An Aluminum Producer operates a casthouse in a remote part of Canada. This is a very busy environment with a 24/7 operation. Multiple bridge cranes are used to transport ladles of molten aluminum and pour ingots for the rolling mill. Mobile vehicles are present in the area along with foot traffic, as well as 2 bridge cranes.
The purpose of the project was to remove operators from a hazardous area, thereby improving safety. Trutegra was hired to prove the feasibility of remotely operating the crane. The proposed solution would require a new operator’s station and cameras mounted on the crane. Stereoscopic goggles similar to Oculus Rift ™ were evaluated, along with a 2m spherical projection dome. Trutegra used stereoscopic streaming and player software to manage multiple cameras and to produce the “stitched” image for both the 3D goggles and for the Projection dome. In addition, position data from the crane was transmitted back into the vision system to produce visual enhancements (lines and hash marks) that show the operator a projection of the hook onto the floor, as well as HMI and fault data.
Cameras were added to the crane system but had to be protected from extreme heat. Multiple vantage points had to be provided since the process of grappling the ladles and pouring the ingots requires extremely good awareness and control. Multiple cameras mounted on the mobile crane created very large amounts of streaming data, which was managed by the streamer software. Custom driver software and application software was developed to create Augmented Reality features to aid the operator. A two (2) meter spherical projection dome was constructed and equipped with three (3) projectors to display the live streaming image with Augmented Reality for the operator. The operator can switch vantage points as needed to manipulate the crane/load. The projection dome is favored over the 3D goggles due to vertigo type sensations that some people experience when using the Goggles.
Summary of Results
We found that our remote operation solution coupled with No-Sway technology met the objective of creating a safer overall situation. Operators can sit or stand and operate the crane with excellent situational awareness with multiple vantage points while being completely removed from a busy hazardous environment. Operators are still able to complete delicate operations such as grappling a ladle, or placing the ladle into pour stations, with the benefit of well-placed cameras, and Augmented Reality features which aid the operator when positioning the crane.
Future systems will have even more Augmented Reality features, and additional camera views. Provisions for operating two cranes in the common area are needed if the customer goes forward with the conversion of both cranes. Trutegra believes this technology is exciting, practical, and effective. Operators can be relocated to safe environments and still perform challenging crane tasks safely.