South African crane manufacturer Condra says it has been receiving more enquiries about fully automated overhead cranes year-on-year since it first began offering full automation for its whole equipment line in 2020.

The company, which supplies cranes to steel-making enterprises and mines, recorded a higher number of automated crane enquiries in 2022 than in previous years.

Although Condra received no orders for these types of cranes, there was a growth in the number of tender documents that listed crane automation as something to be provided after installation.

According to Condra’s Managing Director, Marc Kleiner, this points to a significant trend in the market’s increasing awareness of fully automated cranes and their advantages, such as enhanced productivity.

What does full automation mean, specifically in the case of cranes?

A machine or piece of equipment is fully automated when it does not require a human to control or operate it in any way.

Present overhead cranes have limited automation; they are capable of performing a small number of pre-programmed automated tasks on their own.

In addition, they can also execute semi-automated tasks, such as randomised, non-repetitive lifting, that require human operators to control the cranes.

The types of tasks in which full automation would be most feasible and enhance productivity would be repetitive crane operations like, as Kleiner says, in refinery operations.

Potential for crane automation to gain traction in SA

Kleiner says South Africa has the capacity to offer fully automated cranes in terms of “technology and local manufacturing capability” and that people are recognising this more, so to him it’s a matter of time before automation takes off.

According to Kleiner, when it comes to automation, “crane companies are in the lead”, with autonomous cranes already out there and “performing useful work”. He compares this to the slower development of autonomous cars, which have not evolved past the experimental stage.

As of late, steel enterprises and miners around the continent have signed contracts with Condra, with Kleiner saying “we have a solid order book.”

He also states that many enquiries about automation for cranes Condra gets are about the provision for future automation on their cranes, such as wiring points on cranes where cameras with cognitive movement control ability could be attached at a later stage.

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