporate them in our systems.”

Olivier continues, “But we want something reliable. When you have two cranes or more of different types and age you must have a reliable system that is failsafe. If it fails and the crane stops then it is not a happy work site. Our aim is to have that reliable system and we will only launch a new system if we consider it to be safe.”

GPS zoning

Olivier adds that load sensors attached to crane hooks are also set to make an appearance in the near future, as they have the potential to offer precise information from their optimum position on the crane.

GPS will also take a more active role in anti-collision sensors, Olivier forecasts, especially for mobile cranes working with hydraulic jibs in close proximity to other machinery.

One of SMIE's newest products is the DLZ342 anti-collision system aimed at construction cranes. Primarily designed to keep the operator constantly informed of the crane's condition, the DLZ342 also records crane operations and allows specific operating zones to be set. A memory chip records total number of working hours and accumulated load, plus analysis of lifting cycles, details of the last 10 lifting cycles and the last 2,000 recorded events. The work zone limitation management system enables the operator to store working area parameters, enabling them to fully concentrate on the load handling.

“Anti-collision is something that transcends cranes, it concerns the whole construction site with several different cranes that must have a system that fits with each of them.”

The DLZ342 is already at work on tower cranes built by Spanish manufacturer Comansa, explains Olivier, adding that several other companies are also close to signing up to the system.

3D visuals

By the end of 2008 electronic imaging will have taken another leap with the introduction of three-dimensional anti-collision systems for construction cranes, says Olivier. “We are working on it and are confident we will have a low cost solution.”

Looking towards the next decade or further ahead, Olivier says camera technology is the aim for the anti-collision sector. Extensive work is needed to develop the technology. Olivier says the potential exists to create a 3D system using cameras, however, the challenge is to ensure that the cost is not prohibitive. “It is a question of cost. A 200 tonne crane may cost Euro 500,000 in Europe and in China the same crane is maybe Euro 2,000. You cannot have additional costs exceeding more than 10 per cent of crane. We must have research and development that is concerned with cost.”

Digital diagnostics

Another area of electronics to have developed quickly over the last 12 months is remote diagnostics. This offers a solution to crane users caught out by malfunctioning equipment, sometimes thousands of miles away from the manufacturer or any support facilities.

Giancarlo Perego, Amco Veba president, says his company will be the first in the knuckle boom crane industry with a remote diagnostics system operated via a laptop. It will mean that from the factory in Italy operators can remotely diagnose problems and other machine status situations on cranes around the world. Adjustments can then be made to the control software so that the crane works again or it can be used, for example, for a one-off extra duty lift.

Perego told IC at October's SAIE exhibition in Italy that the system had been successfully tested and its launch is scheduled for early 2008 implementation. It will work with all of the Italian manufacturer's EBB series cranes, which are models from the last three or four years fitted with on board ‘black box' type computers. Remote connection is made via a normal internet connection and a USB link to the crane.

Perego added that user friendliness was a priority in development and the system had to be foolproof for the 90% of Amco Veba's production, which is exported. “It shows that this system is very important,”he says.

Safety is the key

Also presenting its latest wares at SAIE 2007 was mobile electronics specialist 3B6. New from the Italian manufacturer is the MC2M machine control dual manager CAN bus with a double processor specifically designed for mobile application control system. What makes this unit different to previous models is its large number of inputs and outputs which makes it adaptable to a wide range of applications, explains Giangiacomo De Ambrosi, 3B6 marketing manager. “It is important for mobile machine manufacturers because it is designed according to the safety norms for lifting machines such as cranes and access platforms,” he adds.

The manufacturer premiered the CAN bus unit at the October SAIE along with its new electronic bypass system, the Safe Key.

“It's a by-pass device installed in case of load limiter or load moment indicator failure when emergency machine manoeuvring becomes necessary,” explains De Ambrosi, adding, that such a device had not existed in the past and was designed by the company following demands from equipment manufacturers.

The device is placed outside the cabin and allows the machine to be operated for a pre-set period of time. An independent circuit with black box functions provides a record of every intervention, along with CAN bus data if the link is available. It is also possible to download the stored data to a laptop computer using a serial interface. The device has a self-diagnostic function that runs during the start up cycle.

Asian interest

De Ambrosi explains that the Safe Key bypass device and optional black box is housed in a single device, along with a security function to prevent unauthorized personal use.

With the focus on work site and machinery safety now becoming a significant issue around the world, De Ambrosi says markets such as China and India are seeking electronics systems and the technical knowledge to accompany it.

“Due to their production and sale quantities they will become the centre of the electronics market in the future.”

Both Olivier and De Ambrosi agree that having a network of offices worldwide offering an overall service is vital for companies in the electronics sector. “It is important that an electronics company offers customers all the services they request, starting from the project spec's definition, through to the after-sales service in each part of the world,” comments De Ambrosi.

SMIE recently set up a sales office in Singapore to complement its series of offices around the world. “We consider this very important to provide a service of excellence,” adds Olivier.

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