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Enabling cranes’ sensors to self-clean

September 20, 2017

Location: Hyvinkää, Finland

Challenge: Moisture or dust can keep cranes’ optical sensors from functioning properly.

Solution: Innovate a nanotech coating to keep sensors clean and dry.

In 2013, Konecranes was in the process of developing fully automated cranes that were highly dependent on sensors. At that time, sensors were becoming even more valuable as a component for reliable crane operation.

Hannu Jyväsjärvi, Chief Electrical Engineer in Rail Mounted Gantry and Automated Stacking Cranes (ASC) at Konecranes, had been working on ASC projects and seen the problems first hand – cranes operating in environments, exposed to rain, dust, mist and other conditions which impaired their sensors’ performance.

Jorma Merimaa, Chief R&D Engineer, who is involved in crane projects and developing camera systems, had observed similar challenges in his work on the field. Clearly, a solution was needed.

Together with Chief Engineer Ari Nieminen, who works in R&D projects and material testing, they began investigating solutions in nanotechnology, a discipline where, for the past decade, rapid advancement had been made in special coatings.

Droplets on the surface of sensors distort light – an especially tricky challenge in windy areas where water can run in various directions – even upwards. While a protective cover or visor could prevent the collection of moisture and particles, for example, optical sensors cannot be fully covered for obvious reasons.

The team considered using the desirable properties of certain chemical substances by building them onto surfaces.  The method they ultimately honed in on was that of treating sensors’ surfaces with a protective nanotech coating. They began exploring coating substances in the spring of 2013, and following several rounds of testing over about ten months, found a viable solution. 

Enlisting the fire brigade

One step of the testing involved unusual participants – the voluntary fire brigade of the town Hyvinkää, an important center for Konecranes’ R&D activities, and the location of the company’s global headquarters. Fire trucks were needed as tests were being carried out in the late summer, when it was dry and testing naturally required rain or at least water from fire hoses in the absence of rain.

“They came with their fire trucks and pumps, and hosed water skywards to simulate rain,” Nieminen recalls with amusement.

By the beginning of 2014, the hydrophilic coating for sensors, which had been developed fully in-house at Konecranes, was applied to ten ASC cranes due for delivery to a customer operating in the port industry in Southeast Asia.

Today, the technology is in use in various crane projects that utilize optical sensors. Konecranes has patented the coating solution, which is available to the company’s customers.

Other applications

Today, the technology is in use in various crane projects that utilize optical sensors. Konecranes has patented the coating solution, which is available to the company’s customers.

Nanotechnological coating substances are not cost prohibitive, making the solution feasible for many needs.  However, the coating must be applied by an experienced technician, adjusting it to the type of sensors being treated. The original development concentrated on laser sensors, but there are other applications.

“It can be used in other kinds of sensors such as camera-based ones. The windows of cranes’ operator cabins could be one potential application in future,” Nieminen says.

Konecranes R&D is exploring further applications for nano-coatings on different types of surfaces, such as glass, painted metal, plastics and more.

The team

Ari Nieminen, Chief R&D Engineer, has worked in R&D projects and material testing at Konecranes since 1989.

Jorma Merimaa, Chief R&D Engineer, has been involved in crane projects and developing camera systems at Konecranes since 1988.

Hannu Jyväsjärvi, Chief Electrical Engineer active in RMG and ASC projects, has worked at Konecranes since 1988.

 

Text: Patricia Ongpin Steffa
Photo: Konecranes