Facetime: DAVID COMIONO, vice president and general manager, EMH, talks with Modern Metals about how to decide whether smart technologies are a smart investment.

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April 2023- DAVID COMIONO, vice president and general manager, EMH, talks with Modern Metals about how to decide whether smart technologies are a smart investment.

Q: Are smart overhead cranes worth the expense?

A: According to the Williams Office for Information Technology, smart technology is the integration of computing and telecommunication capabilities in just about any technology that did not previously have them. It’s the ability to communicate and work with other networked technologies and, through this ability, to allow automated or adaptive functionality as well as remote accessibility. Today’s basic standard overhead crane typically includes two-speed lifting and hoisting with variable frequency drives for trolleys and bridges. Adding an overload device for safety is usually standard, with a push-button controller traveling in a separate track alongside the bridge. To purchase and install a basic single girder 10-ton overhead crane, a company might expect to pay in the range of $35-40,000. Including today’s smart crane capabilities might easily double the cost, and that does not include the additional cost of training employees to be proficient in new smart operations and maintenance.

Q: Let’s break it down: Are smarter end-of-travel limits worth it?

A: You can prevent an overhead crane from running into an end stop with a simple electromechanical switch. Today’s smart technology, using photo eyes or lasers, allows an operator to program exactly where the crane should stop. However, this technology also requires a higher level of sophistication from shop floor personnel. Is this capability worth the extra cost? For smaller companies with trained operators, probably not. A large company with multiple cranes and operators might need smarter capabilities.

Q: What about smarter overload devices?

A: Every overhead crane should have a device to avoid accidental overload. With simple and standard versions readily available, this can be accomplished with a basic mechanical device that utilizes a simple switch and springs. When overloads are sensed, the unit simply shuts the hoist or crane off. Today’s smart cranes incorporate load cells and weighing devices instead of a simple switch to maximize accuracy. Using them allows accurate programming of different load capabilities in different locations. A digital display can also be added to see how much weight is picked up, along with a programmable logic controller to program and control how much load is picked up in each area and from each location. Finally, companies can take things to another level by introducing a GPS and/or a smartphone app. Each level of intelligence requires more employee capability, including possibly an IT expert to maintain the system.

Q: Finally what about smart anti-collision, anti-load-sway and load spotting devices?

A: Even if a company has more than one crane on a runway, standard crane capabilities are probably all that’s needed. That’s because many of today’s standard cranes incorporate a simple switching device to prevent cranes from colliding. For more sophistication, and to keep cranes apart by a specified distance, today’s smart cranes add laser devices. Are they worth it? For most applications, probably not. On the other hand, companies with structural building issues, or with other impediments in their building, might find the additional costs warranted. More smart cranes are incorporating intelligent sensors to control load sway. While this sophisticated innovation automates the process, it also takes a certain amount of control away from the operator. Smart new load spotting capabilities introduce lighting arrays that shine on prearranged areas so that employees know not to be in that area when the crane is running. They can also be used to illuminate areas with blocked vision not easily seen by the operator. Smart lasers can pinpoint an exact spot on the floor where the operator should set the load down. A well-trained operator probably does not need this capability, however, and your company probably does not need the additional expense.

Q: What types of smart technology does EMH offer?

A: EMH can offer as much crane intelligence as a customer might want and is in the process of packaging those features as standard options. This is especially important as smart costs continue to decrease and reliability continues to improve. It’s also important to note that just as smart technology becomes more important, trained labor and qualified technicians are resources that are becoming more difficult to maintain. A thoughtful approach with your supplier is crucial. Just how sophisticated does your overhead equipment need to be? Purchase only what you really need and can support. Remember, many of the smart features can be added later.

EMH, Engineered Material Handling, Valley City, Ohio, designs, manufactures and sells a complete line of overhead material handling equipment solutions for loads of 25 lbs. to 300 tons and is ISO 9001:2008 certified.