Safety & Use of Overhead Crane Controls

Safety & Use of Overhead Crane Controls

In a world full of materials handling needs, and especially in the context of overhead cranes, it can be hard to understand what overhead crane controls are and what they do.  There exists a multitude of controls available to direct as well as report on the status and conditions of materials handling equipment.  But how are they used and what are the benefits of using them? What safety concerns should be considered? And…what do the more modern overhead crane controls have to offer?

How Are Crane Controls Used?

According to the ECMA (Electrification and Controls Manufacturers Association), “controls interface with and manage hardware through a communications network to ensure that equipment operates properly and safely.” Controls integrated into overhead cranes specifically make use of hardware, software, sensors, and operator skill to move items from one place to another.

At minimum, controls position the crane along the runway and the hoist to the load and allow the load to be moved up/down, side-to-side, etc.  Such operations are usually achieved using a simple pendant or a radio-controlled remote.  More advanced crane controls also provide key status and diagnostic information, additional control over speed and positioning and safety measures to protect employees and equipment.

What Are the Basic Types of Crane Controls?

Many cranes, and especially older models, use pendant controls that typically hang down off the hoist itself and depend on festoon systems to allow them to move with the hoist. These controls are hardwired to the crane and require that the user be within a certain distance of the hoist in order to use them. They are both reliable and easy to use, which accounts for the popularity they have retained over the years. However, they really work best for low-duty cycle lifts and jobs where the possibility of injury is extremely low, as the pendant makes the operator unable to be completely separated from the active load.

Wireless controls are the other primary type of overhead crane control. When wireless controls are used, instructions are transmitted by (RF) radio frequency or infrared technology as opposed to transmission of electrical signals through a hardwired cable. Most wireless styles are either hand-held or bellybox style: bellybox controls are positioned at a convenient location on the operator via a belt clip or harness, while handheld controls can be anything from a wireless pendant to an app on a smartphone or tablet. Bellybox controls usually include one or more joysticks for control.

Unlike pendant controls, radio controls allow the operator to position themselves for a much safer view of the positioning and hoisting operations because there is no cable involved. They also provide more options when it comes to speed control but require batteries or recharging. On the other hand, because the operator can be positioned away from the crane system, wireless controls provide an additional safety factor.

What Do Modern Crane Controls Have to Offer?

More modern control technology offers:

  • Diagnostic visualization and information (Touch Screen/HMI)
  • Added safety features
  • Remote diagnostics
  • Tandem drive systems
  • Frequency converters for smoother, more precise movements
  • Tablet, smartphone, and PC monitoring
  • Black box technology to support warranty claims
  • Advanced programming options
  • Obstacle avoidance systems (OAS)
  • Better reliability

The additional data that more advanced crane controls can provide include runtime, picks cycle on the hoist or lifting device or both, loading history and critical diagnostic fault codes and data. Again, all important data to keep your operation safe.

Where Are Crane Controls Used?

While there may be some thought that crane controls are limited to automation of materials handling, conveying parts to a particular destination, or moving parts through a production line on a recurring basis, overhead crane controls are used for retrieval, positioning, and placement of heavy loads performed uniquely.

Cranes are, however, often a key part of control automation. For example, controls can, in addition to moving a part to a particular location for assembly, indicate that the part has arrived and is ready for the next step and then return and pick another part as programmed. Crane controls are ideal as support for automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS).

Modern crane controls support the programming of cranes to perform repetitive tasks with minimum intervention by an operator. Crane controls are also heavily involved in safety: built-in controls can stop a hoist if an unsafe condition is detected, such as personnel being too close or an obstacle in the way (zoning).

What Are the Benefits of Crane Controls?

There are a host of benefits to modern crane controls. In general, the latest technology in crane controls provides the operator with far more control over movement, speed, and positioning of the hoist. Controls offer additional safety measures to keep employees safe and equipment safe from damage. Crane controls allow cranes to become part of the control automation systems that enhance and optimize production.

Is It Time to Update Your Crane Controls?

Updating/upgrading the crane controls at your facility makes sense when you consider not just the advancements in controls technology but the fact that controlled equipment is rapidly becoming far more affordable & safer.  The choice of the right controls upgrade can improve your productivity and reduce the time involved in daily material handling. And, keep in mind that old and outdated controls become increasingly unreliable with repair parts hard to source, contributing ultimately to unplanned downtime.  If you are concerned with aging controls and downtime, now is the time to upgrade your controls. Crane controls should increase the efficiency of your operations, not hinder them, not to mention a much safer operation.




The choice of controls for the overhead cranes at your facility is key to how productive and safe your material handling system will be. Fortunately, there are a variety of crane controls on the market to support the type of operations performed at your facility.

If crane controls optimization is a topic you would like to explore, contact the overhead crane experts at Hi-Speed. We can help you navigate the complicated land of controls and help you find exactly what you need at a competitive price, as well as assist you with installation and operator training to keep your operations safe.