High-tech material handling

March 1, 2011
Sheila Kennedy, contributing editor, explores cranes, drum movers, walkers, lift carts and air conveyors.

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Lifting and moving materials and equipment is getting easier with improvements in conventional load-handling technologies. Drum dollies, manual and electric carts, overhead cranes and conveyors are safer, more maneuverable and more cost- and energy-efficient thanks to recent developments.

Intelligent cranes: The overhead crane has come a long way since its origins as a basic lift and transport mechanism. The Smarton smart crane from Konecranes has a number of intelligence features built in, including microspeed and inching control, sway control, shock load control, soft-touchdown vertical positioning and extended speed range. Its human interface to machine (HIM) radio transceiver technology relays condition, load and position data to the operator. Regenerative braking captures as much as 30% of hoist braking and lowering energy and sends it back to the electrical grid to reduce energy costs.


“Years from now, manufacturers will look back to a time before smart cranes and ask themselves how they managed without sway control and auto-positioning, just as we now wonder how we managed to drive cars without automatic transmissions and power steering,” says Doug Maclam, vice president of sales and marketing for Konecranes America.

Safer dollies: Pushing or pulling a drum on a dolly on uneven floor surfaces can be risky. A bump, hole or slope could tip the drum because lateral force at the top of a drum shifts more than 70% of the weight to the front dolly wheels, according to Morse Manufacturing. The company’s patent pending Clamp+Go Dolly Handle increases stability by applying even force below the drum's center of gravity.

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The Clamp+Go handle pulls from the bottom of the drum, increasing control by distributing the weight more evenly on four dolly wheels. Navigating in and out of confined spaces is easy and there’s less risk of fingers getting caught. “The Clamp+Go demonstration video illustrates in less than two minutes the handle's safety and productivity advantages over pushing a drum dolly by hand,” says Charles Lighthipe, sales manager at Morse Manufacturing. Designed for round dollies of varying sizes and sidewall heights, the handle couples to the dolly frame with a single push, disengages with a foot-operated release and a magnet holds it upright for storage.

Material pushers: Forklifts and other ride-on equipment can be expensive to purchase, operate and maintain, and they require ample storage space and operator licenses. An economical alternative is NuStar’s battery-powered, pedestrian-operated Power Pusher material handling carts. The original Power Pusher allows a single person to push, pull, and maneuver wheeled loads to 50,000 lb, depending on roll resistance, safely, while the Super Power Pusher handles loads to 150,000 lb. A version certified for hazardous duty also is available.

“Not only does the Power Pusher improve worker safety when rolling heavy loads, it improves productivity because only one person can get the job done,” says NuStar CEO Scott Lorch. “Our ability to make custom attachments means the Power Pusher can fit almost any application.”

Lift carts: Portable push carts used for lifting and transporting are a fixture in many plants. The four-wheel, adjustable-height Dandy Lift carts from Southworth Products are an example. The Dandy Lift line uses foot-pump-actuated hydraulics to raise and lower loads. The entire Dandy Lift line recently underwent an ergonomic ugprade to improve hand positioning and increase handle and foot pedal accessibility.

Five battery-powered models also are now available from Southworth. Each Powered Dandy Lift uses a 24 V rechargeable battery for clean and quiet lift and lowering operation, which is button-activated. Electrical components are shielded to protect the operator and a battery status indicator and on-board charger are standard features.

Air conveyors: Pinch points, idlers, belts and mechanical friction are sources of maintenance in traditional conveyor designs. Martin Engineering’s air-supported conveyor system eliminates these elements, enabling significantly lower operating and maintenance costs. A low-power centrifugal fan pressurizes a plenum with holes on top, creating a thin film of air between the plenum and belt to support a moving load. A single fan is able to power 600 ft of belt. With about 1 mm of lift, the totally enclosed, air-supported conveyor system provides high-speed operation without friction and a stable belt path to minimize turbulence, spillage and dust emission.

E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at [email protected].