Ongoing rise of wireless MCLs
30 March 2017
Ten years ago, Stertil Koni introduced its wireless mobile column lifts (MCLs) to the UK. Here, Simon Laffoley, national accounts manager, looks at recent developments
The popularity of Mobile Column Lifts (MCLs) in the vehicle workshop environment continues to rise – especially wireless versions. This is mainly due to the advances in communication technology over the past decade which has enabled individual lifting columns to easily connect with each other and to safely and securely transfer information between columns.
Standard MCLs used to be powered by 3-phase electric motors with the power and synchronisation being distributed to all columns within a set via plug-in style interconnecting cables. Cables and plugs were seen as the Achilles heel, with frequent downtime and the health and safety implications of trailing power cables.
Early hydraulic models were powered by two 12V batteries in each column with inter-lift communication achieved initially via Bluetooth technology. This was superseded by a ZigBee system and now by a Wireless Mesh Network offering continuous active channel search and optimal connectivity.
The power delivered by the batteries meant that the lifting and lowering speed of the 7.5t ST1075FWA wireless lift model was the same as its 3-phase predecessor. Battery life was considerably extended due to the fact that full-power is only required on the lifting cycle with gravity providing the power during the descent. This has been taken to another level by the Earthlift. This harnesses gravitational energy stored in the raised vehicle, which is then used to recharge batteries during the lowering cycle.
Latest wireless MCLs have touch-screen control panels that display date and time, number of connected columns, battery charging status, exact lifting height, buttons to select individual lifts, pairs of lifts and all lifts, a selection button to control the speed of the lift/descent and numerous other functions.
Columns are connected and operate as a set which can have up to 16 pairs of lifts, all fully synchronised. Set-up procedure can only be completed by using a key fob that is touched against a sensor on the control box, helping prevent unauthorised use of the vehicle lifts.
The lack of interconnecting cables means downtime and repair costs resulting from damaged cables and plugs is eliminated. The risk of trips and falls over trailing cables is also eliminated.
A key safety feature of advanced wireless MCLs is the provision of a 'disconnection switch' in the pallet-jack operating mechanism. This wirelessly disconnects the lifts from each other if a lift is raised fully on its pallet jack ready to be moved. Situations have come to light where, for example, six lifts were originally used to lift a 3-axle vehicle; the technician then only needed four lifts to lift up a 2-axle vehicle. However, because the lifts didn’t disconnect from each other when they were moved across the workshop, when the technician came to raise the four lifts, the two lifts still positioned around an axle on the first vehicle also raised, resulting in an unsafe situation.
Stertil decided that its wireless MCL would incorporate a disconnection device as standard, even though it was not a requirement under current CE regulations.
Most electro-hydraulic MCLs also feature an independent mechanical interlocking system that activates as the lifting carriage rises up the main column. Some use a cut-out ladder section to activate a lock at the CE minimum increment of 100mm. Latest designs use a ratchet locking system with spaces between the locks of just 35mm, almost three times safer than the accepted standard. Another benefit is that the vehicle can be 'parked' on the locks when raised, preventing any accidental lowering of the vehicle.
Traditional electro-mechanical cabled lifts were slower than today’s wireless MCLs. For example, it used to take 3 to 4 minutes to raise a vehicle to 1.8m. Modern electro-hydraulic lifts can do the job in 75s.
Increased speed, though, was problematic for technicians who relied on slow speed for alignment accuracy. A solution was developed where, if required, it was possible to slow the lowering speed by diverting the oil flow through a smaller correction valve, rather than the full speed descent valve.
Optional extras for the latest MCLs include: Adjustable forks, forklift pockets, LED lighting, and various crossbeams.
Development of MCLs is an ongoing process and we will see further innovative features introduced over the coming years.