There is a growing movement in the hoist sector towards wireless control systems

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 The advent of wireless solutions in the last decade has seen both industrial and consumer technology move towards ‘hands-free’ and more portable products. At a domestic level, the benefits are clear, as such technology can be used by individuals in the home to live more conveniently and flexibly.

Likewise, for operators of overhead cranes, wireless solutions—or at least solutions with fewer wires—are now becoming more commonplace, with control systems for lifting equipment that use radio frequencies providing a number of potential advantages.

Jim Kluck, global product manager for Magnetek-brand controls and automation systems at Columbus McKinnon, a US-based lifting and motion control specialist, confirms that the hoist sector is moving away from systems that require extensive wiring.

“There’s definitely been a push in the last few years to simplify controls and streamline wiring by, for example, utilising a point I/O block that transmits wired I/O through a single Ethernet cable, along with the Ethernet connections to drives and sensors.

“By reducing the amount of wiring, troubleshooting becomes easier for operators, who no longer have to dig through a bundle of wires to find the problem.”

One knock-on effect of fewer wires is said to be reduced downtime, lower labour costs and smaller panel size. “There is also a cost benefit for operators, as they’ll be using less copper wiring for inputs and outputs,” adds Kluck, who says that crane users are increasingly using radio-controlled systems to stand further away from loads. “As a result, we are seeing more and more demand for these types of systems with wireless connectivity, although operators still like to have a pendant for back-up.”

Radio-controlled systems can additionally simplify and streamline operations by reducing the amount of devices in a production environment that are liable to fail, while also decreasing the amount of technology that is more likely to suffer from wear and tear.

Headquartered in Sweden, but with a number of international sites, Tele Radio recently supplied radio control systems for 18 electric overhead travelling cranes at Nortek Air Solutions’s upgraded air handling equipment manufacturing facility in Québec, Canada.

Tele Radio provided each crane with three Panther receivers: one for the bridge, one for hoist/trolley 1, and the third for hoist/trolley 2.

All of the operations are controlled by a single transmitter, with the cranes used by Nortek to lift a range of loads— including custom ventilators, coils and air handlers—which are manufactured at a recently expanded 200,000 sq ft facility in Montreal.

“A key benefit of our radio-controlled systems over traditional solutions is that we’ve eliminated festooning,” explains Miguel Tellez, managing director at Tele Radio. “This means that no cables need to be installed to control the functions that are handled by each independent receiver.

“Consequently, the system is more cost-effective, because festooning can be quite expensive. In addition, having no cables means that there is no wear and tear with those cables.”

According to Tellez, having just one transmitter for each crane also allows quick and easy part replacement in case of break downs. “In a facility where there are numerous cranes, each with one of our transmitters installed, a spare transmitter of the same family can be used to replace a damaged one,” he continues.

“So if there are 50 cranes, one spare Tele Radio Panther transmitter can be used to replace a faulty system. With most of our main competitors, a spare transmitter is needed for every crane in the facility.”

Andreas Bahls, sales manager at Tele Radio, adds that the Panther system is easy to set up and operate, while it also benefits from working at 2.4 GHz, which enables the use of hundreds of systems in the same area. “Our success with this type of solution means that crane manufacturers and operators now trust wireless systems such as these,” he explains.

Bahls notes that the Panther system can be adapted to almost all standard overhead crane applications, and one transmitter can operate four separate cranes independently, while multiple transmitters can be allowed to communicate with the same receiver.

Installation of systems such as Panther is usually carried out by the OEM or end user, although Tele Radio can provide assistance with special requirements.

For the Nortek project, Canadian Stahl CraneSystems distributor CanStahl installed the 18 single-girder EOT cranes, 15 of which work in tandem with two hoists. In North America, indoor cranes are usually fitted with wire rope hoists but, in this instance, chain hoists were used to lift loads in tandem operation without any sideways movement of the hook.

A total of 35 new chain hoists with a lifting capacity between 2,000 and 5,000kg were installed; the spans of the bridge cranes are up to 66 ft (20.12m), with a lifting height of individual hoists between 19.7 ft (6m) and 26.2 ft (8m). All cranes are fitted with 12-button Tele Radio remote controls.

In general terms, Tellez says the North American market for control systems has changed significantly in the last two decades. “When I moved to the US from Spain 15 years ago, it felt a little bit like I was stepping back in time, as remote controls used to be a luxury item,” he explains.

“However, as the safety and reliability of remote controls improved, and the cost of high-end solutions came down, applications that require cable control have gradually disappeared.”

Comfort and increased ease-of-use for operators are two of the benefits being touted by HBC-radiomatic, a supplier of radio remote controls for cranes and machinery based in Germany, which has recently unveiled a number of technologies, including a completely renovated version of its Spectrum range of controllers.

There is a growing movement in the hoist sector towards wireless control systems