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Overhead Cranes 2.0: How Automation is Revolutionizing Crane Safety

The automation revolution has arrived for overhead cranes, transforming safety and efficiency in groundbreaking ways.

Smarter, safer cranes through the automation revolution! Remember when overhead crane operation required constant vigilance to avoid catastrophe? Those days are fading, but the need for safety remains paramount.

In this episode of Safety Factor, we trace the evolution from crude cranes to high-tech handling. Two industry veterans compare notes on modernizing safety. We’re talking sway control, laser positioning, and even artificial intelligence. The automation revolution is here, but it still takes experienced eyes to do it right.

Kenny Wright and Tad Dunville trade war stories from their decades upgrading cranes. The toxic jobs that shaped their safety-first mindsets. They discuss the latest automation capabilities and the need for updated regulations. Discover how you can avoid the pitfalls of poor communication between customers, engineers, and crane companies.

Today it’s about precision teamwork, not just muscle and reaction times. As Kenny explains, safety should be the priority regardless of manual, automated, or AI systems. Removing workers from harm’s way is crucial, but experienced oversight endures when modernizing safety.

Join us as Kenny and Tad detail the changes they’ve witnessed. The cutting edge technologies making cranes smarter and worksites safer. They offer tips for companies new to automation to avoid disappointment. Though cranes are evolving quickly, the human element still remains vital through the automation revolution.

“When you have people with a two-page or three-page proposal for automating a crane that says automate the crane. Someone with a 300-page one that specifies where the rail cars are and how dynamic the rail car positioning can be. That’s not apples to apples at that point.”

Tad Dunville, AIST Southwest Chapter Vice Chairman and ASME B30.2 Overhead and Gantry Cranes Standards Committee Member
  • Hear insights on different automation levels, sway control, laser and radar positioning, and using AI for smarter cranes
  • Discover how automation can remove workers from harm’s way and stop operations when people enter hazardous areas
  • The guests discuss work underway to update outdated crane regulations for the automation age
  • Get their tips for companies buying automated cranes to avoid pitfalls and optimize safety

If you want the inside scoop on the automation revolution in overhead cranes, don’t miss this episode!


[Kenny Wright] Find you an automation engineer that is within your company somewhere. If you’re a multi location corporation, you probably got one or two that can guide you as far as what you’re looking for with your process. Then you bring in a crane guy, a crane company, and let those two work together to come up with what you really need.

[Announcer] For your own safety, you are reminded to stand behind the yellow line.

[Ben Hengst] Welcome to Safety Factor. My name is Ben Hengst, and today we’re talking about crane automation. I’m joined by Tad Dunville, Hoist Expert and ASME committee member, and Kenny Wright, Mazzella Vice President of Process Cranes and Modernizations. So before we start can you guys just tell me a little bit about how you know each other, your background in the industry?

[Wright] So we can start by background. I’ve been in the crane industry for probably over 30 years. My background is overhead cranes, ship shore cranes, I’ve worked on portal cranes, every crane type that’s pretty much out there, I’ve probably worked on at one point or another. The way that I met Tad is through some of the committees that we both participate on.

[Tad Dunville] What was the first time we met? I don’t remember, honestly.

[Wright] It had to be one of the conferences that we both go to, and it may have been even one of the crane symposiums.

[Dunville] Yeah.

[Wright] Man, I don’t know. I don’t remember how we met it. It’s like we’ve known each other our entire lives. So we participate in a lot of the same committees, especially the AIST. We’re both on the Crane Committee for AIST. We think that’s the way we met. We’re not 100% sure.

[Dunville] We were just having this discussion offline beforehand here. And at this point we bump into each other so often. And my name is Tad Dunville if I haven’t properly introduced myself. Kenny and I work together on projects. I consider myself both a vendor and a coworker some days. And at one time we were actually competitors and I think that’s when we first started hearing about each other. Somebody kept saying, well, Kenny Wright this and Kenny Wright that. I’m like, who the heck is Kenny Wright? And they waxed us on a couple projects and I said, “All right, I got to get to know this guy.” And it was kind of off to the races because we rubbed shoulders with each other at a lot of conferences and events where we work on safety, design, inspection, regulations, things like that, where we really try to, not to put so much rules to make life tough, but to help people quantify what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. And we find that that can lower the cost of cranes. It can make the workplace a lot safer. And it just overall makes life a lot easier provided the regulations or codes that we wordsmith and work on from time to time are well discussed and have buy-in from all the stakeholders, the customers, the engineers, the builders, the maintenance guys. That’s definitely something that provided you do it right, can make the workplace much safer and more profitable.

[Hengst] Tad or Kenny, could you tell me what is the worst job you’ve ever had?

[Dunville] As far as my worst jobs, I mean, two come to mind. And one of them was when I was in college and we were working on a foam crane. So if you picture the seats in your car, the chairs in your house, they all have that yellow foam rubber and it’s made in a factory where it’s laid out in an oven that’s about four foot wide and four foot tall and about 100 to 150 foot long. And this toxic vat of chemicals pours into this oven and it bakes up what looks like an enormous loaf of bread. And it’s hot and it stinks. And you start getting a headache from all the crap in the air. And what nobody tells you is the static electricity is so bad there that you have to carry something like a screw driver or your car keys and every 20 feet you just tap, tap. And that discharges the static because otherwise if you just touch the crane or something, you get the worst shock of your life. And we had warranty problems with it, and the customer was driving this crane into walls and everything. And so at the time I’m 20 years old and think I know cranes and I really don’t know much. And so they said, “Just go down there and write down everything they do and watch them and don’t be noticeable while you’re doing it.” And it’s like, I’m not necessarily good at not being noticeable. And so it was a rough summer. I spent a couple months doing that. And the other one was a galvanizing, not galvanizing, I’m sorry, it was an acid tank house where there’s what looks like four dumpsters in a row side by side. And in order to treat metal components correctly to make them durable and resistant to rust, they have a crane that dips them in one vat, 10 minutes later picks them up, dips them in another vat. And it’s such a caustic atmosphere that usually the buildings and the runways and the columns are all cement precast. And I hate that because what that does is it starts to sink and move a lot more easily than steel runways do on footers. And so they called us up and said, look, we’ve got this 40 year old hunk of junk and the runway rail is all out of straightness and spec, would’ya come, give us a price. And we shot them, I mean, it was a big job. It took us 8 or 10 guys for a number of days up there with come-alongs. And I think we put new runway rail up there too, because it was so ate up. So we had come-alongs and lasers and all the tools of the trade. They started running the crane again and the crane’s running into walls and squeaching and squealing. And the guy comes to me going, “What the hell did you guys do?” And I said, “I guarantee you the runway is straight and we’ll go up there with lasers and shoot it again and prove it to you.” But what had happened was the walls had drifted and the columns and the runways had drifted and shook so much just over the last 50 years that yes, you had a straight runway, but it was now meaning that the crane would hit the walls and bump into stuff. And for two weeks we had to sit out there and prove to them that it was working correctly. All the while, breathing in the most toxic caustic chemicals. I would never want to work there again in my life. But somehow we wind up in places like that again and again and again because it’s we like the people we work with and it’s an interesting topic. And Kenny, I’m sure you’ve been in places like that plenty, probably more than I have. Kenny’s a little older. See Kenny’s older, I’m younger.

[Wright] Here we go.

[Wright] So actually just one quick one on that, you talk about the corrosion and the rust. This was at a pulp mill and the guy actually was a friend of mine that was a maintenance manager and he was like, I think we got problems with our runway. And so we both go up together and we’re at the wet end of the machine and he says, “See what I’m talking about? Just a little bit of rust there.” I took my finger and I put it through the web of the beam, through the web of the beam. And I’m like, you don’t have a runway problem. You need to replace all your runway. You don’t have an alignment problem. You need to replace your runway.

[Dunville] You don’t have a runway problem, you just don’t have a runway.

[Hengst] Yeah, there’s no runway there.

[Wright] It’s all the bleach and whatever, the caustic chemicals and yeah, it had eaten away the metal.

[Dunville] And 20 years ago we’d go into places like that, paper mills, pulp mills, tank houses, no protection whatsoever.

[Wright] Right.

[Dunville] You were lucky if they gave you those little orange foam earplugs.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] And made you wear safety glasses. And it’s amazing how over the last few years now, they make you take breaks and you get to wear masks and-

[Wright] Monitors.

[Dunville] Yeah. And even now fall protection, I mean, there was a time when I was on a mods crew in Chicago and fall protection was somebody goes, “Hey, don’t fall off.” And then you just be really careful for the rest of the day. And we all moaned and groaned about fall protection, but the last time I was on a crane 60 or 70 foot up in a powerhouse, I was okay with it.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Hengst] So speaking of some of the advances in safety, so I guess one of the leading ones would be automation, just removing people from harm’s way. So what are some of the technologies that are in use that you’re seeing in the world of automation and in AI on overhead cranes?

[Wright] So first of all, it’s two different things. So with automation, that’s a pre-programmed move for that crane. All right, and there are different levels of automation. You can have a level zero where it requires an operator. You can have a level one where operator needs to be in the area or a tender. And then you can have complete automation where there’s no interaction with the operator or with maintenance or anything else, but it’s still, it’s pre-programmed moves. And on that we use sway control. We use sensors for positioning, even sensors for speed and things like that. But it’s still pre-programmed. Now when you talk about AI, the difference there is that you, and there are vendors, crane builders that are experimenting right now in Europe with AI technology on cranes. So with AI, you’re setting up that crane to think for itself. Okay, that’s not really the way it works, but you get my point. It’s not a pre-programmed move. And eventually that AI learns how to safely operate that crane, safely make the moves that it needs to move, but do so with precision, accuracy and speed. And also with the sensors that you would have either on an automated crane or AI crane, you are able to detect when a human being is in the area. Safety’s always going to be the number one priority no matter what. With automated cranes, you have light curtains to prevent people from entering the work area. With AI cranes, you’re going to have cameras that can detect when a human being walks into the work area. Same concept and it does the same thing. It stops the operation momentarily. But in an automated crane, if you stop the operation, somebody has to go and reinitiate the operation. With AI, I think that with the way technology’s going, that operation was interrupted momentarily and then the crane decides, or AI decides now it can go back to work safely. Some of the devices you ask about, sway control, the positioning systems, we have everything from laser to radar. Help me out, Tad. There’s some other things that we use, barcode readers for positioning. But the bigger things right now are laser.

[Dunville] In the last 10 years we’ve gone from this stuff being a really good idea to being profitable and repeatable. And that’s the biggest difference is when we first started using sway control, for example, it was mechanical and it slowed the operation down. So production hated it because they’re like, well, we spent $30,000 extra on this thing and now our throughput’s down. And operations guys hated it because they’re like, well, we’re trying to drive the crane and it’s talking back to us, not doing what we tell it to do.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] We are finally at a point where first of all, most sway control is electronic and there’s probably what? 10 or 20 different patented or proprietary versions out there, all of which are pretty interesting to me. There’s nobody that I have an ax to grind with today, so to speak. And it’s actually to the point where they’ve proven that the return on investment is there, that you can operate faster rather than slower. And when I was a kid I would use small cranes occasionally and just pick up little stuff. Not a kid, but when I was younger. And I thought is sway control really that big of a deal? And you don’t notice it until the first time you run something like a 30 ton process crane with a big magnet beam on the bottom that’s got a giant stack of plate, 40 or 60 foot long. And you try to stop the thing and it coasts to a stop and swings and you about knock someone on their feet and you go white in the face and you think, okay, sway control is probably really a good idea because how much time would it take to teach someone not to be a schmuck with the crane and just about kill somebody. And then this is a true story, happened to me on the southwest side of Chicago in a building with more bullet holes than I have socks. And cranes are not in good neighborhoods Ben, I don’t know how much you’ve noticed that. We don’t go to Neiman Marcus for lunch after we get done with cranes. Kenny asks all the time and I have to tell him no. But neither of us have been taught the proper way to drink a tea either. I don’t know if I’m pinky out or in. I still haven’t mastered that. Yeah, I mean, it’s amazing not just how much things are out there, but we’re finally to the point of refinement where there’s a distinct return on investment. You can go to the CFO and say, “I’m not looking to do experiments here. We’ve got a number of proven concepts that are in operation at really big name companies like Boeing, General Motors, Ford, Chrysler.” And once the CFO hears stuff like that, they’re like, okay. As long as it’s not “functional” in a laboratory outside of Cincinnati where they never actually picked up a for-profit load on a crane. I’m interested. This has my attention. We don’t think it’s as much of a risk.

[Wright] So our technology is changing, or at least the technology we’re using in overhead cranes and other cranes is changing, adapting. One of the things that’s not changing is the regulatory commissions, the regulations that we abide by. And that’s something that we struggle to get others to work on and adapt to that. For instance, automated cranes, Tad, we have no regulatory commission that tells us what we should inspect, what we should maintain. It’s all by the OEM. The builder of that crane tells you how to inspect it, how to maintain it. And I think that’s one thing that our industry needs to catch up on. We work on that a lot in the AIST Crane Committee. But CMAA, OSHA, even the NFPA 70E doesn’t address arc flash for an automated crane. Is there any need for it? Probably. But the NEC doesn’t address anything for automated cranes. And that’s where we struggle in our industry is getting that up to speed.

[Dunville] So I agree completely and it starts at the design phase and three or four years ago, myself and a couple of guys put together a project for an automated aluminum coil handling crane. And I wish I had a piece of paper. So to show you how the food chain goes, at the time I was GM of the Below-the-Hook company that made the coil grabber. There was an overhead crane builder and then there was an automation company. So we all sold through the overhead crane company who then sold to the end user. And the automation company said, okay, it’s going to be X hundred thousand dollars to automate the crane. And that was basically the gist of their proposal. And it didn’t have a lot about where will it go, to what degree of accuracy will the stops be, what is it picking up coils off of, and where is it feeding them to, what happens if there’s no coils or if there’s too many coils. And that’s frustrating because we know another vendor that we know and respect and like that’ll write you a 300 page proposal with immense amounts

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] of detail. And that’s probably too much detail, but I’d rather have that because there’s at least something to look back at and understand what are we getting with this crane? And because invariably when you have something like an automated crane that’s still new to a lot of people, the end user customer will look at it and be like, well, but I thought it was going to do that. Didn’t we talk about that? And Kenny’s laughing ’cause he knows he’s been through these battles and it’s true. And what you need-

[Wright] Most recently, the project we’re working on together right now is that the customer needs two automated cranes.

[Dunville] Yep.

[Wright] And his RFQ was two pages long.

[Dunville] Yeah.

[Wright] So as we dig into this, I mean we had to make several site trips, several meetings with engineering staff from the customer

[Dunville] Yeah.

[Wright] and we basically led them to this is what you should have put in your RFQ, this is what you really need. By doing that, we eliminated our competition. ‘Cause our competition wasn’t willing to do that for the guy.

[Dunville] Yeah, that paid off dividends. And I mean,

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] I’ve always thought that pickup trucks were the perfect metaphor for cranes. If you want a Ford Ranger or what’s the little one? The Maverick. If you walk in and you start telling them, well I need this axle ratio and this towing package and I want it to be that mystic color that they used to paint Mustangs in, they’re going to be like, get the heck out of here. You can get red, blue or green. You can get the towing package or not have the towing package and maybe the Ranger comes with a four cylinder or a V6, otherwise it’s like, hit the road kid, come on, what are you doing? But if you want an F-350, suddenly there’s three different axle choices. You can have a dually. You can have four different bed lengths, four different cab lengths, six different engines, four transmissions. And it’s because an F-350 is meant to do a job. With the exception of a bunch of our friends in this business who have done well and just want a nice big truck to tow their boat or their motor home, most people buy an F-350 ’cause they’re dragging something around every day. And so depending on the load, you need to specify your axle, your engine, your cab size, and it’s no different with cranes. 80% of the cranes made you get this. We’re going to give you a price and you’re going to take it. But the other 20% where Kenny and I spend a lot of our time is if you give anything less than 20 pages, I guarantee you there’s going to be recriminations and disputes and questions at the end of the project because we’re going right back to well, we thought it does this.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] And what you need to be able to do is say page four says that the automation on this crane will pick up a coil off of a railroad car that is or is not positioned in precisely the same place, put it in a coil field, go find it two weeks later and then put it on a, a slitter or a decoiler with X precision. And if you can’t say stuff like that, it’s not a game stopper, but it’s certainly an opportunity to call someone up and say, “I need help.” And it’s kind of like reading the news these days. If you read Fox and MSNBC right after each other, it’s like talking to two different crane companies. Or I just bought counters for my kitchen. The amount of BS that Lowe’s and Home Depot fed me, what you start to find out is it’s like a Venn diagram. When everybody’s telling you three different stories you got to look at where the stories meet up, where the stories match. And so whether it’s Fox and MSNBC or it’s two crane companies, spend time with them. If you’re buying a $500,000 to a $1 million crane, you want to spend hours with these people talking about what you’re doing, bring in the crane operator, bring in the slitter and decoiler operator, bring in the guy that tells the railroad what to do and don’t be afraid to do a dear Facebook, a dear diary and just pour your heart out about what is this crane doing, what do you want it to do? Where are your problems? That’s a great piece. What is your old crane doing that’s causing problems? Write it up. 10 pages, maybe 20. Kenny, one of Kenny’s strengths is in intermodal and port cranes. The proposal requests, the requests, the RFPs are like 400 pages, would you say Kenny?

[Wright] Oh yeah, yeah.

[Dunville] And then a steel mill RFP is probably 20 or 30 pages when someone does it right. And then you get a guy comes along and he gives you a two pager says, “Crane, 20 tons,” and you’re like, oh god.

[Wright] Need a little more detail. But yeah, when you get those that are two pages, you do have to dig in. But also when you get the 400 page or even the 20 page, you still got to dig in because the customer’s understanding of one thing, his terminology is going to be different than yours. So we run into that a lot as well. Okay yeah, you got that specced out that very well here, but what about these and oh, we didn’t

[Dunville] Yeah.

[Wright] think about that. Any automotive that you deal with, it’s going to be a very detailed and they call them their global specs. Well their global spec leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

[Dunville] Yeah.

[Wright] Not substitution, interpretation, so you got to ask the questions.

[Dunville] Yeah, and a lot of times if you have a global spec, that’s a good point, it’ll say it must be compliant in the EU, the US, the UK, Canada, and god knows where else. And sometimes those specs will actually be contradictory or maybe they’re not contradictory, but they just kind of go in 15 degree different directions. And then you realize that in order to hit all those regs and codes, what should be $150,000 item is now $600,000. And meanwhile, this is the frustrating part, your competitor comes in and says, “Hey listen, I’m just going to do North America and I can do it for $80,000.” And then the purchasing agent goes I got to buy staples, light bulbs, office furniture, bricks, all this stuff this month, I can just check this off and get this out of my hair. And it’s not fair, it’s not right, but it happens. And then the customer winds up with something. So when I was in the Below-the-Hook business, we had exactly that happen and we got a bunch of lifters for wind turbine blades that said, well we really did need US and Canadian regulations. We didn’t really need EU, so it’s good, that the initial purchase process, it’s good that we ferreted that out, but now none of the lights on this wind turbine blade lifter meets CSA and we need them next week. What are you going to do? And how do you look your customer in the eye and say, well geez, if we would’ve just had an intelligent discussion about this in the beginning, we could’ve done this from the factory rather than having to figure out how to get lights on this lifter in one week. And there’s 10 of them to figure out.

[Wright] True.

[Hengst] So speaking of regulations, you guys are both on a panel or you’re working to start up a panel to help regulate automation in the industry a little bit. So can you tell me what you’re trying to do, what regulations you’re looking at or what you hope to achieve from it?

[Wright] So well the easy answer is what we hope to achieve from it. We hope to get a group, a team of people that can all agree that this standard should apply to an automated system, to an automated crane. The issue is that we are probably going to have to include some owners, end users because with an automated crane there are also warehouse management systems, product management systems that either the customer’s going to do himself or he’s going to have the crane builder do it and integrate it into the complete system. So, and right now that’s about 70/30, 70% of customers are doing that themselves, 30 are giving it to the crane builder or another third party. So you get that team of people together and you come up with what the standard should be. That’s the goal, Ben. Do we have an idea of what that looks like right now? No, we don’t. Tad, I mean, we got the basics we know, but there’s so much more

[Dunville] Yeah.

[Wright] that we don’t know right now that should be included.

[Dunville] But Kenny, that’s a really intelligent comment because 90% of the people are going to charge forward and say there ought to be a rule and I’m pissed about something, so I’m going to base the rule around that versus having the presence of mind to step back and say, we don’t know what we don’t know and let’s put together a committee of all the, full circle of people that are going to design and build and maintain and own these cranes and listen to them and find out what their concerns are and get some really talented engineers to look at it and say, we’re not trying to address absolutely every concern. We just want to put together some guidelines that will make, first of all, when you’re building a new crane, we want to make it apples to apples. Because when you have people with a two page or three page proposal for automating a crane that says automate the crane. Someone with a 300 page one that specifies where the rail cars are and how dynamic the rail car positioning can be. That’s not apples to apples at that point. And so someone’s going to guarantee play funny business with the specification, come in with a much lower price and probably get the contract. But then the customer’s going to call you two years later and he’s going to call someone like Kenny who is a wizard with crane modifications. Say, “geez Kenny, I need you to come out here and make this crane do what I originally wanted it to do.” And that’s like going to the Island of Broken Toys because you’re not starting fresh. You have to start with someone else’s disaster. And I mean, how many times have we done that?

[Wright] A lot.

[Dunville] And it’s all-

[Wright] And he’s right, it is like you’re really starting all over from scratch. I like your analogy of the Island of Broken Toys is ’cause you’re digging in, you’re trying to think what was this guy thinking when he designed this system? And what can I do to change it? Or do I have to just totally scrap it and start all over? So yeah, he’s right. I like that analogy. I’m going to use it in the future.

[Dunville] I mean the psychological impact of saying, look, I can fix this for $600,000 or we can build you a new one for $400,000 and it will take 1/4 of downtime because we won’t have men crawling around on this little ant hill of disaster for four weeks trying to get it to work right. And of course the look in their eyes glazes over ’cause then they have to go to the boss and say, “geez boss, we’re going to get another new crane from that new crane we bought, what four years ago, that’s not working.” That’s a tough pill to swallow for a lot of management.

[Wright] And we had an experience together,

[Dunville] Yes.

[Wright] recently of that. The guy or the company was sold two systems that was built by a company that does line process equipment, not cranes. And so they sold them a crane. Okay, it doesn’t work. Neither one of them work. There’s issues and the issue list is extremely long. So we’re at the point where we’re going to propose to them, you got to replace the entire system, both of them.

[Dunville] And they don’t want to-

[Wright] ‘Cause what you’re doing right now we cannot fix.

[Dunville] They don’t want to hear it. They, even to the point where they want to argue about, well, “we really don’t think you’re applying the right specification.” And I said, I sit on ASME B30.2, Kenny sits on a number of these committees. I’m not blowing smoke up your behind to sell something. We actually sit on the committees that make these rules along with a number of other crane owners and crane builders. But you don’t get on these committees for trying to sell stuff.

[Wright] Right.

[Dunville] You get on these committees because you’ve been doing it long enough that somebody says, okay, we don’t think you’re going to try to buffalo anybody, come on and to show you also, Kenny you know this, the rate of change on these committees if you wanted to actually make a difference, we’ll go into an hour conference call and talk about where the commas go. And that’s no joke because if you move the commas a little bit, it changes what the sentence says.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] And for better or for worse, you don’t really want to change things that quickly because you can change the industry too much and everybody’s going to panic. But you’re exactly right. Going back to what we were talking about big picture, people do not want to be told that their toy is so broken that you really just need a new one. You even tell them the new toy is cheaper and they’ll still look at you like now I got to go to the CEO and tell him that some schmuck authorized buying this piece of junk and we’ve been running a piece of junk that could have killed somebody for the last four years. That’s a career ending problem.

[Wright] Sure.

[Hengst] So speaking of those pitfalls, I guess, what advice would you have for companies who are just beginning to explore automation or AI and they’re thinking about purchasing an overhead crane? What are some things to avoid? How can they go about this process in a nice way?

[Wright] I mean, we get those questions from customers a lot and we will work with them and advise them. But my advice always is that find you an automation engineer that is within your company somewhere. If you’re a multi location corporation, you probably got one or two that can guide you as far as what you’re looking for with your process. Then you bring in a crane guy, a crane company and let those two work together to come up with what you really need. The problem being is though, most companies will take that guy they have on staff somewhere, he’ll come over, knows nothing about cranes, knows everything about process equipment. And so he ends up writing the spec. You get the RFQ, you look at it and you’re like, yeah no, that’s not going to fly. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, can’t do that. And then you end up doing more work to try to help them and convince them to change their RFQ. Advice I’d give to people, if you’re going down that road that you think you need an automated piece of equipment, whether it’s a crane or your line is find the right people that will advise you and not charge you to give you that advice. But at the end of the day, the customer’s got to write his own statement of work when it comes to automation. You can’t use like a Mazzella or anybody else to write that for them. They got to write their own statement of work. You can advise them all day long.

[Dunville] That’s a great point because when we write things, whether consciously or subconsciously, we always favor ourselves.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] Imagine if you were trying to sell your house, you’re not going to write that your house, somebody died in your house a few years ago and well it had termites, but we got rid of them. You’re never going to write that. You’re going to write, oh man, it’s got a great view of the water.

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] Even if you have to lean out the window and look down the side street to see your neighbor’s pond, you’re going to write it’s got a great view of the water. And of course you’re going to casually forget about the termites and the fact that Uncle Ned had the big one at someone’s birthday party at your house last year. So crane companies are the same. And I’m,

[Wright] Yeah.

[Dunville] I would say I’m pretty honest in my writing about my capabilities, but I’m also not going to tell you 20 years ago we were at that tank house and we had the runway perfect and it still, the crane still started bumping into stuff. That’s not what I’m going to lead with. And nobody in their right mind would. So to your point, you have to do a brain dump if you have to. If you’re an end user and you need a new crane and you think it’s going to be automated, force yourself to write 10 pages and even if you get pissed and page three is a copy of page one, it’s going to make you think about what you’re saying and asking for. So even if you just type out page three and page four is copies of page one and page two, you’re probably going to look at that the second time you write that down and say, I don’t like what I wrote there. We’re picking up coils, but I don’t know for a fact that the ID is always 24 inches. Sometimes it’s 20 inches and boom, suddenly the Below the Hook device or end effector might have a significant change. I mean, when you have an automated crane picking up coils, you need to have some sort of device, if not multiple devices on the toes of the coil grab to see has it yet the inner diameter hole in that coil grab, and what is the temperature of the coil? Is it going to bake those sensors with the first two or three coils it picks up. If you have a 300 or 400 degree coil that just came out of an oven, you’re going to cook those sensors. So now you see what I’m saying? It starts to get the thought process going about what are you doing. And you’re going to sit there and say, I’m going to teach Tad and Kenny a lesson. Screw those guys. If they make me write 10 pages, I’m going to write two. And page three and four are going to be copies of one and two, page five of six are going to be copies. But I promise you, you’re going to get to the point where you write out it does this and you’re going to sit there and think about it and be like, well no, last week Fred said that we were having problems with X and it’s really not necessarily doing that. And those are the insights that we need as crane companies to solve a problem and build you a better crane.

[Wright] Your first question was automated versus AI. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s manual, if it’s AI, if it’s automated, at the end of the day it’s got to be safe. And the more that we can stay on top of, in our industry, not just as a crane builder, but in our industry stay on top of safety and that guy gets to go home at the end of the day, then it’s a win.

[Dunville] Yeah, you want to go home,

[Wright] Safely.

[Dunville] You want to see your family. You want to be safe and you want to see, I like the people I work with and I want to see

[Wright] Right.

[Dunville] the people tomorrow. I mean,

[Wright] Yep.

[Dunville] if you really want to be selfish about it, you don’t want the unknown. And if your buddy gets hurt at work and now suddenly you’ve got some unknown dude showing up next to you, keep your buddy working, keep your buddy next to you. You got to have someone to have lunch with and you want that person to have all their fingers and toes and meeting you tomorrow.

[Hengst] All right, Kenny, Tad, thanks for joining. So Tad, what’s the best way for people to get ahold of you?

[Dunville] You’re welcome to reach out to me, find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, any of the above. If I haven’t been kicked off of any of them just yet for spreading crane propaganda. It’s been a pleasure here, Ben.

[Hengst] So reach out to Tad on LinkedIn and as always, you can get ahold of myself, Kenny, or any of our other experts at mazzellacompanies.com. Don’t forget to pop into our learning center. We have a ton of information on overhead cranes there, including free eBooks and free courses. Subscribe to “Safety Factor” wherever you listen to your podcasts. Or you can watch it on the “Lifting & Rigging Channel” on YouTube. Thanks for listening. Stay safe out there.


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In This Podcast:

0:00 – Intro

0:54 – Meet the overhead crane automation experts

3:19 – What are some of the horrors of working in the overhead crane industry?

7:41 – How has the overhead crane industry evolved to become safer?

8:30 – What’s the difference between crane AI and Automation?

10:40 – What devices exist for automated cranes?

11:06 – How has sway control technology advanced and improved?

11:54 – Why is sway control so important?

13:08 – Is there a distinct return on investment for automated cranes?

13:48 – How have crane regulations advanced with new technologies?

15:01 – How does the lack of regulations create problems for the industry?

17:01 – How is buying a crane similar to buying a pick-up truck?

18:24 – Why a detailed Request For Quote is needed when automating a crane.

18:56 – Why is it important to consult with a crane company when writing your RFQ?

21:21 – How does working with Global Specs change the price of automation?

23:04 – What is the future of automated crane regulations?

25:37 – Why is it important to get your crane designed the correct way from the start?

29:09 – How can you avoid the pitfalls of purchasing an automated overhead crane?

32:01 – How to write your RFQ for an Automated Crane.

33:46 – What is the most important thing to keep in mind when designing an overhead crane?

34:45 – How can you learn more about automated cranes?

Disclaimer: Any advice, graphics, images, and/or information contained herein are presented for general educational and information purposes and to increase overall safety awareness. It is not intended to be legal, medical, or other expert advice or services, and should not be used in place of consultation with appropriate industry professionals. The information herein should not be considered exhaustive and the user should seek the advice of appropriate professionals.