Remote controls: Safe distance
By Alex Dahm09 May 2016
Three key trends in the radio remote control sector at the moment are safety, customisation and the display of data and other information. Alex Dahm reports
Safety is usually mentioned first when it comes to improvements in radio remote control systems. On a machine controlled via a radio remote control the transmitter and receiver are vital components in a system that has to be reliable in all respects because it is the one link between the operator and the machine.
One way that a remote control can improve safety is that it allows an operator to work away from a danger zone. Klaus Meissner, product integrity director at Terex Cranes, says, “We have remote controls on our cranes, especially crawler cranes, which are controlled by the IC-1 control system. It helps during the assembly of a crane, making it easier and safer. We can see remote controls being used more and more.”
In addition to reliable hardware, a simple and easy to understand operator interface is vital to help ensure an accurate and comfortable, and therefore safe, operation. While this is largely down to the function controls, including joysticks and push buttons, there are other elements. Increasingly, radio transmitters for crane control include a display screen where the operator can view and monitor data and the status of the machine. A visual display of the work site from a crane-mounted camera is also a possibility with some systems. As with many things, the choice of and presentation style of information is linked to safety.
Eva Olipitz, executive manager at German manufacturer Abitron, says the main concern is to differentiate and provide the data in a reasonable manner while putting the safety of the operator first. Information on graphic displays needs to be visible from all angles and in all temperature zones otherwise the safety of the operator is not fully guaranteed, Olipitz says.
From Italian manufacturer Autec is a new 4.3 inch (110 mm) sun-readable colour display on the Dynamic Series transmitters. It displays 256 colours, has a 480 x 272-pixel resolution, six programmable soft-keys and viewing angle up to 130 degrees. The programmable display offers many graphical and data representations, says Andrea Serventi, Autec spokesperson.
A configurable colour display features on the new HBC micron 7 transmitter for overhead cranes. Data available to view includes load weight and hook height. It is designed to have a clear and organised display of fault messages and warnings to help the operator react quickly, which provides additional safety, explains Alexander Hemming, HBC-radiomatic head of product management. The customer chooses which data is displayed, there is a range of colours and individual graphics are also possible.
With an HBC system the operator navigates through the screens using the new yuCON mini joystick with two axes and a select button. The joystick allows additional, software-based functions (softkeys) in the display.
Also from HBC is the Photon, a video camera mounted on the crane, or in another suitable location, that supplies real-time, colour footage on the radio control transmitter’s display. Users can keep an eye on the task at hand at all times, even when positioned where direct visibility is obstructed. Depending on the application, using multiple video cameras simultaneously is also possible, says Hemming.
Different again is the light emitting diode (LED) panel display on Ikusi’s Ikontrol range. The panel on the IK3 and IK4 transmitters has a maximum of 12 LEDs to give feedback in a simple visual fashion so that the user knows how the operation is proceeding. The LEDs can be on or off and either red, orange or green. The face plate design and the number and disposition of the LEDs is 100 % customisable, says Raul Martin, product manager at the Spanish manufacturer.
Ikusi offers a TFT colour display to indicate feedback from the machine. It uses CANopen to visualise information from a PLC. The text format information is shown in 4x20 characters, with or without LEDs, or in 2x10 characters with LEDs. The new display also offers the possibility to present information graphically using different icons.
Magnetek’s Mini-PGT transmitter has an LCD screen to display detailed feedback. Applications for the pistol grip transmitter include telescopic cranes with multipole proportional valves.
Another part of the safety element is to prevent inadvertent and unauthorised use of the equipment controlled by the system. HBC has a new concept for a plant operating company to protect its machinery from unauthorised use, also, to efficiently organise access rights to its machines, and to collect and evaluate operating data in detail. The main components of the concept include user identification via a merlin TUC (Transmitter User Card) and the HBC data logger.
For radio control systems with user identification, the operator holds their assigned merlin TUC card next to the transmitter to switch it on. The card serves as a key and can be individually configured. As an example, merlin TUC allows safety-relevant functions to be released or blocked for different users.
A fundamental safety requirement is the reliability of the radio signal communication between transmitter and receiver. Bi-directional radio is said to allow a seamless communication even in the most difficult working sites. Autec’s radio link adapts to its environment by scanning in advance and dynamically changing the used frequencies in the confines of the permitted band. The process is repeated automatically several times a second. It makes the radio link more secure without needing to use frequency mapping and allows a fast and precise response for the proportional controls as well as for the data returning from the machine, says Serventi at Autec.
Ikusi has improved its Automatic Frequency Agility function that locates better quality frequencies without requiring any input from the user. It is more selective than the previous one when locating new frequencies, Martin says. In a similar vein Magnetek offers its Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) on many of its radio controls to increase signal reliability. Magnetek also offers multiple frequency options, including 400 and 900 MHz, and 2.4 GHz bands. A high power version can also be specified for long range applications in harsh environments. Scanreco’s new transmitter operates in the globally licence-free 2.4 GHz frequency band and has an operating range of up to 300 metres. “If an extended operating range is required, an extra transmitter can act as a repeater for the radio link,” explains Claes Ulvefeldt, Scanreco VP for marketing and sales.
Many systems can be relatively standard and are basically mass-produced and available off the shelf. Certain minor changes can be made to a unit’s configuration but, increasingly often, manufacturers are finding that the requested specific custom features need a special design. Eva Olipitz, for example, says Abitron is geared up for this by offering competitive pricing and a delivery time that is a maximum of four weeks.
Offering more models and different configurations is helping drive an increase in the use of remote controls, Serventi says. For industrial lifting applications Autec introduced the LK Neo push button transmitter. It was conceived and designed to provide a large set of functions available through a choice of actuators and configurations in a weight-balanced solution, Serventi continues. LK Neo has a stop function that complies with the EN ISO 13849-1 standard, dual-band technology (434 - 915 MHz), up to 12 buttons and in versions with 6 or 10 buttons, plus a customisable 1.8 inch colour display.
Martin says Ikusi is also focusing the development of its new products in a way that makes them more specific for each application.
The Scanreco Rocket Flex has three receivers to choose from to suit different machine interfaces, from digital signals to CANopen. It is a hand-held device with digital (on/off) push buttons not for use on, for example, loader cranes with proportional hydraulics. Applications include smaller cranes, recovery trucks and winches. It is a new market for the Scandinavian manufacturer.
US manufacturer Magnetek says its Mini-MBT is one of the smallest and lightest belly box type transmitters on the market. It fits in an operator’s hands, similar to today’s handheld gaming controllers. The designers have managed to incorporate capabilities from larger units, including toggle switches, potentiometers, graphic display, two-way feedback, and a fully proportional control option, Magnetek says. Applications include loader cranes and stick boom cranes.
On the operations side radio controls can increase efficiency. In contrast to controlling a crane from the cabin, the operator can also sling a load, by himself, without needing assistance. When the crane is idle for a time the operator can work on other things without having to climb down from the cabin. Wireless controls reduce the amount of unnecessary walking because the operator does not need to get over to the crane to move it using a cable control, cab or other fixed station.
Radio technology also enhances possibilities in that, for example, simultaneous control of two cranes can be done with one transmitter to transport long or bulky goods.
Operating efficiency is improved by HBC-radiomatic with its Continuous Power Supply (CPS) where the operator can change the battery in the transmitter without interrupting the power supply. In addition, the new generation of HBC radio controls uses Lithium-ion batteries for longer running time with less time out for changing or charging.
Data logging continues to be a topical subject in the wider crane industry and radio remote control systems can play their part. The HBC data logger allows collection of a wide range of operating data from the radio controller. It includes the amount of time spent engaging movement commands or the system activation time. Users can then make use of this information for planning purposes such as upcoming service work.
New type from Tele Radio
Swedish manufacturer Tele Radio has launched what it describes as a whole new type of radio remote control.
It has updated its Tiger industrial remote control system with a SIL3/PLe rated tablet display transmitter. The new Tiger tablet transmitter is compatible with all existing receivers in the Tiger product family.
It consists of a tablet control interface combined with an analogue button transmitter TG-T14-7 combined in a tough shell. The tablet display can show important system data, camera feeds or another layer of control interface. The tablet can connect with an existing programmable logic controller or PC via wi-fi. A built in remote control will connect with the receiver by radio.
The tablet can be used with any app or web-browser solution so end users can integrate any previous digital solutions into the tablet controller. It will be available in 433 and 915 MHz and with Apple and Android app platforms.