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No stopping progress

The Industrial Internet-of-things technology helps turn crane braking systems into smart devices. Altra Motion’s Christian Klein and Rex Sinclair explain how the performance of Ship to Shore (STS) and container handling Rubber Tyred Gantry (RTG) cranes can benefit from the cloud.

The Port of Duisburg, located on the Rhine River in Germany, is one of the largest inland ports in the world, accommodating 20,000 ships and 25,000 trains each year.

With the high volume of daily arrivals, a single delay can cause a knock-on effect across the entire supply chain, forcing the port operators to play an expensive game of catch up.

As a result, port operators began looking into ways to reduce any unscheduled downtime.

Christian Klein, the Global Product Manager for Altra Motion, says that Ship To Shore and port gantry cranes in particular have a need for the highest availability possible.

“If you imagine that a vessel needs to be unloaded with a crane, downtime can cause huge chaos and extremely high monetary losses,” he says.

“Braking systems on port cranes have a high duty cycle as they are always opening and closing when a container is getting lifted and positioned.

“As the brakes are safety components, they are the last device in the safety chain and protecting the load from falling down, even if the drive train is collapsing. Any downtime or malfunctions on the brake leads to a complete shutdown, as the safety system is affected,” said Klein.

The port operators selected Stromag, one of Altra Motion’s brands and global supplier of braking systems, to install a new, internet-of-things (IoT) enabled braking system that could allow a predictive maintenance solution to be established on an older container crane.

The company had already been developing new ways to combine its products with IoT technology to produce ‘smart’ machinery.

Working closely with the Port of Duisburg, the company installed specialised sensors on a TDXB thruster service disc brake and a SHC18 spring-applied, hydraulically released emergency disc brake. The service brake acts on a disc installed on the high-speed shaft of the crane’s winch drive. The emergency brake acts on a disc mounted to the gearbox low speed shaft. An SHPU hydraulic power unit and disc/hub assemblies were also supplied.

A Series 51 geared cam limit switch, with a multi-turn absolute encoder, was also included. It provides feedback about the hook’s actual positioning, speed and turning direction of the elevated movement. These brake sensors and a limit switch encoder exchange data through a programmable logic controller (PLC), via a cloud connection.

Klein says the system goes beyond simply monitoring for faults.

“The problem with traditional monitoring is that it only gives data on downtime, which for a port, is far too late. Once we have a sizable sample of data uploaded to the cloud, we can start rationalising it intelligently to proactively influence maintenance. We will utilise a modular-based modelling program to achieve this,” he said.

“When complete, we can rely on artificial intelligence (AI) to identify parameters that affect the performance of key systems on the crane, which allows for highly targeted predictive maintenance scheduling. This will eventually promote uptime and logistical efficiency for Duisport,” said Klein.

One of the main priorities for Stromag when developing this system was security. All of the data is protected and encrypted before being analysed by the company’s own data specialists to analyse critical events and to be able to use the artificial intelligence for self-learning and analysing the incoming information.

The collected data can also be used to create augmented reality (AR) models of the crane and its systems. Stromag aims to provide remote maintenance support to Duisport further down the line using the data models in combination with an e-commerce platform to streamline the procurement of replacement parts.

Bringing crane braking systems into the 21st Century

IoT-enabled technology, similar to the systems installed at the Port of Duisburg, is being introduced to Australian STS cranes and container handling systems.

Ports around Australia face similar issues to the German port. The ability to detect small problems before they escalate can save a business from eye-watering downtime costs.

Svendborg, another of Altra Motion’s brands, has developed a preventative maintenance system that allows management of Mining port conveyors and shiploaders to access real-time data about their operations.

Rex Sinclair, National Sales Manager at Altra Motion Australia, says this advanced warning system is much more cost effective than the traditional method.

“With Svendborg’s IoT-enabled brakes, you can see exactly what parts may need replacing and when. Traditionally, to obtain that information would require shutdowns for manual inspections, which takes time and can miss hard-to-see problems.

“Data not only helps operators improve their process but can also improve the products available through enhanced research and development,” he said.

Cloud-based systems also allows users to access information remotely. In a large country like Australia, this can mean significant reductions in travel times.

Altra Industrial Motion, the parent company of both Svendborg and Stromag, owns a wide range of brands across the motion control and power transmission sectors. It employs more than 10,000 people at sites around the world, with an extensive authorised reseller and service centre network in Australia.

The company’s brands focus heavily on research and development, sharing their advancements with Altra to be distributed to the market. This, along with factory trained technicians and engineers, allow Altra to provide the latest technology to STS crane and container handling operations.

Sinclair says predictive maintenance technology is only going to keep growing, as customers realise the productivity gains it provides.

“Stromag is one of the leading brake manufacturers in the world with a huge installed base. Over the years, Stromag has extended its product portfolio to include all kinds of brakes and is able to offer each customer a special customized solution, if needed.

“With the new Stromag SioT system solution, Stromag is able to bring the braking system to the next level of digitisation. With the various components Stromag provides customers with solutions from locally based monitoring system up to a fully integrated predictive maintenance solution with interfaces to the customer’s crane management system.

“By predicting downtime, the customer has the ability to plan for maintenance and ensure spare parts are ordered and in place to save on downtime. The additional Augmented Reality support from Stromag provides direct support from technicians around the world.

“Some companies can be a bit frightened of change – preferring to trust what already works than take a chance with something new. However, with automation on the horizon, the ability to remotely monitor equipment will become more vital,” said Sinclair.


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