A Close Look at Crane Inspection

Industry should take a more proactive, hands-on approach to inspection of overhead cranes, says Tad Dunville, director of corporate development at Ace World Companies.

Inspection is like accounting; it’s hugely important, yet widely derided. When people going home to their families at night is at stake, corners shouldn’t be cut. When downtime can cost $100k/day or even per hour, a managerial employee risks their P&L and their job by shirking inspections and follow-up repairs. But such short-sightedness is commonplace with overhead crane inspection.

I’ve read many articles on this subject and most have generally been aligned to conformity with OSHA standards. I understand why people do that, but I’m going to go against the grain and suggest industry should go above and beyond what OSHA stipulates and take greater ownership of crane inspection.

Broadly speaking, OSHA says the frequency of inspection is in line with duty (the subject of my previous blog). An excerpt goes something like this, ‘…depending upon its activity, severity of service, and environment, or as specifically indicated.’

However, duty cycle is perhaps overused as a yardstick by which to measure the frequency of inspection. Even low capacity, low duty lifting equipment can cause injury and destruction on a large scale if something goes wrong and I’d urge all end users to at least visually inspect their equipment on a regular basis.

First, companies have to decide whether inspection of their overhead lifting equipment will be mandated by an external framework (OSHA, for example) or by an in-house program. Generally, the lower the duty the more likely it is that inspection will fit into the former category. Steel mills, for example, will be more proactive about their inspection, largely owing to the level of expertise and the importance of continuous crane activity to the larger operation. They can’t afford for something to go wrong, in other words. Lost production time can costs millions of dollars per day.

There tends to be a very robust inspection plan surrounding Crane Manufacturers Association of America (CMAA) Class F cranes (covering continuous severe service cranes that must be capable of handling loads approaching rated capacity continuously under severe service conditions throughout its life). Professionals typically won’t wait until the end of a quarter before looking at their wire ropes; they’ll conduct thorough inspections on, say, a monthly basis and react accordingly to order replacements or schedule maintenance work before a shutdown is required.

But what about Class C (covering cranes on standby or used for infrequent service, where precise handling of equipment at slow speeds with long idle periods between lifts are required) and other lifting equipment?

Top tips

Once an end user has decided to initiate an inspection, they’ll typically contact a crane manufacturer or service company. It might be the company that installed the

lifting equipment, a local provider or someone else. It doesn’t really matter which, but there are important guidelines to follow. I’ve chosen four that I feel are particularly important:

1. Don’t buy a crane inspection on price.

As with most things in life, there’s usually a reason why an inspection package is cheap. Remember, crane companies commonly bid low on inspection jobs because they can make their money on repair work. It’s virtually unheard of for an end user to get additional bids on the replacement parts or labor apart from the company that performed the inspection so the inspection company has a completely captive market in their inspection customers. This is where they usually take you to the cleaners.

2. Find an inspector one can trust and build up a rapport with them.

I’ve advised people in the past to shadow the inspector’s work so they have a process to relate to the paperwork they’ll be presented with. If an inspector says the gearbox sounds strange or alludes to another safety deficiency, the end user will have to remove the crane from service, resulting in downtime and cost, before the bill has even arrived for the replacement parts. One needs to understand why that’s absolutely necessary. It goes without saying that one doesn’t want a rookie inspecting a crane as part of their on the job training!

3. Consider the depth of the inspection.

Some companies don’t even put a person up on the crane. I’m always perplexed when I hear of such inspections. How can someone, however expert they claim to be, stand on a shop floor and inspect a crane 30 ft. above their head? Crane technicians must takes off guard covers, observes machinery and watches the wheels, bridge, trolley, brake, etc, actually working to note defects or pass the crane for continued service. Nobody should settle for less, because it could result in serious injury or lost production time that could cost a manger his or her job.

4. Upon completion of an inspection, ask the technician to walk you through their findings.

Even if one cannot monitor the whole process (as advised above) at least be available afterwards. Think of the scope an inspector gains if they hear a customer get in a truck and leave the premises before they begin their work and then have to walk through three workshops and up a flight of stairs to an office to present the paperwork.

That detachment gives the wrong impression and results in loss of the control a user should retain over inspection of their cranes. If an inspector says something doesn’t sound or look right, ask them to show you where / why. They are usually very proud of their work and will be happy to explain more. This makes you a more educated crane manager.

How does your overhead crane inspection program rate?

Thank you for reading. Follow us on Twitter at @AceWorldCompany

Tad Dunville

Director of Corporate Development, Ace World Companies