P&H began working with Stellar four years ago to develop technology to help prevent crane overload events.  -  Photo: P&H Mining

P&H began working with Stellar four years ago to develop technology to help prevent crane overload events.

Photo: P&H Mining

Successful collaborations with vendors and suppliers have helped Mike Butsch create a safer, more efficient fleet.

Director of fleet operations for Joy Global, Butsch partnered with Stellar Industries and Equipment Upfitters to eliminate overload situations on P&H Mining Equipment's vehicle-mounted cranes. (A Joy Global company, P&H Mining Equipment was established in 1884 and is based in Milwaukee.)

With a total fleet of 800 vehicles, P&H builds and services large surface mining equipment and is the first company to utilize Stellar cranes equipped with Crane Dynamics Technology (CDT). With two 14,000-lb. capacity CDT units already in place, Butsch said the new technology reduces the risk of crane overload situations.

Eliminating Guesswork

P&H began working with Stellar four years ago to develop technology to help prevent crane overload events. At that time, crane operators could not assess the weight of equipment they planned to move. Without an advance alert, operators could find themselves inadvertently dealing with the reality of a crane overload.

The new CDT device allows the crane to communicate with the operator to determine if the load is within the crane's limit capacity. Through cell phone-like vibrations and LED lights, the CDT pistol-grip handheld device lets users know when the load is within 20 percent of maximum or if load capacity has been exceeded.

When approaching an overload situation, LED lights on the handheld controller indicate yellow for 80-percent capacity, red for 90-percent capacity, and flashing lights for 100-percent of rated capacity. The cyclical vibration increases frequency in the handheld controller to ensure the operator is aware of the approaching overload.

"Before the CDT, we had to rely on the judgment of the employee on the ground to make an educated guess on whether or not we were staying within the crane's limit," Butsch said. "Unless you know what the object is you are lifting and its weight, you just have to do a best-guess scenario and rely on the experience of the crane operator. We have a new-generation product that is really going to set the standard for vehicle-mounted crane devices."

Minimize Risk & Exposure

Over the past two years, P&H has taken delivery of 40 Stellar trucks, built on Ford F-750 and International platforms and upfitted with cranes. According to Butsch, the cranes alone cost $14,000-$22,000.

According to Butsch, Stellar provides a great field service group, which helps him maintain P&H service trucks.

"From a safety perspective, the operators are excited about the CDT," Butsch said. "They understand now that they have a good way of keeping themselves safe because during the course of the lift, the cranes can weigh objects between 3,000 and 14,000 lbs. and will signal when a potential overload event may occur."

He explained, "It's like driving down the highway without a speedometer or headlights at night. This gives us the ability to ensure that we're within the crane's capacity, which not only minimizes the risk to our employees, but also exposure to our customers and individuals on the ground."

P&H Mining and Stellar worked to utilize the welder/auxiliary power unit on the truck to operate the crane. Currently, welder/generator units installed on P&H service trucks power the trucks' electric functions, including auxiliary heaters and battery chargers, in addition to reducing idle time, said Butsch.

Fully deploying the Stellar-modified units will eliminate much of the idle time, which, on a 40-unit fleet, could produce as much as $500,000 in savings, Butsch estimated.

In addition, the service trucks are equipped with high-output LED lights, which reduce electric power demands and also provide better jobsite lighting, a safety feature, Butsch noted.

"This is the first time in my experience somebody has been able to have the OEMs and upfitters work together in this manner," Butsch said. "We are able to turn off the truck's 325-plus hp engine and operate the crane, lights, and an in-cab heater, which basically extends the life of our engines by about two years."

He estimates the new trucks will save $1,000 per unit, per month just on maintenance and fuel.

"All of our trucks in the past 2½-3 years were built so they could be retrofitted, which should run about $4,000-$5,000 per unit and give us about a 3½- 4-month payback. We're developing a best-in-class operational solution that will eliminate about 300 gallons of fuel per month, per unit."

CDT Alleviates Overloads

Stellar Industries, Inc., based in Garner, Iowa, developed the CDT system two years ago, according to Tim Davison, product manager for bodies and cranes. It's important for anybody lifting heavy equipment to understand their position when placing a load to avoid an overload situation, said Davison. If such a situation occurs, the crane will "lock up and then stop," he explained.

With the CDT system, once a crane goes into overload, operators can engage a temporary boost, which for one minute allows the operator to go to nearly 120 percent capacity while slowing down the speed, alleviating the overload condition.

"In today's world, operators lift until the crane stops, and they don't know whether or not they've hit overload because there are no indicators to let them know if they're getting closer," Davison said. "Stellar CDT-equipped cranes inform users on their handheld device that they're getting closer to overload and once they go into overload, we give them another 20 percent to allow them to get out in a safe manner."

Modify Lifting Techniques

Historically, when a problem occurs - a connector comes loose or the operator loses electrical connections to a load-monitoring device - the crane continues to operate, creating the potential for overloading. Stellar's enhanced safety system for monitoring equipment load puts the crane into safe mode if it detects an error code. In the safe mode, the crane operates at 100-percent lifting capacity, but at reduced speed.

According to Davison, CDT signals to end users when they're going into an overload situation so they can modify their lifting techniques. Once overloading occurs, operators must decide where to set the load down immediately. The Stellar CDT provides additional options for load placement prior to an overload situation. This benefit helps productivity because it takes time to set up the truck and turn the crane around for lifting.

With Stellar CDT-equipped cranes, operators can better gauge the weight of a lifted object and set up the truck more effectively for future lifts.

"We take a lot of the guesswork out of whether your safety items are working, and we put a smart diagnostics feature into the crane to monitor their safety devices to make sure they're working properly," Davison said.

Partnering Works for P&H

Salt Lake City-based Equipment Upfitters, the Stellar Industries dealer, has worked with P&H for the past seven years on truck specifications. Equipment Upfitters calculates specs based on the application or location of the CDT-equipped vehicle, outlines the specification, and submits it to P&H.

With new dynamics taking place in the industry, Equipment Upfitters strives to offer the latest technology, according to owner Brian Baskett.

For instance, if a client requests a chassis upfit, Equipment Upfitters drop-ships the chassis to its factory and upfits it with the body and crane. In addition, the company performs maintenance on P&H's trucks and installs GPS units.

"It's really a partnership program we have between Stellar, P&H, and Equipment Upfitters. Because of our solid partnership, we are able to successfully communicate P&H safety needs, which is the primary factor," Baskett said. "We're also looking at being green and creating products friendly to the environment. We're looking to reduce emissions, cost, and engine wear and tear by using auxiliary power options to operate the equipment."

In the meantime, Butsch is also considering the utilization of the CDT-equipped cranes at P&H operations in Canada.