Industry 4.0 is on everyone’s lips. Even the crane control sector has seen rapid change, as shown by our frequent blog posts reporting on new developments in the field. In this article, we would like to take a broader perspective and report on the current state of affairs in the development of control devices for cranes. This issue is particularly exciting because of the increasing mentions of what are being called “smart cranes”. These are cranes that are manoeuvred through the factory by a computer and are in constant communication with the entire facility. They contrast with the classic crane control devices, which we might refer to as “simple”, that we have known for decades. Do these classic models still represent the standard in crane control, or have smart cranes finally found their way into our warehouses?
The “simple” crane – will it become less important?
Crane control devices that are operated under a crane driver’s watchful eye, are not part of the Industry 4.0 vision. Until now, it has been possible to control the crane by hand in an accompanying control enclosure, or from the ground with a cable or remote control. Since the crane control is fully dependent on orders given by humans instead of autonomous communication between the crane its surroundings, these crane control devices can hardly be called intelligent. Nonetheless, this kind of control also has its advantages, even if it is expected that crane control devices will continue to develop in an ever more modern direction. In the next section, we’ll explain which of today’s control devices can be called intelligent, and to what extent.
From intelligent crane control to smart cranes
Instead of controlling the crane by hand using a cable and push-buttons, many of today’s control devices are equipped with wireless technology, allowing the crane operator to manoeuvre the crane from a safe distance using a joystick. Advantages of this technology include increased safety and an improved overview for the crane operator thanks to even more complete control by the person at the controls. However, this kind of technology is still not considered to be an element of smart cranes, since action by a human is still crucial to control the crane.
Even today, in addition to remote control for cranes, fully automated or semi-automated cranes are also possible, depending on requirements. With software support – like the SPS software package we use at ALTMANN – full automation of the crane can be achieved using previous programmes. Our in-house programming team can use this software to implement highly complex systems to automate various crane control modules. This article lists the modules that can be automated in this way.
There are many advantages of an automated crane system. One advantage is the fact that the company gains a wealth of data that can be used for the further networking of the entire warehouse. Furthermore, by reducing personnel requirements, increased efficiency can be achieved in logistics operations. Last but not least, the potential for networking in the warehouse operations can create an interface for warehouse management, meaning that free capacity does not cause unnecessary inefficiencies, but rather intelligent synergies – the epitome of the smart crane.
Full speed ahead for Industry 4.0 – and for crane control, too
The above points show us that Industry 4.0 is in full swing. Today’s modern crane control already involves automated communication between the crane and its surroundings. This technology offers numerous advantages, but it should be adapted to the circumstances of each individual company. If you’d like advice on the possibility of integrating a smart crane into your value-creation chain, our ALTMANN experts will be happy to help you.
Side note: Industry 4.0 – what is a smart factory?
After the steam engine, assembly line, electronics and IT, so-called “smart factories” are set to bring about the fourth industrial revolution in Germany. The distinguishing feature of these intelligent factories is the complete digital networking of machines, systems, logistics and products in a system. This also includes crane systems in the warehouse.
Automated communication within a company’s infrastructure – the “Internet of Things” – should be applied over the entire life cycle of a product: from the product idea to development and production, as well as use and maintenance. Even recycling is taken into account in this process. One important aspect of smart factories is that production and logistics processes of different companies with overlapping value-creation chains can be interlinked with one another in order to benefit from synergies. German industry can expect the following benefits:
- Cost minimisation
Early recognition of available resources based on real-time information will increase efficiency in production and storage.
- Individual production and flexibility
Infrastructure that is networked between companies along common sections of the value-creation chain should make it easier to cater to individual customer requests.
- Competitiveness of German production sites
Extensive collaboration throughout the value-creation chain should ensure the competitiveness of industries that are so vital for Germany for decades to come.