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Coker Crane Automation

Petrochemical plants running coker operations are fertile ground for crane automation. While full automation is still on the horizon at most plants, the semi-automated coker cranes built by Konecranes come standard with a PLC, modern D2 inverter controls and signal cables– virtually everything needed to convert to full automation (or remote operation) in the future.

Konecranes has been the global provider of choice for coker cranes since the late 1990s. Proprietary load control technologies such as DynAPilot sway control, DynAGrab for hoist/bucket control and DynAReg energy recovery require some of the same tools needed for automation.

So if you purchase these Smart Features to improve safety, reliability and productivity you also acquire some of the base hardware and software capability needed to automate most crane functions.

Repetitive Tasks

Coke handling lends itself well to automation. The crane takes hot, fresh coke out of the way of the drum and repeats this action until the entire coke pile is moved. After a 24-hour waiting period, the crane moves the cooled, de-watered coke to the crusher, hopper or conveyor.

The crane can perform these repetitive tasks at the push of a button, while an operator supervises from the air-conditioned cab. Moving in a pattern, the crane bucket clears the area with no wasted motion, even in poor visibility.

When automation tells the crane to dig in an empty place, a pre-programmed subroutine will take over. If preferred, the crane will beep and alert the operator. Or, the crane can be programmed to move on to the next instruction on the list such as cleaning the settling pit.

This long, tedious job is no problem for the crane computer system. The computer can’t sneeze and slam into the pit wall, or fail to pay attention because of the repetitive nature of the task. The crane does precisely what it is programmed to do. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Full Automation, or semi-automation?

In any automated system, it takes cooperation between the automation provider and the facility owner to communicate and envision all of the things that automation needs to do. Subroutines are written for potential process alternate flows. But, there are always circumstances that no one could envision. In this eventuality, manual control can be restored for unanticipated tasks. The operator can solve the problem, then turn the automation back on. Manual control is always available when needed. 

Manual control can be accomplished by an operator going out to the crane cabin, or if so equipped, by using the Remote Operation console, which can be part of the Automation Control Station in the unit control room.

Today, facility owners have several options, or levels of automation, available to them. At the top of the pyramid is full automation, routinely found in other industries but not yet typical for coker cranes. Full automation performs with no humans involved in the interface, and can potentially be handled from a remote operating station. Operator oversight includes an operator monitoring the system and assisting it with tasks that are easier for a human to perform, while the rest of the tasks are handled by automation.

Semi-automation, the level just above manual control, automates selected tasks whenever the operator engages the system.

Modern design

When automation can do a job in one smooth motion without any extra commands on the joystick, it is reducing wear and tear on machinery. And reducing wear on the crane, the runway structure and the pit reduces operating costs. Modern crane design delivers important benefits too.

Konecranes new D2 inverter features a modular configuration that is smaller, easier to work on, less expensive to maintain and simpler to replace. Another advantage is that key wear components like wire ropes tend to last longer on a semi-automated coker crane.

Load control technologies reduce stress on people and machines

Konecranes proprietary load control technologies are software programs that operate in the background of our modern coker cranes, making the operator’s job safer, easier and less fatiguing. These programs also reduce stress on controls and machinery.

  • DynAGrab synchronizes the hoisting machineries, sharing the load properly between them, reducing overloads and lengthening rope and mechanical component life.
  • Skew control reduces wheel and rail wear and reduces stress on wheels, bearings, rails, rail attachments and support structures.
  • DynAPilot sway control reduces load sway, reducing collisions with hoppers and pit walls, lessening damage to buckets, hoppers and the pit.

In addition, Konecranes CMS Monitoring software provides equipment status and alarms and can archive that information for use in maintenance planning and trouble-shooting. And TRUCONNECT® Remote Support provides 24/7 access to a global network of crane experts and specialists, offering problem solving and troubleshooting.

All of these “building blocks” can be part of an automated crane system as well.

Enhancing safety and improving economics

When you can move people away from the hazardous areas of the refinery, safety improves. Automation can substantially enhance safety by preventing collisions between the grab and the pit walls, and helping to prevent operator fatigue. Full automation can also move people away from the crane operations, allowing them to work from a safer area. Cranes can be operated from the area that is most convenient, allowing the crane operator to potentially share tasks with others, improving overall economics and management oversight for the coker unit.                                    

Full automation is on the horizon

While most coker units currently operate a semi-automated crane, there is no question that full automation could improve operations even further. For example, when a drum dumps a load of coke, it is possible to program the crane to automatically take the hot, fresh coke out of the way of the drum so that it can dump again. A system of scanners travels down the pit, scans the height of all the cooling coke stacks and remembers their location and how long they have been there. 24 hours later, the software drives the crane back to the stacks of cooled, dewatered coke to move it to the crusher, hopper or conveyor.

Full automation may one day be common in coker units. The good news?  In today’s semi-automated coker cranes built by Konecranes, most of the sensors, devices and communication hardware needed for full automation are already part of the crane.