New technology: quantum leap

By Christian Shelton22 March 2021

The steady saturation of technology into our working lives took a quantum leap forward during the Covid crisis as lockdown restrictions force many off-site (desk) workers in the construction industry to communicate via online video communications platforms.

Florida, USA-based company A1A, which is well-known for its crane lift planning software 3D Lift Plan, developed a ‘Holiday Party’ version of its VR Conflux, a virtual meeting platform for large groups, in time for Christmas. VR Conflux-Holiday Party is designed to offer an alternative for companies that won’t be able to meet in person for their annual end-of-year celebrations due to Covid. “Team-building is more important than ever,” explains Tawnia Weiss, president of A1A Software. “VR Conflux-Holiday Party gives employers a way to engage with employees who are separated by distance.”

This technology is not just being used for team-building, though. In September 2020, A1A assisted the Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association with holding the 2020 Crane & Rigging Workshop in virtual reality. And KHL Group, the publisher of this magazine, utilised similar technology to continue providing leading events, such as the very first digital ESTA 2020 followed by the virtual TCNA 2020 – which were both great successes.

Palfinger tested ten students in China from Austria

Austrian loader crane manufacturer Palfinger, in conjunction with WIFI International – which exports Austrian educational standards, even used real-time virtual monitoring via secure and stable data connections to remotely test ten students in China for their welding technician certification, in October 2020. The exam committee was at Palfinger’s Salzburg/Bergheim headquarters in Austria while the students were in Pudong. To monitor the practical exams, Palfinger used its own SmartEye audio-visual livestream technology, plus additional mounted and mobile cameras so that examiners could make assessments in real time and communicate directly with the apprentices on site. The oral exams were conducted via an online conference system.

Crane communication

The need for multiple workers to communicate in real time is a reflection of what is starting to happen with machines on the job site itself. French crane anti-collision specialist AMCS Technologies, for example, has extended the functionality of its latest anti-collision and zoning system software, DCS 61-S, to include collision avoidance between tower cranes and mobile cranes.

This means the software can detect, in real time, the movements of mobile cranes (telescopic or fixed jib) on a job site and integrate this with the control of tower cranes. The system calculates in real time, and in 3D, the distances between each element of the cranes as well as the movement speeds. If it thinks a collision will occur it intervenes on the tower crane’s control mechanisms to slow and then stop it at a pre-configured distance from the mobile machine. This is backed up with an alert on the operator’s screen and an audio alarm.

The cranes communicate their information via radio, and the coordinates of the mobile machines and their angle of slewing are obtained using GPS.

The system is currently being used on the Grand Paris Express construction site in Paris, France, where a mobile crane and two tower cranes have been fitted with it.

AMCS’s DCS 61-S is being used on the Grand Paris Express construction site, in Paris, France

Incorporating automation into crane operation can also increase productivity, maximise the uptime and performance of operations, improve product quality, optimise labour, and increase energy efficiency claims lifting and motion control technology specialist Columbus McKinnon. The company has two new automated products under its Magnetek brand.

The first is the Intelli-Lift System which is designed to detect load misalignments or snag conditions. It alerts operators with a visible and audible warning before a dangerous situation occurs. Through manual or automatic adjustment, Intelli-Lift assists operators in centring a crane’s bridge and trolley over the load before it can be hoisted. The other is the Intelli-Protect which creates no fly zones – specifically two protection boundaries to limit or stop crane operation.

Increasing safety is the focus of Greer Intelligence blind spot multi-direction object monitoring tool from Oklahoma, USA-based winch, hoist and electronic monitoring systems manufacturer TWG. Aimed at the industrial construction, utility, forestry, and marine markets it provides crane and heavy equipment operators a real-time 360-degree view of their job site surroundings. The company claims the technology, which can utilise up to 12 cameras, can increase crane and transport safety.

Automation is a USP of hook specialist Elebia, a maker of lifting clamps and lifting hooks. Its products are designed to increase productivity, enhance safety and minimise risks in the workplace. Its automated lifting solutions are designed to be fail-safe, meaning it is impossible to drop a suspended load, says Elebia.

The i4500 variable outrigger system for Unic Cranes by RaycoWylie

Automatic detection is also a key function of the i4500 variable outrigger system for Unic Cranes Europe’s variable outrigger model mini spider cranes. The rated capacity limiter and indicator system was made by Canadian crane monitoring systems specialist RaycoWylie and it is designed to help the crane operator safely achieve the maximum capacity for any given configuration within the lifting zone. The system automatically detects the position of the outriggers and a graphic image shows safe boom positions using colours and quadrants. The system can also be programmed with work area limitations to avoid obstacles.

Working remotely

Maximising efficiency is an objective of the Demag IC-1 Remote telematics system which was officially launched at the end of October 2020 by Japanese crane manufacturer Tadano, which owns the Demag brand. Tadano claims IC-1 Remote can maximise efficiency, uptime and, soon, provide online maintenance support. IC-1 Remote is available for all new Demag all terrain cranes up to 300 tonnes (331 US tons) and selected Demag crawler cranes. Demag is also offering IC-1 Remote as a retrofit solution for selected older models.

The IC-1 system consists of a radio unit with a SIM card connected to a central cloud server. The crane data is transferred to this server and stored there. This enables crane data to be accessed from anywhere in the world. A video of the system can be seen here:

International lifting and transport specialist Mammoet is also exploring the possibilities of remote operation, particularly in the way its staff work. “The change in heavy lifting can be profound, spending less time and carbon dioxide on travelling, and restoring certainty to projects by lessening the effects of border closures and social distancing measures,” says Mammoet CEO Paul van Gelder.

Remote operation is also being developed by Japanese crane manufacturer Kobelco Construction Machinery Co. under the ‘K-DIVE’ moniker. In October Kobelco announced it is collaborating with geospatial specialist Leica Geosystems to develop integrated 2D and 3D machine control solutions which can be operated remotely. The technology is first being trialled on excavators before being extended to other construction applications.

Reality stars

Augmented reality is another new technology being used in the lifting and specialized transport sphere.

Jumbo’s augmented reality Holo system saved time locating shimming points

Netherlands headquartered operator of heavy lift vessels Jumbo used its augmented reality Holo system for the first time for a client. It was used onboard the heavy lift vessel Jumbo Vision to precisely locate 156 predetermined shim points for a load weighing 1,255 tonnes.

“Compared to carrying out this prep work manually, using our own AR technology is not only more accurate, it is also much faster,” explains Tijmen Bregt, Jumbo project manager. “Using a Holo system, our engineer was finished in about two hours, compared to one whole day using traditional methods.”

Artificial intelligence

Australia-headquartered heavy lift crane specialist The Men From Marr’s (Marr Contracting) has collaborated with Australian tech start-up BuildAI to fast-track artificial intelligence (AI) on work sites with the stated aim of “taking the construction industry into the future”.

The Men From Marr’s has taken a minority stake in the start-up and its cranes will use BuildAI technology, a cloud-based AI software system that automatically reports construction progress. Marr’s managing director Simon Marr said it would allow Marr’s and its clients to use real-time data to improve overall project outcomes at a time when businesses needed to think differently about how to drive productivity and efficiency. BuildAI uses cameras to monitor cranes and the movement of materials and workers, and then relays that data to an AI system which crunches the numbers in real-time onto a cloud-based dashboard.

NFT is using RFID to keep track of its assets

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates-based tower crane distributor NFT Specialized in Tower Crane (NFT) says that if the Covid-19 pandemic has done anything, it’s to accelerate the need for businesses to embrace digital transformation. The company has been working with a UK-based company and its UAE local representative to track its large fleet of tower cranes using Radio Frequency Identification Devices (RFID). All tower cranes, construction hoists and their respective parts and accessories are tagged and then linked to an asset tracking and management software. This in turn is then integrated with NFT’s software solution for inventory management and asset evaluation. “Having a fleet of tower cranes spread across 300,000 square metres calls for an automated way of tracking our assets,” explains plant manager Amer Sneij.

Technology, by its very nature, has always evolved rapidly yet, in comparison, us humans are slow to change our behaviours. The Corona virus, however, has forced society to look for new ways of doing things. “The old way of doing business is gradually moving into the background, and new ways are entering our market and our organisation,” observers Mammoet’s van Gelder. “The coronavirus is not the main cause for certain changes but it does accelerate them… Digitisation in the field isn’t just about keeping the business going in times of travel restrictions: it has the power to transform work for the better.” 

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