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Crane Automation: Benefits and Considerations

Mark W. Laughlin
Regional Product Manager - Coke Handling

Many material-handling operations don’t require crane automation, but automated cranes offer benefits well worth consideration in certain environments and types of work. These include:

  • Unpleasant and dangerous environments. Crane automation offers the benefit of removing humans from such working conditions.

There is a large-scale biomass power plant in Minnesota that turns turkey waste into energy. Excrement, feathers and feed that fall under the birds’ housing are collected and dumped into boilers for conversion to electricity.  This facility uses automated cranes to do the dirty work. Similarly, garbage-to-energy operations often use automated cranes.

Handling and processing green petroleum coke, a byproduct of oil refining, is a good example of how automated cranes increase crane safety by reducing human exposure to hazardous materials and environments. Coke dust, which is abrasive and flammable, poses a health risk. This risk can be reduced by automating the process and moving the operator from the crane cab to a control room equipped with the same controls available in the cab.

The more we automate various functions, the more we reduce operators’ exposure to dangerous or unpleasant conditions.

  • Highly repetitive processes. Automated cranes have no trouble coping with the monotony of repetitive work, such as assembly. They keep on working without distraction or fatigue and reduce the risk of accidents. Eliminating that risk is another important step in improving crane safety.
  • Storage and retrieval of materials, products and containers. In warehouse and container yard applications, crane automation increases accuracy and efficiency of stacking and retrieving items. Automated cranes know right where to find things. In addition they optimize storage space and logically organize storage based on shipping schedules.

Degrees of Crane Automation
Even though crane automation offers benefits in situations such as these, I find that some crane users prefer maintaining human control over equipment in their facility. This can be accomplished through semi-automation, in which an operator stays at the controls to override automated operation – for instance, to interrupt a pre-programmed crane path.

In addition, many cranes operate manually as software programs run in the background to automatically keep certain aspects of crane movement in check, such as sway or skew. In other words, crane automation is not just one solution. It’s a whole range of ways to improve safety, reliability and productivity.

For help identifying the crane automation solutions that are best for your particular applications, contact Konecranes today.