Overhead Handling: Handling Up High

Using the overhead space in your facility not only frees up floor space, but also leads to more efficient product movement

Using space overhead frees up the floor for safer, more efficient movement of products, work-in-process and associated tooling. In addition to decluttering the work zone, these systems offer enhanced ergonomics, plus a means to move items too large to be transported with a fork-based vehicle.

Track-based conveyance

For moving products weighing 5 pounds to 1,500 pounds, overhead chain systems are the most common type of overhead handing. Evenly spaced pendants hanging along a single chain are pulled through a single enclosed track, or I-beam track, to carry the loads.

The next level of conveyance is dual-track power-and-free systems. These systems are comprised of a chain track on top, which provides the power, and the free track below, which contains the trolleys that move loads through the system.

Capable of carrying 25 pounds to 25,000 pound loads, power-and-free conveyors are used extensively in conveying materials to and from automation, manual workcells, and hostile environments like industrial washers, paint equipment and ovens, according to Brent Brosch, director of product sales for Jervis B. Webb (248-553-1000, [url=http://www.jervisbwebb.com]http://www.jervisbwebb.com[/url]). “Power-and-free conveyors are extremely flexible, versatile and can be programmed to service a few work cells or an entire plant with proven reliability,” he says.

“From a new development perspective, lately there's been more emphasis put on noise reduction in chain and power-and-free conveyors, with use of non-metallic wheels to reduce the noise in a workplace,#8221; says Brosch. And, to further reduce noise, other components are also being made of non-metallic materials, he adds.

Ideal for carrying a load from Point A to Point B, electrified monorail systems are best suited for moving high-value products across long distances with fewer stops. The system consists of a single rail or I-beam from which a hook or hoist hangs, providing lateral and vertical movements of loads weighing up to 30,000 pounds.

“Monorails have remained very similar in appearance over the past 30 years, but a lot of subtle improvements have been made,” Brosch says. “Previously, most I-beam systems were built for very heavy-duty cycle use, particularly in automotive manufacturing. Today, other industries with light- to medium-duty manufacturing applications, like appliances and warehousing, are installing lighter duty monorail systems appropriate for their needs.”

Workstation and overhead cranes

Offered in multiple types and load capacities, cranes are comprised of three components:

  • a stationary or mobile bridge made of rails and carrying one or more trolleys,
  • the unit that travels side to side and carries the hoist, and
  • a lifting device that hooks onto and manipulates a load.

Cranes can be manual or power driven, depending on the application and the size of the load that has to be moved.

On the smaller scale, workstation cranes enable operators in a work cell to safely manipulate relatively light loads. These free-standing units handle product in a relatively limited area, like in production environments.

More workstation cranes are being installed as part of lean-driven manufacturing process changes, says Jeff McNeil, marketing manager for Gorbel (800-821-0086, [url=http://www.gorbel.com]http://www.gorbel.com[/url]). “To enhance the ability to produce multiple products in a single assembly area, companies are turning to flexible systems that maximize the productivity of their operators—installing more ergonomic workstation cranes and lifting devices to help users work smarter,” he says.

Some of the newest workstation cranes are intelligent devices that combine manual and servo-driven operations, McNeil says. The manual function allows workers to move at their own pace as they walk to a bin, select a part and guide the crane to a machining center process. The servo-driven function controls the positioning of the part on the machine, preventing damage to either, by slowing down for part placement and release.

Massive overhead cranes move heavy loads that are not practical to transport with a lift truck over long distances. Ceiling-mounted bridge cranes are often part of the building structure. Top-running, double-girder cranes mount the bridge on top of the runway and have two girders for the bridge. Always powered, these bridge cranes offer capacities up to 600 tons. Alternately, under-hung cranes have a trolley that runs on the bottom of the support I-beams. They're ideal for loads of 15 tons or less.

Gantry cranes look similar to overhead bridge cranes but are not part of the structure of a building. Instead, a gantry consists of two uprights connected by an I-beam that serves as a bridge for the trolley. They can be either powered or manually manipulated and handle capacities up to 5 tons.

Speed control continues to be refined in overhead cranes for better load handling, says John Paxton, president of Demag Cranes & Components North America (440-248-2400, [url=http://www.demagcranes.us]http://www.demagcranes.us[/url]).

“The enhancements include smooth acceleration and deceleration of the hoist and even step-less control, similar to the gas pedal on a car,” Paxton says. “The more you push on the button, the faster you go, and as you let up, the slower you go. That gives the operator improved control for spotting and positioning.” This functionality results in improved productivity.

A bigger trend in 5-ton and above cranes, says Paxton, is the integration of smart controls to enhance safety and reduce downtime. “These controls monitor the hoist, store information including warnings and error codes, and allow the data to be retrieved. By monitoring the load spectrum, users know how the hoist is being used and can schedule maintenance as needed, both predictive and preventive.” This also improves safety and reduces downtime due to unexpected repairs, Paxton adds.

Crane controls

Driven by safety concerns, more and more overhead systems are being controlled by wireless radio remotes instead of wired pendant control. The wireless method permits the operator to run the crane from a safe distance, while pendants require the operator to be near the load as it moves.

Wireless systems include a radio receiver mounted on the crane and wired into the programmable logic controller (PLC) and motors that are turned on and off by the system. They also include a handheld transmitter that the operator uses to send a signal to the receiver.

“One of the emerging trends we see in crane controls is remote diagnostics,” says Haroon Inam, vice president of global engineering for Cattron Group International (724-962-3571, [url=http://www.cattrongroup.com]http://www.cattrongroup.com[/url]). “This and a multitude of other reports—including productivity monitoring and safety conformance—can be custom-created to examine crane behavior, as well as operator behavior.”

Reports are generated from the data collected by the machine control unit. “The information can be conveyed to a global help desk not only for condition-based monitoring, but also to enable remote upgrades of software without the need for a technician to visit each site individually,” says Inam.

Article Topics

Equipment Report
Demag Cranes and Components
Overhead Handling
   All topics

Equipment Report News & Resources

Radial stays ahead of the automation curve
Wireless Mobility: Ready for the next leg up
AGVs set new standards for inventory transportation
Inside North Shore Care Supply: Bringing robots to receiving
Bergen Logistics: Putting robots to work in a multi-tenant facility
High-tech meets low-tech: Automate storage for pallet loads
Tuggers, carts work together to increase productivity and ergonomics
More Equipment Report

Latest in Materials Handling

Conveyor Equipment Manufacturers Association releases semi-annual statistics
Zebra study: nearly six in 10 warehouse leaders plan to deploy RFID by 2028
Conveying Strategies for Robotic Applications: How to Maximize Throughput
Combilift enters offshore wind sector with handling solution, collaborating with Siemens Gamesa
Kion Group partners with Li-Cycle to recycle lithium lift truck batteries in Europe
Record-breaking Pack Expo Las Vegas exceeds expectations
Dexterity AI and FedEx unveil robotics trailer loading technology
More Materials Handling

About the Author

Sara Pearson Specter's avatar
Sara Pearson Specter
Sara Pearson Specter has written articles and supplements for Modern Materials Handling and Material Handling Product News as an Editor at Large since 2001. Specter has worked in the fields of graphic design, advertising, marketing, and public relations for nearly 20 years, with a special emphasis on helping business-to-business industrial and manufacturing companies. She owns her own marketing communications firm, Sara Specter, Marketing Mercenary LLC. Clients include companies in a diverse range of fields, including materials handing equipment, systems and packaging, professional and financial services, regional economic development and higher education. Specter graduated from Centre College in Danville, Ky. with a bachelor’s degree in French and history. She lives in Oregon’s Willamette Valley where she and her husband are in the process of establishing a vineyard and winery.
Follow Modern Materials Handling on FaceBook

Subscribe to Materials Handling Magazine

Subscribe today!
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
Subscribe today. It's FREE.
Find out what the world's most innovative companies are doing to improve productivity in their plants and distribution centers.
Start your FREE subscription today.

September 2023 Modern Materials Handling

Providers of automated packaging and carton right-sizing solutions have thrived by offering systems that deliver on labor and parcel shipment savings— now they’re looking to further evolve by looking to use lighter materials and support flexible “box-first” workflows.

Latest Resources

Conveying Strategies for Robotic Applications: How to Maximize Throughput
This webinar will discuss the recent development of embedding motion-control technology into conveyors to enable packages to be correctly presented to a robot so that throughput of the manual task that the robot has been assigned to perform is maximized.
Improve safety and ergonomics with code-compliant stairs
Outside the Box: Why parcel shippers are suddenly focusing on packing
More resources

Latest Resources

2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
2023 Automation Study: Usage & Implementation of Warehouse/DC Automation Solutions
This research was conducted by Peerless Research Group on behalf of Modern Materials Handling to assess usage and purchase intentions forautomation systems...
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
How Your Storage Practices Can Affect Your Pest Control Program
Discover how your storage practices could be affecting your pest control program and how to prevent pest infestations in your business. Join...

Warehousing Outlook 2023
Warehousing Outlook 2023
2023 is here, and so are new warehousing trends.
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Extend the Life of Brownfield Warehouses
Today’s robotic and data-driven automation systems can minimize disruptions and improve the life and productivity of warehouse operations.
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Power Supply in Overhead Cranes: Energy Chains vs. Festoons
Download this white paper to learn more about how both systems compare.