Acing Articulating Crane Operation

Crane OperationTruck-mounted articulating cranes are a valuable material handling tool for utility contractors. The ability of truck-crane units to efficiently transport, pick up and place a variety of heavy materials can have a significant impact on a contractor’s productivity and profitability.

The benefits of articulating cranes cannot be realized unless the equipment is operated efficiently and safely. Following are some best practices for articulating crane operation from Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT), which manufactures a complete lineup of articulating cranes for markets around the world.

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It is important to understand that these are general guidelines from one crane manufacturer; operators and service personnel should always carefully follow manuals for their specific crane when operating, inspecting and maintaining the equipment.

Safety First
Safety is a major consideration in the design and manufacture of articulating cranes, but only operators and service personnel can provide a safe work environment. They must ensure that crane operation, inspection and maintenance are performed in a conscientious and timely manner to establish the most efficient and safest possible working conditions.

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Articulating crane operators must be trained and experienced personnel. It is mandatory that operators thoroughly read and understand the operation and safety manuals for their specific crane before operating the equipment. Failure to carefully follow safety requirements and step-by-step operating instructions can result in serious injury or death. In addition to following the operation and safety manuals, operators should be familiar with all applicable government regulations and safety codes.

Stay Diligent about Daily Inspections
Daily inspections are critical to efficient and safe operation of articulating cranes. IMT recommends performing the following list of crane inspections and checks at start-up and during operation:

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  • Safety Accessories: Check for proper function, oil levels, leaks and malfunctions.
  • Hydraulic Oil Reservoir: Check for proper oil level, leaks and blockages.
  • Weldments: Check for damage, especially cracks or breaks in welds.
  • Cylinders: Check for leakage and scored rods.
  • Fasteners: Check pins, sheaves, nuts and bolts for breakage, excessive wear and tightness.
  • Hooks: Check for the presence of a safety catch, twists, cracks or damage.
  • Ropes and Slings: Check for frayed edges, broken strands, kinks, flat spots and end attachments.
  • Covers and Guards: Check for missing or improperly maintained covers and guards.
  • Remote control: Check engine stop switch for function and corrosion.
  • Operation Placards and Safety Decals: Check for illegible or missing decals and placards.
  • If maintenance items are noticed during daily inspections and checks, the crane should be removed from service until the necessary replacement or repair is completed.

Crane OperationSet Up for Success
Lift safety depends heavily on worksite preparation, so all lifts must be carefully planned.

When arriving at the worksite and preparing to set up the truck-crane unit, operators should consider power lines, bystanders, overhead obstructions and other obstacles that could interfere with the working range of the articulating crane or get in the way of stabilizers. They also should consider needs for solid surface support and operator visibility of the entire working area.

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The truck-crane unit should be positioned with the rated capacity of the crane and the weight of the load to be lifted in mind. Operators should determine the weight of the load to be lifted — the weight of the load plus the weight of any load-handling devices — and use the crane capacity chart to ensure that all lifts are performed within the rated capacity of the crane.

Articulating cranes operate best when positioned on ground that is as close to level as possible. To avoid instability, the truck-crane unit should be parked in the most level spot near the load — within 5 degrees of level per ANSI standards — on ground that is sufficiently firm to absorb pressure from the stabilizer legs. If the ground is too soft, stabilizer legs should be reinforced.

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If work near power lines cannot be avoided, IMT recommends keeping the crane at least 30 ft from any power line or apparatus. In windy conditions, additional clearance should be allowed for power line and load line sway and deflection. If a lift is impossible to perform within the minimum distance between electrical source and crane, the power line or apparatus should be de-energized before the lift is attempted. A qualified signal person or spotter should be used when working near electrical sources, even if the power line has been de-energized.

Operators should ensure that bystanders are at least 30 ft from the truck-crane unit and the working area of the crane.

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Operate Safely and Soundly
Before lifting a load, operators should ensure that the vehicle’s transmission is in neutral and the parking brake is set. Next, they should engage the PTO, place wheel chocks on each side of a drive tire and turn on the crane’s safety system.

Operators should wear a hard hat and safety goggles during operation. Articulating cranes have a variety of control options; most of today’s articulating cranes are run by radio remote for maximum operator safety and visibility.

IMT offers the following instructions for properly setting up a load and performing a lift.

Load Setup

  • Deploy stabilizers and unfold the boom system according to the crane manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Carefully attach proper lifting gear to the load.
  • Secure all unnecessary manual boom extensions, if applicable.
  • Eliminate swing by positioning the boom tip directly over the center of the load before lifting.
  • Check the safety of the load by first lifting the load barely off the ground.

Lift Performance

  • Do not exceed the rated capacity indicated on the lifting capacity chart. The load moment is highest when the boom is slightly above horizontal.
  • Use caution when operating in reduced-stability areas.
  • Do not operate the stabilizers when the crane is working.
  • Operate the control valves smoothly. Avoid jerking the valves or the load.
  • Use any extension booms in their proper sequence — largest to smallest.
  • Do not stand directly in line with the boom travel when releasing manual extension boom pins, to avoid injury if the boom slides unexpectedly.
  • Know the position of the booms at all times while operating the crane.
  • Never drag a load or bounce the boom.
  • Never leave the crane when it is loaded or walk under a suspended load.
  • When lifting, keep the load as close to the ground as possible.
  • Stop all crane operation at a signal from anyone.
  • When rotating the crane, the load may change from being supported by the stabilizers to the truck suspension. Use caution when rotating the crane, because springs on the truck will respond differently to the load than the tires will.
  • When a cylinder is in its most extreme position, the control valve lever must be immediately released to the neutral position to prevent the oil from overheating.

After the Lift
Following the lift, articulating crane extensions and stabilizers should be retracted and the crane stowed — according to crane manufacturer instructions — until its next efficient and safe use.
In addition to daily inspections and checks, weekly, monthly and yearly service intervals in the crane manual also should be followed. Proper inspection and maintenance of the crane will lead to a long, productive life for the equipment.

John Field is the Product Manager of Material Handling at Iowa Mold Tooling Co. Inc. (IMT), a leading manufacturer of service vehicles, cranes, hydraulic loaders and air compressors. 

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