Materials in Motion

Crane Operation and Wireless Controls

Wireless remote radio control is an emerging option for crane operation that comes with several benefits over traditional crane controls. These benefits include safer operations, better maneuverability, and improved working times. Before the rise of radio controls, cranes have typically been operated with one of two kinds of controls: bridge-mounted cab controls or wired pendant controls.

Both cab controls and wired pendant controls come with a few drawbacks that are addressed by wireless controls. The biggest problem with cab controls is that most applications require more than one person to complete. The crane operator often needs assistance on the floor to rig and position a load, and many operations will require a spotter or relay person to direct the operator through visual or verbal instructions.

Wired pendant controls address these problems by placing the operator on the floor near the load. The operator can rig and position the load, and the possibility of a direct line of sight may eliminate the need for a spotter. But wired pendant controls have a few disadvantages as well. They require the operator to follow the crane’s path along the floor, which may increase the risk of trip or fall hazards and may slow down operations in situations when the crane could move faster than the operator can walk safely.

Wired pendant controls also require the operator to remain close to the load at all times. This proximity can be especially dangerous when working with heavy or hazardous loads, which increase the risk of injury to the operator. The operator must avoid the load and take care to avoid tangling cables, which can be both unsafe and time-consuming.

Wireless ControlsSpanco Freestanding Jib Crane with wireless remote control

Wireless remote radio controls address the problems of cab and wired pendant controls and provides the benefits of both. The operator can perform the rigging and guiding tasks on the floor, so operations require fewer workers to be pulled from other duties. The operator can also have better visibility, as he or she can potentially move to the location on the floor that will provide the best view of the crane operation, possibly eliminating the need for extra spotters or relay persons.

Wireless controls can also allow the operator to move closer to the load, when it is in a safe position, to achieve greater precision when operating. The operator can also remain farther away from the load in situations with heavy or hazardous loads, making the operation much safer. Unlike wired pendant controls, wireless controls do not restrict the operator’s location relative to the load or require the operator to move with the load. The operator must still observe and remain outside the fall zone where the load could fall and strike a person in an accident.


As with every solution, there are a few drawbacks to using wireless radio controls. Because they are wireless and not attached to a power source, radio control devices are powered by batteries, which must be checked regularly and replaced or recharged. If they are not checked, operators could discover that they can’t use a crane when it’s needed because the control batteries are dead. Wireless radio control devices can also be lost or accidentally destroyed if they are misplaced or left in the path of heavy equipment, such as lift trucks.

Another less common disadvantage is the possibility of radio interference. This disadvantage is only a problem in specific applications where an environment creates its own radio waves. If there is a separate source of electromagnetic radiation, those waves could interfere with the control device and disrupt communication between the device and the crane. Wireless control systems also tend to be more expensive than cab and wired pendant controls, but the price difference continues to shrink as wireless technology improves.


High-quality modern radio control systems are available with designs that provide physical and electrical isolation to protect against electrical failures or malfunctions. Electronic devices are also available with rugged housings to protect against extreme high and low temperatures, heavy use, and other environmental conditions.

Radio transmitters and receivers can operate at different frequencies to allow multiple remote radio control systems to operate at the same time, and some systems are designed with safeguards against interference between radio signals on the same frequency. Operating at different frequencies or using other safeguards helps prevent hazards caused by interference between different cranes.

With proper operator training, a remote radio control system can be an excellent way to improve every part of crane operations. In many situations, wireless controls make the job safer, faster, and more efficient. There are many remote radio control systems available on the market that can be fitted to Spanco cranes by installers and are compatible with crane motorization. For more information on motorization, check out this blog on different types of tractor drives. Wireless control systems can also be retrofitted to many existing cranes to create the best system for your facility.