An electronic instrument has been developed as a prototype of a portable crane-load contact sensor. Such a sensor could be helpful in an application in which the load rests on a base in a horizontal position determined by vertical alignment pins (see Figure 1). If the crane is not positioned to lift the load precisely vertically, then the load can be expected to swing once it has been lifted clear of the pins. If the load is especially heavy, large, and/or fragile, it could hurt workers and/or damage itself and nearby objects. By indicating whether the load remains in contact with the pins when it has been lifted a fraction of the length of the pins, the crane-load contact sensor helps the crane operator determine whether it is safe to lift the load clear of the pins: If there is contact, then the load is resting against the sides of the pins and, hence, it may not be safe to lift; if contact is occasionally broken, then the load is probably not resting against the pins, so it should be safe to lift. It is assumed that the load and base, or at least the pins and the surfaces of the alignment holes in the load, are electrically conductive, so the instrument can use

electrical contact to indicate mechanical contact. However, DC resistance cannot be used as an indicator of contact for the following reasons: The load and the base are both electrically grounded through cables (the load is grounded through the lifting cable of the crane) to prevent discharge of static electricity. In other words, the DC resistance between the load and the pins is always low, as though they were always in direct contact. Therefore, instead of DC resistance, the instrument utilizes the AC electrical impedance between the pins and the load. The signal frequency used in the measurement is high enough (≈1 MHz) that the impedance contributed by the cables and the electrical ground network of the building in which the crane and the base are situated is significantly greater than the contact impedance between the pins and the load. The instrument includes a signal generator and voltage-measuring circuitry, and is connected to the load and the base as shown in Figure 2. The output of the signal generator (typically having amplitude of the order of a volt) is applied to the load via a 50-Ω resistor, and the voltage between the load and the pins is measured. When the load and the pins are not in contact, the impedance between them is relatively high, causing the measured voltage to exceed a threshold value. When the load and the pins are in contact, the impedance between them falls to a much lower value, causing the voltage to fall below the threshold value. The voltage-measuring circuitry turns on a red light-emitting diode (LED) to indicate the lower-voltage/contact condition. Whenever the contact has been broken and the non-contact/higher-voltage condition has lasted for more than 2 ms, the voltage-measuring circuitry indicates this condition by blinking a green LED.

Figure1. The Load Must Be Lifted precisely vertically, or else it will swing when it clears the alignment pins. This means that the crane must be positioned so that during initial lifting, the load does not press sideways against the pins.
Figure 2. The Crane-Load Contact Sensor, shown here greatly simplified for the sake of clarity, measures a voltage related to the base-to-load electrical impedance to determine whether the load and pins are in contact.

This work was done by Robert Youngquist of Kennedy Space Center and Carlos Mata and Robert Cox of ASRC Aerospace. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free online at under the Electronics/Computers category. KSC-12702.

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the July, 2005 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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