Manitowoc introduces Crane Star
By Euan Youdale22 July 2009
Telematics is familiar in the glamorous and high tech sport of Formula One motor racing. It has also featured on construction machinery for more than a decade and now interest is growing in the crane sector. Alex Dahm talked to Scott Blair and John Bittner at Manitowoc about the latest in crane monitoring
Touted as the most comprehensive telematics system in the crane industry, Crane Star is a new Manitowoc product for end users to remotely monitor their assets.
"From a global perspective, looking at the system that we have put together here at Manitowoc, it is the most comprehensive telematics system that I have seen," Says Scott Blair.
Blair has several reasons. "Number one, this is a hybrid system. Its primary function is to report via GSM [global system for mobile communications] using the GPRS [general packet radio service] system but it also has the ability to default to satellite so we get the benefit of, if you are in a really tough place where you can't get a mobile signal, we can telemeter information out via satellite," Blair explains.
Another reason Blair gives is the integration of the system into the CAN (controller area network) bus system on Manitowoc cranes. The Crane Star system acts as another node on the CAN bus, listening to the data that comes across.
"We pick up data from the LMI [load moment indicator] as well as from the engine and from sensor functions throughout the crane that are on board."
End user benefits
Different end users benefit from Crane Star in different ways. Large contractors look at different information from rental users.
Rental users want to look at hours coming and going in and out of their yard. Some people just want geo-fencing - putting a virtual perimeter fence around a particular crane and when it leaves that area you can get an alert.
That is not new technology. Other people might use it to monitor fuel consumption, others to monitor hours more closely.
A large international contractor is looking at utilisation, Bittner says. "People look at it differently. The main benefit of Crane Star is to be able to remotely monitor your assets."
For the operator
What about the operator, how does it affect them? "The operator in the cab doesn't even know. He is not connected to the Crane Star system at all. All the information he needs he has in front of him at the operator console.
"It is a remote asset management system. It is a tool used to look at history and not to monitor lifts or look over the shoulder of the operator," says Bittner.
"A key feature here about how the system works is that Crane Star does not interfere in any way with the crane operating system. It sits on the CAN bus system and listens so, should for whatever reason there be a failure or lack of communication with the system, that in no way, shape or form has anything to do with crane operation, the crane operator does what he wants to do," Bittner explains.
It is not a black box or data logger. "It is completely different in concept and design and it is not meant to be used in that way," Bittner continues.
"Primarily, this is the first hybrid TCU (telematics control unit) - meaning GSM and satellite device - to be implemented in the heavy equipment industry. All before were GSM-only or satellite-only. This is the first one that is putting them both together," Blair says.
Another first, according to Blair, is the ability to extract information from multiple data elements based on an application provided over the air.
"We tell it, for instance, to look the pressures from two particular hydraulic pumps and, when the pressure goes above a certain level, start counting. When the pressure goes below this level stop counting, add up that time and give it to me as a percentage of the engine hours recorded to that point."
That can show, for example, how long the drive has been engaged on a particular crane as a percentage of engine hours.
"Another of the significant industry firsts is that we are going to be the first people to use a global SIM [subscriber identity module] card for GSM communication," says John Bittner.
Other manufacturers of construction machinery have had telematics for years. A difference, however, is that earthmovers tend to be moved around the world less than cranes so those manufacturers went with GSM and a local supplier.
"With Crane Star if you move the crane around from one region or country to another you won't have to change provider. The SIM card is programmed into the TCU and will give you connectivity on a global basis.
"It is what makes us different. We recognised that we simply didn't want to become cell phone technicians. It automatically selects the network or band," Bittner explains.
Satellite is more expensive than GSM so, to accommodate that, just certain data points default to satellite - important things. "The TCU is smart enough to pick and choose which ones," says Bittner.
If there is no GSM or satellite connection reports are queued until connectivity is re-established. It is designed to listen to the data points and execute what it has been told to do in its configuration, whether it is an alert that needs to be sent right away or if it is something sent periodically.
"We have control over all of those different variables. Even when it is deployed in the field we can change those parameters over the air," Blair explains.
The system is designed around several factors. One is that data can be sent periodically. "You might want to trigger a certain function on a certain data element that comes across the CAN bus.
"You can trigger a report based on an event, you can trigger a counter or a timer to start based on an event that is held in memory and set at the time it is supposed to go. It is all configurable over the air," Blair explains.
The system is designed to be flexible for expansion and for future applications. "The applications that we have on board right now are just a small limited snapshot of what the overall system is capable of.
"We built in the ability to expand for the future for different models that may be coming out in the future, for also telemetering different pieces of data from existing cranes to pull new pieces of information out of the crane," Blair says.
The TCU can combine multiple data elements with mathematical functions to produce a new piece of information that was not available directly from the CAN bus. "It has the ability for us to programme it to do other functions besides listen on the CAN bus to extract information from the data that is available," Blair explains.
"For those reasons I say it is the most extensive OEM product that I have seen in my last ten years," Blair concludes.
"We wanted to make sure that whatever we used hardware-wise was industrial strength. These boxes are sealed at the factory to IP67 [International Protection rating against the ingress of dust and moisture]. You can take the box and put it under water for 48 hours - we have done it and it still works.
"It is the type of thing people are always worried about, how rugged and reliable is it. We have done shake tests, we've tested it from -40 to +80 degrees Centigrade," says Bittner.
For protection some critical components in the TCU are epoxy potted and the box itself is sealed and cannot be opened in the field. It is filled with nitrogen to help balance extremes of temperature.
"If you are in the desert, for example, it can be very hot in the day but very cold at night. It really helps with the heat conductance inside," Blair explains.
"One thing competitor-wise is that you don't really have any other OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] that are doing it today. They are not doing pure telematics and remote asset monitoring installed at the factory.
"There are some people out there on a regional basis who are doing some telematics installations. A lot of them are doing track and trace which is the basic entry level where you get engine hours on and off and you get GPS location and that is all you get," says Bittner.
"Crane Star will do those functions but also the fact that we do listen to signals and messages coming across the CAN bus, that's what makes it different.
"From an OEM standpoint there is no other OEM out there and from a competitor standpoint, of the aftermarket type product, the one thing is that we have a proprietary CAN bus so we know what the signals are and they don't," Bittner says.
"I really don't know of anybody today that we compete with on a global scale that is doing anything like what we are doing," Bittner concludes.
Crane Star has been prototyped and is in development. In the third quarter of 2009 the system is intended to go into production as standard equipment. By then it will also be available as a kit containing everything needed.
The TCU will be identical for all cranes but the wiring harness, connectors and mountings will vary slightly for different models and crane types.
"When we go to production with it in the third quarter  it will be free, it will come with new cranes as standard equipment and communications costs will be covered for three years," Bittner explains.