As part of the Cargotec Group, MacGregor has increasingly sought to factor in digital and connected technologies to enhance safe, smart and efficient ship, cargo- and load-handling — right across its portfolio of mooring, lifting and ships equipment solutions. Its leading role in autonomous unloading technology has been exemplary, with the Autonomous Discharging Crane it has developed and tested in collaboration with ESL Shipping Oy demonstrably increasing efficiency and safety in dry bulk cargo handling.
Operated remotely, MacGregor’s innovative driverless system pre-calculates discharge paths — queuing and prioritizing crane movements — to minimize unloading times and optimize cargo distribution. It features a topographic software module that creates a map above each cargo hold to identify the best lifting points, with sensors determining the material distribution in the hold and compensating for changes in vessel list and trim to ensure a stable discharge point.
In a further simplification of the unloading process, the crane automatically selects a shore-side hopper and adjusts discharge rates depending on the hopper’s capacity. Its grab function is controlled by a machine learning algorithm that ensures optimal fill, while the auto-grip module adjusts the lifting properties depending on the material being moved. As well as boosting efficiency, the system’s smooth operation reduces wear to extend component lifespan and minimize service costs.
Arguably the most significant safety benefit of the Autonomous Discharging Crane is its ability to improve working conditions for system operators. Unloading operations can be monitored and controlled from the ship’s bridge — or from any other safe location that gives the operator a clear view of the crane position and control screen — and only begin when all discharge points are defined and the working area is empty and sealed off.
However, the deployment of autonomous technology brings its own areas for special focus where safety is concerned. For this reason, the Autonomous Discharging Crane is equipped to continuously monitor overall motion speeds and movement to minimize pendulation; and if pendulation occurs regardless, it is corrected by the built-in anti-pendulation system. Meanwhile, the communication module helps to prevent collisions by allowing the cranes to share information such as position, forthcoming positions and other important parameters.
MacGregor is committed to designing autonomous systems and operations that reduce operational complexities and inefficiencies while minimizing safety risks — and the Autonomous Discharging Crane provides the latest example of this commitment in the bulk handling sector. Moving forward, MacGregor envisages additional applications for the system, including the loading of bulk material from a flat storage area, the automated loading and unloading of containers, and the remote operation of cranes from port.