Magic Clamp

30 March 2020 (Last Updated July 8th, 2020 15:53)

With hoists handling a wide range of loads, having the most effective hook or lifting attachment is key for operators. Tom Woerndl reviews recent developments in the sector.

Magic Clamp

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Cranes and hoists are used across a broad range of industries, so it’s imperative that they employ efficient and user-friendly lifting attachments that are perfectly matched to the type of material they are handling. Quite often, the most effective attachment will be the humble hook but, in a number of cases, more bespoke solutions may be required, such as magnetic or suction-based handling systems, or specially-designed grabs for lifting large containers.

Nowadays, as with many other forms of ancillary hoist equipment, safety is a priority for both technology manufacturers and end users. As such, lifting systems are increasingly being engineered to remove workers from ‘danger’ areas, with the development of enhanced control systems and intelligent technology that automatically attaches to the load, rather than requiring human intervention.

Technology is also being designed to be smarter, by adding features and connectivity that allows operators to monitor the efficiency, output or battery life of a lifting system, which can in turn help end users to minimise accidents or downtime caused by product failure.

Hooks for the Offshore sector

One area in which hooks still have a very strong presence is the offshore industry. In this sector, Gunnebo Industries recently launched a DNV offshore safety hook that is designed to benefit from an HDG (hot dip galvanized) dual surface treatment, which prolongs its service life and combats the effects of corrosion.

“The Offshore HDG Safety hook is designed to meet the specific challenges of corrosive offshore environments,” says Lisa Ehrborg, head of marketing at Swedenbased Gunnebo Industries, which is part of The Crosby Group.

“It has a longer lifetime and requires less maintenance than standard products, as it is hot dipped galvanised. The hook is then powder coated in fluorescent yellow, with the high visibility colour increasing safety for operating personnel.”

According to the company, other benefits of the technology include optimised ductility and strength, which allows the attachment to better withstand the dynamic forces that often occur in an offshore lifting environment.

“Our offshore products are manufactured to exact demands and we take preventive actions that prevent hydrogen embrittlement in the hook’s material,” continues Ehrborg. “The risk of hydrogen embrittlement and stress corrosion cracking is minimised through the use of high quality steel, a thoroughly controlled production process, and a low level of hardness [<38 HRC] in the finished product.”

While a marine environment poses challenges to equipment in terms of extremely cold temperatures and corrosive sea water, the problem of hydrogen embrittlement is caused when hydrogen enters steel during the manufacturing process.

If this occurs, it can cause unexpected brittle fractures at loads below the stated working limit, which can potentially lead to catastrophic failures of the lifting equipment and damage to operators and property.

As well as recently launching the offshore safety hook, Gunnebo has additionally developed its WRIN STR Handle, a safety handle that is said to provide additional security for the company’s BK Safety Hook family.

“With this unique handle operators are able to open and close the safety hook without placing their hands inside the hook, resulting in reduced risk of personal injury on worksites,” explains Ehrborg. “The handle is easily mounted on the safety hook, without compromising the integrity of the design and capabilities of the hook.”

Ehrborg adds that both pieces of technology can be used in offshore environments with forerunner/stinger slings on platforms when off-loading to supply boats.

In general, the company says that it is currently selling well to the manufacturing, aquaculture and fishing industries, as well as for oil, gas and wind installations, and infrastructure projects.

“Our products are used all around the world in a number of industries, but we are particularly seeing strong growth in these sectors,” says Ehrborg.

Drum machines

Although hooks can be used to move a variety of loads, one category that requires more complex lifting systems is drum handling. Specialising in equipment used in this sector, US company Morse Manufacturing supplies below hook systems for the hoist sector that are able to lift and pour drums weighing up to 1,134kg (2,500lbs).

Based in Syracuse, New York, the company sells its systems to a host of end users, including the food processing and pharmaceutical industries. “Almost every type of manufacturer uses drums in some form, so our potential sales market is very broad,” explains Ralph Phillips, marketing manager at the company.

“The key benefits of our systems are ergonomics and safety. There is always the danger that factory workers might try to manually lift or roll heavy drums, but our technology removes this need and shifts the effort to the machinery. As a result, we can reduce the potential for both worker injuries and accidents.”

The company’s systems handle all types of drums—including metal, plastic and fibre containers—and below-hook technology can be custom built to suit specific manufacturing environments.

“We recently engineered a below-hook system entirely from stainless steel to suit sanitary contact conditions in the food processing sector,” adds Phillips. “The processer uses plastic drums, which can be tricky to handle, as they are more flexible and slippery than a rigid steel drum. So we designed options to grip the top of the drum, protect container integrity, and prevent a plastic drum from dangerously slipping.”

This installation for the food processor required a system to handle 210l (55gal) plastic drums using hoists. “This was done on a custom basis and included components tailored specifically to the drums used by the company,” says Phillips. “Because of its success, we have subsequently had a number of enquiries from food manufacturers looking to implement similar processes.”

The company’s systems can either be operated manually, or by air/electric power using push button controls. “Our powered drum handler gives operators 360° control of drum rotation, with a range of attachment options for different drum types,” explains Phillips.

Morse Manufacturing sells through a network of distributors with a strong presence on its home US market, as well as exporting to a range of countries, including throughout North America and the European Union. “Our top export markets are Canada, Mexico and Singapore, and we have a global sales distribution network,” notes Phillips.

Gentle handling

Another company that manufactures lifting systems for drum handling is Illinois, US-based Liftomatic. “Our product line is specific to drum handling products and we make equipment to lift, transport, and dump drums,” says Darren Berg, vice president of sales at the company, which has been supplying the sector for more than 60 years.

Most recently, the company engineered a product for drum handling that it claims ensures “safe and efficient vertical pick up and transport of containers”.

“Due to drum construction and, in some cases the sensitive material inside, Liftomatic’s model 3A-HD-BHDL is a very heavy-duty solution for drums and products that require care and support from start to finish in their respective lifting and transporting routines,” explains Berg.

“Three semi-automatic and mechanical lifting arms positively engage the drum chime offering a secure handling process, and the unit is capable of handling steel and plastic 55 gallon drums, in both removable top and closed top variants.”

Berg says that the company—which is headquartered at Buffalo Grove about 50km north of Chicago—was inspired to design the product after receiving several similar customer requests that asked for specific handling protocols and a system that could lift heavy-duty drums up to 1,134kg (2,500lbs).

“Some of the 3A-HD-BHDL units handle containers that are transported via overhead hoists for just a few feet, while others are used for moving products from one processing area to another,” continues Berg. “The mechanical nature of the engage and disengage process allows the operator to have a very ‘hands-off’ arrangement with the device.

“Once centred over the drum the operator simply lowers the unit onto the container. This engages the locking mechanism of the lifting system and allows the clamping arms to engage under the drum chime.

“Once the drum is lifted and moved to its desired location, setting the drum down fully allows the arms to disengage and the unit can then be released from the drum. There is no hassling with chains or straps as the device will engage and disengage as required simply by lowering the unit onto the drum itself.”

The technology is said to be compatible with nearly any overhead lifting hoist or crane, with the company’s own testing successfully completed on a 10-ton Demag crane.

As for the overall market, Berg says that the company has seen a downturn in the economy as a whole in terms of drum handling requirements in recent months.

“The second half of 2019 was considerably slower than the first half, with quote requests and formal orders down by about 20%,” he adds. “Thus far in 2020 there is contact and requests for product quotes, but the overall direction and purchasing plans are yet to be seen.”

Remote controls

Automatic camping and lifting features are also offered by Austrian company Pewag, which has unveiled a lifting clamp and hook (featured in the January issue of Hoist) that can be opened and sealed/ locked remotely. The technology is said to be useful for companies handling materials that are very hot, or difficult to access, as it can be operated at distance.

Patrick Janisch, sales and product manager at the Klagenfurt-based company, explains how this project came about: “At Pewag we are always looking for new ways to make existing lifting equipment more intelligent.

“Crane and hoist operators want the fastest and safest way of lifting and, with the Pewag Levo Clamp LC, we had a look at our existing mechanical clamps and came to the conclusion that we could improve them by making them both automatic and enabling them to be controlled remotely.

“As a consequence of these developments, the operator is removed from the most dangerous areas of a plant, which reduces the risk of accidents and also increases efficiency.”

Pewag says that the clamp is most suitable for installation at shipyards and steel processing sites to load and unload material, including sheets and plates. In addition, the clamp can be used for up to 2,000 work cycles without interruption, while it is said to benefit from an enhanced safety feature, as it does not open under load.

“Levo Clamp LC can withstand temperatures of -20°C to 60°C, and it is suitable for lifting and transporting steel plates with a maximum hardness of 37 HRC (345 HB),” adds Janisch. “Generally, we expect to see growth in sales for this solution in the steel and shipping sectors, as well as in the construction and welding industries.”

Train Spotters

Improving safety and productivity were two key demands when Network Rail, which owns and manages most of the rail network in the UK, met Spanish lifting solutions supplier Elebia.

Network Rail initially wanted to use an automatic lifting system to move track at its depot in Eastleigh, near Southampton on the south coast of England. Its aim was to reduce the need for its team to work under stressful and potentially dangerous conditions.

Before installing the lifting system from Elebia, operators at the Eastleigh site had to walk between and clamber over rails, which led to the possibility of slipping, especially in poor weather conditions. They also had to operate their original lifting system manually, which posed other potential health and safety risks.

Based on its first discussions with Network Rail, Elebia decided to design a bespoke system for lifting singular, welded track up to 216m in length that would then be loaded onto trains and sent across the country.

Following a prototype design and feedback from both companies, Elebia carried out tests with sample track at its headquarters near Barcelona. Having decided on the specifications for the lifting clamp, Elebia manufactured 26 units, with installation at the Eastleigh site in October last year.

The eTrack Rail Lifting Clamp has a capacity of up to 2,000kg and has been tested on 56E1 and 60E2 rail profiles and 75 conductor rails. It features an LED Status Indicator—a colour coded system that displays the status of the clamp to operators—as well as a rechargeable battery, charge status display, and ‘Smart Nap’ mode, which is said to reduce battery consumption. A three-hour charge allows for more than 5,000 cycles or over 2 months in standby mode, says the company.

Elebia adds that the clamping mechanism of the system automatically unlocks when it makes contact with the surface of the rail. After being lowered onto the rail, the technology then locks automatically onto its target. The device has a retractable, spring-loaded metal finger that acts as a guide to find the correct position for the clamp, and additionally features a fail-safe design to ensure that, once the clamp has locked onto the rail, it is not possible to release or drop the load.

“Today, thanks to the implementation of the eTrack, the lifting and handling process is faster and safer at Eastleigh, and any inherent risks to the operation have been drastically reduced,” explains Esteve Fornells, marketing manager at Elebia. 

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