Design innovation the STEELBRO way

Have you ever wondered what goes in to designing a Sidelifter Crane? In this article we unpack this with STEELBRO.

What you might not know is that all STEELBRO Sidelifters are designed in Christchurch, New Zealand.  This is the location of the STEELBRO head office and our world class design team. You may also be surprised to know that the history of the STEELBRO company dates back over 142 years to 1878 when the Steel brothers started making horse-drawn carts in Christchurch!

One of the things that is special about STEELBRO is all the elements of the Sidelifter are designed in house. This includes both the crane and chassis components of the Sidelifter.  The chassis designs are modified to meet local requirements of STEELBRO markets around the world in partnership with local branches or partners.

The design team consists of qualified Mechanical, Electrical and Mechatronic Engineers. The average period of employment of our engineering team is 16 years’ at STEELBRO. Our team members have an in-depth knowledge of Sidelifter design and our customers’ requirements. The team also draws upon the expertise of our long-term supplier partners to incorporate the latest technology developments available, be they hydraulic, electronic or power train.Design graphic 1 | Steelbro

The innovation journey for any Sidelifter design starts by listening to the needs of customers and identifying the product attributes that will help solve the problems or issues that customers are facing.

Once the requirements are clear the design phase begins with Geometry Analysis. This identifies the best crane geometry for the desired application to optimise for outreach and rated capacity.  It identifies the location of the pivot points and hydraulic cylinder size requirements. The demanding environment that our Sidelifters work in means that the different jobs required of a Sidelifter must be considered from day one.  For STEELBRO this includes trailer to trailer, trailer to ground, double-stack and Intermodal work, as well as keeping compact low-lying cranes as a signature feature of the majority of the STEELBRO Sidelifters. This is a challenging job as a small adjustment in one parameter can have a major effect on the performance of another so there are many functional trade-offs to consider.

The Mechanical Engineering team take the next step to create the overall structure and put it through its paces using Finite Element Analysis (FEA).  This is computer modelling to strength and fatigue test the designs by performing thousands of virtual loading and unloading cycles to mirror the expected lifetime of a Sidelifter. This process allows any stress or fatigue issues to be identified early in the design and rectified to ensure the structure is optimised for strength while minimising tare weight.

FEA photo3 1 | Steelbro
FEA photo 2 1 | Steelbro

The hydraulic system is then developed in detail to suit the mechanical structure and the load requirements. An example is our recent SB363 single proportional control valve technology coupled with the new load sense piston pump. This enables 30% quicker deployment speeds by making optimal use of the power available from the engine. 

The electrical system including our printed circuit board design is all done in house.  The system features easy fault tracing by LED indicators for each circuit. New improvements that need to be implemented can be done quickly and seamlessly.  The electrical team have the technical expertise plus a deep understanding of the Sidelifter product and applications it’s a win-win.

The final piece in the puzzle is the Software Engineering. For STEELBRO this is the heart of the SMARTlift Sidelifter Load Monitoring System.  This controls and monitors the Sidelifter to enable work within the safe working envelope.  It utilises intelligent software and sensors to monitor and control the Sidelifter operation.  This allows customers to have the peace of mind that their investment is being used safely and within its capabilities. There is also the benefit of being easy to diagnose faults and access data on the operation of their Sidelifters through the display screen. In an increasingly data driven world this information can be invaluable to customers.

General NewsDesign innovation the STEELBRO way