Improving safety in crane operations is a constant goal for the industry. The development of a wireless load controlling system demonstrates it is possible to eliminate personnel from being in close proximity to a suspended load.
Premier global construction company Multiplex first became interested in Roborigger in 2017, when engineering company TENSA Equipment approached them with a prototype for a wireless load controlling device that promised to improve crane safety.
Working on the principle that if people are not near the loads, they cannot be injured, Roborigger showed they could eliminate the need for dogmen to use taglines or to be in close proximity to a suspended load by controlling and orientating the load remotely.
According to Multiplex CEO John Flecker, it was an idea that resonated with Multiplex and they quickly saw its potential to be a game-changer for safety.
“Our overarching strategy is to be safer by design and focus on critical risks, which Roborigger aligns with perfectly by eliminating the need for workers to be in proximity of a high risk activity,” he explains.
“We could immediately see a significant opportunity in partnering with TENSA in the research and development of Roborigger.”
Roborigger Managing Director, Derick Markwell, explains that the collaboration with Multiplex has been fundamental to Roborigger’s development.
“Back in Perth we built a little prototype of our Roborigger and took it to Multiplex. We showed them a concept, which, I must admit, was pretty average at that stage. They said ‘keep going, make it work and we think there is a market for it. We would use it.’
“So, we had another crack, built one that worked, and demonstrated it. Multiplex were impressed and became an official development partner.”
The partnership has seen the innovative Roborigger technology successfully trialed and launched to market, with Roborigger Pty Ltd now set up as a separate business entity and the Roborigger product being used on a number of construction sites around the country.
A new standard for crane safety
Standing underneath or in close proximity to a lift is still a common, and in some cases, unavoidable industry practice in construction – and one that creates risks, and a number of safety incidents and near misses each year.
Particularly when performing difficult maneuvering operations such as lowering a load deep into a structure, it’s common to see a number of workers positioned near the load and manually guiding it into position, often requiring additional dogmen and specific access systems to be provided.
Roborigger takes a new approach, uses inertial and gyroscopic forces to rotate and control the load wirelessly using a handheld remote.
It also utilises Internet of Things (IoT) technology to track logistical information and productivity data, enabling a transparent view of crane operations.
Roborigger originally developed the technology to address the challenging task of installing wind turbines offshore in the North Sea where they are currently unable to install the blades when the wind was greater than 12 knots. Back in Perth they realised that the worldwide tower crane market was the one to look at first.
“As we spoke to more people in the industry, we realised that safety was the key concern,” Markwell says. “As a result, Roborigger evolved from being a device that holds the load steady, to a device that could rotate and orient loads remotely and hold them in a specific position.”
The customer needs also progressed from having a device that would hold a load in a fixed position to device that allows dogmen to rotate the load via a handheld remote control at a safe distance.
A key element to the Roborigger-Multiplex partnership is the engagement and consultation with the site workers. A 12-month trial was designed to allow reasonable time and opportunity for dogmen (the eventual users of Roborigger) to use and trial Roborigger in real construction lifting operations.
This was initially carried out in the yards of local crane contractor FG Cranes, allowing data gathering, worksite observation and collection of feedback on the usability, performance and any potential challenges associated with Roborigger. The process saw significant changes made to the control and orientation method, and the development of a far simpler user interface.
Multiplex Regional HSE Manager Darren Ridley says the engagement process was critical for both parties.
“It allowed the Roborigger team to focus on building Roborigger units with the safety benefits and functionality for our business operations, while also ensuring the device was easy to learn and use and would be accepted by the end users once deployed on site,” says Ridley.
“As a result, the feedback from dogmen on our sites has been really positive. We’re also hearing feedback on safety benefits we didn’t initially anticipate. For example, dogmen reporting a noticeable improvement to the level of fatigue and physical stress experienced during the workday due to Roborigger doing the majority of the ‘manual handling’ rather than having to physically manipulate suspended loads via tag lines.”
Once both parties were confident that the prototype was ready to be tested on site, the trial extended to the first commercial use of Roborigger on the New Museum for WA site in 2019. Since then, the device has been used on some of Multiplex’s most complex projects, including Sydney’s Quay Quarter Tower and 388 George Street. The latter project was located on one of Sydney’s busiest intersections, with Roborigger helping to significantly reduce the risk with traffic while building within a tight construction zone.
It has also been used to aid construction of the iconic starburst feature at Australia 108 in Melbourne, now the southern hemisphere’s highest residences.
Constructing the starburst required the installation of its golden external façade panels at 210 metres above street level, each weighing up to eight tonnes, The load rotation control system stabilised the long and heavy panels during the lift to the 88th floor, allowing riggers to orientate the panels from a safe distance during the lifting operations.
“It was a challenging and complex task, but Roborigger helped our Melbourne team to achieve the installation safety and efficiently,” says Ridley.
The use on site has also emphasised the efficiency benefits of the device, with Roborigger not only making the lift safer, but also quicker thanks to reduced cycle times and an increased operational window.
“We’ve seen a benefit in windy conditions, with Roborigger increasing the operating window for lifting operations that involve loads with larger surface areas which are affected by wind. This potentially allows us to continue operations for longer when wind speeds increase, but are still within safe operational limits of the crane,” says Ridley.
A broader industry impact
With the trials complete and Roborigger now in commercial production, it’s already making an impact on the industry. The device was recently recognised by the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety (DMIRS) WA as the Best Solution for the Work Health and Safety Risk, as well as winning three awards at the WA Innovator of the Year 2019.
Markwell says Roborigger aims to be the de-facto standard for safe crane lifting and the team is now working to gain more traction in the construction and resources industries locally and overseas.
In addition to Multiplex taking the lead of pioneering Roborigger use in Australia, Roborigger also now has agreements in place to deliver Roborigger units to leading construction companies in Japan and the United Arab Emirates by the end of the year.
Ridley says that along with expanding use of Roborigger across Multiplex projects nationally, the contractor is also hoping to see broader uptake to improve safety across the industry.
“That’s why we’ve been sharing what we’ve learnt along the way with other contractors, so that they and the entire industry can benefit from our knowledge and experience of Roborigger in a real construction environment,” says Ridley.
“Our ultimate hope is to see construction incidents involving workers standing under or near suspended loads completely eliminated through the use of Roborigger.”