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Monash University’s innovation to reduce crane accidents

Crane operation is job fraught with danger and wrestled with fate. Not too long ago, a tub of concrete fell from a crane at a construction site at Box Hill, Victoria. One fatality resulted and two sustained injuries. Last year in Adelaide, a man was run over by a crane. Horrified, researchers from Monash University have worked to reverse that reality.

Challenge Accepted

Dr Yihai Fang from the University’s Department of Civil Engineering is heading the research team. His team is creating programs which employ game engine software which utilises sensing, simulation and visualisation.

“Cranes are involved in a significant number of injuries and fatalities in construction, with people being hit by crane parts/loads and electrocution being the most frequent cases,” said Dr Fang. “Many of these incidents are due to the misjudging of space between cranes in the work site and surrounding entities, such as workers, power lines and structures.”

The technology will modernise crane operations to become safer. Currently, lift planning and operation are ineffective are even outmoded since they are unable to recognise and mitigate potential safety risks. Dr Fan thinks that current practices are unable to respond to the various complications and rapid changes on a construction site.

“Current practices cannot ensure a safe workplace during crane lifts because of a number of deficiencies in existing planning techniques – the most severe being inadequate consideration to avoid cranes swinging over workers,” he said.

Game On!

To raise safety standards for crane operators and any passer-by, the solution the researchers put forth is based on gaming software. The idea behind this is that crane operators will practice virtually in a close-to-reality and risk-free environment, before commencing their work. The virtual reality technology assists them in pre-empting risky manoeuvres by planning how they will operate in the situation.

A Lift Virtual Prototyping (LVP) system has been developed. The system allows the lift team to plan lift activities using modelling, simulation and analysis processes. Furthermore, the crane’s location and lift path can be optimised using pre-designed models and precise cloud data which represents the workspace. The data also includes real-time spatial constraints at the time of the lift.

Hence, any potential errors can be ruled out by through the technology’s pre-emptive capabilities. Workers also have the option of collaborating with others to hone the plan of execution.

In addition to the LVP system, a Real-time Smart Crane system has been designed by Dr Fang and his team. This innovation captures the crane’s motions and monitors the spatial clearances between the crane parts/load and the surrounding entities. The development process of this technology required robust field testing with real cranes at constructions sites and offshore platforms. Results were feed into the system.

The system is also capable of detecting trespasses of occupational safety standards. If an individual approaches or walks into the crane workspace, the system can detect it for subsequent assessments to be made.

Dr Fang is confident in his technology. He said, “Workers should no longer need to be concerned if a heavy load might fall on them. This technology alerts the crane operator if workers move into the danger zone under heavy loads so they can adapt accordingly… With an emphasis on workplace safety and improved project management practices, we’re hoping to engage industry partners to support further research in this important area. No worker should feel unsafe while on the job and these new technologies might provide a life-saving solution.”

Watch the Lift Virtual Prototyping system in action here and the Real-time Smart Crane system in action here.

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