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KünzErgonomic crane operation thanks to 3D printing

Crane construction specialist Künz has developed the world's most ergonomic remote control station. Eight additively manufactured components from 1zu1 play a central role in the ROS 2.0. Design freedom, tool-free production and series quality perfectly meet the requirements for manageable quantities.

2. May 2024

Large goods are Künz's specialty. The Vorarlberg-based mechanical engineering company builds customized crane systems for intermodal terminals and ports worldwide. They lift and move hundreds of containers from road to rail every day - and vice versa. Künz produces around 50 of these crane systems per year. In addition to the steel structures, the specialist develops all technical components such as the hoist and chassis, cabins and digital assistance systems.

As an innovator in automation, Künz recently launched the Remote Operation Station (ROS) 2.0, the world's best ergonomically optimized remote control station for intermodal crane systems. Thanks to the 3D printed components realized by 1zu1, the station can be quickly and flexibly adapted to the physical characteristics of the operator. Four additively manufactured components on the left and right ensure that the two joysticks and buttons are ideally embedded in the wooden table. The functions are integrated directly into the padded hand rests. 

Künz project manager Julia Tschütscher and development manager Hannes Eberharter talk to Sebastian Mathies from 1zu1 about the project.

Why do you need a remote control station when operating a crane?

Hannes Eberharter: With our solution, one person can operate several systems at the same time and take short breaks - for example to go to the toilet. Without a remote control station, the crane operator would have to be picked up and taken back again. Given the distances at the terminal, this can easily take half an hour or more. That's how long the crane stands still. The second major advantage in addition to increased efficiency is convenience. Our remote system can be operated by anyone - regardless of gender or build. You don't need to be particularly strong or have a head for heights. This is a trump card, especially in times of increased staff shortages.

Künz presented the system at the beginning of 2024. How did it start and what is important?

Hannes Eberharter: Time moves a little slower with intermodal terminals. Until seven years ago, almost all crane systems worldwide were operated manually. Since then, the industry has increasingly turned to automation. As innovators, we were already at the forefront seven years ago with the first remote control station in the USA. In 2021, we then tested the ROS as a pilot series in Europe and gathered experience for the development of a standard product.

The experience is crucial. It has to feel good and right and look good. Anyone who controls for up to 12 hours should be able to do so as gently as possible. Our focus was clearly on ergonomics. We brought user experience, ergonomics and physiotherapy experts on board. The result was adjustable solid wood furniture, sound-absorbing walls, ergonomically positioned monitors and slightly angled joysticks.

How many steps were there from the prototype to ROS 2.0?

Julia Tschütscher: Many - about twenty. But it's worth the effort to find the best solution. We built the first tables ourselves from wood. A joinery now does that. We opted for plastic for the fixings. We were able to quickly create and test complex structures with our small FDM 3D printer. The results were good enough for prototypes (laughs).

Why did you choose 3D printing?

Julia Tschütscher: With 3D printing, we can customize quickly, easily and cost-effectively. We quickly realized that the technology was also suitable for production after development. We have manageable quantities and need to remain flexible for customer requests. As the parts have to withstand 365 days of 3-shift operation, we need robust elements with a high surface quality. However, FDM printing does not achieve this by far.

Then 1zu1 came into the project?

Julia Tschütscher: Exactly. Our self-printed components were still a long way from the final version in terms of quality and functionality. Plastic is very far removed from a steel fabricator like Künz. So we had to build up trust internally - preferably with a professional partner. The most important criteria were proximity, good communication and technological expertise. 1zu1 combines all three characteristics.

Sebastian Mathies: With our state-of-the-art machinery, we exploit the full potential of the technology. We chemically smoothed the parts and dyed them black. That went down well straight away. We also provided a few design suggestions.

Julia Tschütscher: We lack experience with plastic. The expertise and quality of 1zu1 helped us straight away. Even the first parts were a completely different world. We saw it straight away: We can sell such visible parts with a clear conscience. They are scratch-resistant and easy to clean.

Were there any particular challenges in the design?

Julia Tschütscher: The ergonomic alignment of the joysticks follows the slightly slanted natural arm position. We therefore had to integrate them slightly offset into the table. This was only possible thanks to the freedom of form offered by 3D printing. We wouldn't have made any progress with milled parts and injection molding would never have paid off with our quantities.

How could the parts be optimized?

Sebastian Mathies: There are hardly any design restrictions with 3D printing. Our production department suggested a lightweight design, which Künz implemented using a honeycomb structure. This almost halved the material consumption. The threaded inserts for fastening to the table should already be in the part. We were also able to offer a solution for this.

Julia Tschütscher: The installation and removal of the joystick with the bulky rubber bellows also kept us very busy. In the beginning, we laboriously put a ring over it. As a designer, I barely managed to assemble it. Our fitters would probably have failed. 1zu1 then advised us to use a two-part solution with a groove-comb connection. Now we simply put two parts together.

What happens now?

Hannes Eberharter: We are constantly on the lookout for even smaller and more manageable joysticks. As soon as these are available on the market, we will only need a few geometric adjustments for the ROS 2.1 thanks to 3D printing, and certainly no new tooling.

In conversation: Project manager Julia Tschütscher and development manager Hannes Eberharter from crane construction specialist Künz have created the most ergonomic remote control stand for intermodal cranes thanks to production-ready 3D components from 1zu1. Sebastian Mathies from 1zu1sales accompanied the project and suggested optimizations together with 3D printing professional Edin Skalic. Joshua Köb conducted the interview and Darko Todorovic took the photos.


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