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How would you like to reduce unscheduled downtime associated with your conductor bar system?
You can, if you follow some simple rules when choosing the conductor bar system for your crane
application. This article will show you what to pay particular attention to and lead you through
selecting the correct conductor for your situation.

First, you need to know some specific information about your crane system in order to properly select
the correct conductor bar system. In a nutshell, here is the information you will need:

¾ Length of the system

¾ Number of conductors

¾ Power feed location

¾ Voltage

¾ Current requirements of each crane

¾ Temperature

¾ Duty Cycle

¾ Application

¾ Environmental conditions

¾ Mounting considerations

Many of these factors are interdependent. The conductor required for a particular length will be
greatly affected by the voltage, current requirements, temperature and duty cycle of the crane(s). Here
is a look at each factor and the effect of each on the choice of conductor.
Length determines not only how much conductor you will need, but what size is required, especially
on longer runs. As length increases, the affect of voltage drop becomes more pronounced. Also,
thermal expansion and contraction of the conductor become more important as system length

Most installations utilize a center power feed location. For most applications, this is the optimal
location. On longer runs, it may be necessary to feed power at multiple locations to counteract voltage
drop. Figure 1 shows the effect of voltage drop on a runway with one crane pulling 500 amps at 460
volts. The runway is 500 feet long.

Figure 1

In Figure 1, the green line shows the voltage drop along the run at 0°F, the blue line shows the voltage
drop at 110°F. The red line indicates 3% voltage drop, the maximum recommended allowable. The
voltage drop increases linearly as you move away from the power feed point. Figure 2 represents the
same parameters but double the length.
Figure 2

In Figure 2, the voltage drop is greater than the recommended 3%. However, if another power feed is
added and the two are located at optimum locations, (Figure 3) the voltage drop now remains under

Figure 3
The voltage drop is no longer a linear progression because the load, when positioned between the two
power feeds, is fed by both power feeds. The voltage drop is now below 3% without the need to
increase the conductor bar size. In order to stay with a center power feed, the conductor size will have
to be increased to compensate for the voltage drop over the extended length. In this case, 1500 amp
conductor is required to lower the voltage drop below the recommended 3%. See Figure 4.

Figure 4

Increasing the number of feed points and placing them in the optimal locations can save money by
allowing a long run to utilize a lower amperage conductor. A decision must be made as to whether the
savings in conductor bar offsets the cost of the extra material and labor to run conduit and cabling to
the two power feed locations.

The effects of expansion and contraction become more critical as the length of the run increases. For
shorter systems, the conductor can be anchored in the center. As the temperature of the conductor
rises, the expansion simply pushes the conductor outward. The maximum system length that can
successfully be anchored only in the center depends on the friction of the hanger and the rigidity of the
conductor. When the cumulative friction through the hangers becomes too great, the conductor will
take the path of least resistance and bow to the side. This is referred to as snaking and can be easily
observed by sighting down the runway. The conductor will bow alternately left and right between
hangers. This puts additional strain on the collectors and hangers. Eventually, the snaking may get to
the point where the collectors can no longer track and collector disengagement will occur.

When the distance from anchor point to the end of the run becomes too great for the system to
effectively dissipate conductor movement, expansion sections need to be installed. An expansion
section is a length of conductor that can expand and contract to absorb bar movement. In order for
expansion sections to work properly, the conductor needs to be anchored properly between each
expansion, and between the last expansion and the end of the run. When expansion sections are used,
the run is effectively broken into lengths defined by the anchors. The expansion slider compensates
for the expansion and contraction of the conductor located between anchors. As temperature increases
and the conductor expands, the slider closes. As temperature decreases and the conductor contracts,
the slider opens. The gap in the slider is bridged by a jumper cable to maintain electrical continuity
and the slider maintains a consistent running surface for proper collector tracking. The distance
between anchors, or the length of run an expansion section can manage, is determined by the
temperature variance, the material of the conductor and the length of the expansion slider.

Keep in mind that the friction created by the hangers increases in dirty environments over time. Dirt
accumulates on the conductor and makes it harder for the conductor to slide through the hangers. This
needs to be taken into consideration in planning the number of expansions in the system. A conductor
system may begin showing signs of snaking after a year or two in operation. If precautions are taken
at the time of installation, costly repairs can be avoided later.

Recent changes to the NEC (National Electrical Code) now require a dedicated ground for all
overhead cranes. Per Article 610.61 of the NEC, “…The trolley frame and bridge frame shall not be
considered as electrically grounded through the bridge and trolley wheels and its respective tracks. A
separate bonding conductor shall be provided.” This applies to all cranes built from 2005 and


We have already seen how placement of the power feed affects voltage drop. On high-demand
systems, power feed location can also affect the performance of the collectors. All conductor bar
manufacturers have higher amperage conductors than collectors. For example, they may manufacture
a 1000 amp or higher conductor but the highest-rated collector may only be 600 amps or less.

For most applications, the size of the conductor is determined by voltage drop considerations for long
runs, or where there are multiple cranes on a single runway. The conductor must be sized to handle all
cranes but the collectors are sized only for the crane they service.

If the crane draws more than a single set of collectors is rated for, additional collectors must be added.
Care must be taken to allow adequate collector capacity when using multiple sets of collectors. As
more collectors are added, the load may not be shared equally among them. Usually, the collector
closest to the power feed point will carry a larger load than collectors farther down the line.

System voltage has a direct effect on allowable voltage drop. Since CMAA recommends a maximum
voltage drop of 3% on runways and 2% on bridges, the drop in terms of volts will vary according to
voltage available. For example, if the voltage at the power feed is 480 volts, a 3% voltage drop is 14.4
volts. However, if the system voltage is 115 volts, a 3% maximum voltage drop is only 3.45 volts.

In the case of higher voltage, adequate insulation is required. Most conductor bar manufacturers have
600 volt rated cover. Any voltage above 600 volts requires insulators rated for the appropriate
voltage. In the case of medium voltage, for example 4160 volts, other considerations such as fault
force may need to be taken into consideration. Qualified engineers should be consulted to design a
conductor system to withstand a given fault force requirement.

NEC Article 610-14, requires the minimum allowable conductor size be rated for 100% of the current
for all of the largest motors for any single movement plus 50% of the next largest motor. It is
important to remember that multiple motors may be involved with a single movement. Include the
auxiliary hoist motor if it will work in conjunction with the main hoist on any lift. Include 100% of
magnets, lighting, air conditioning, etc., that will be energized when the largest motors are engaged.
For multiple cranes on one runway, the above amperage requirement is figured for each crane and all
cranes are added together. A diversity factor is then applied to the total. [See NEC, Table 610-14(e).]
For example, for two cranes multiply the total by .95. The diversity factor recognizes that all cranes
will not be pulling maximum load all the time and usually not at the same time. (Note, if two cranes
are working in tandem, each crane’s largest motor must be figured at 100% since they are included in
“all motors for any single movement.” No diversity factor should be applied.)

Installation of a new conductor system is a good time to plan for any expansion that may be foreseen.
If additional cranes, or larger cranes, are planned or may be an option in the future, now is the time to
include them in the sizing of the conductor bar. A small investment now may pay huge dividends in
the future.


We have already seen the affect of temperature on expansion and contraction. If you refer to Figures
1-4 you will also see temperature has an affect on voltage drop. The higher the conductor bar
temperature, the larger the voltage drop. Temperature also affects the conductor cover requirements.
But how do we determine the correct operating temperature? Ambient temperature is one of the
major indicators of operating temperature, but we need to look at a few more factors to truly plan for
the effects of temperature.

First, let’s look at how conductor bar is rated. Most conductors are rated based on temperature rise
under a given load in ambient temperatures up to 120 deg F. For example, a 500-amp conductor can
carry 500 amps without exceeding the temperature rating of its cover. However, the duty cycle this
rating applies to may change from manufacturer to manufacturer, or even conductor to conductor. For
example, one manufacturer may rate conductors under intermittent duty while another may rate
conductors under continuous duty.
Continuous duty is just that. In the above example, the conductor is put under a continuous load of
500 amps at a given ambient temperature, usually 30°C. The temperature is monitored until it
stabilizes. The maximum temperature of the conductor cannot exceed the temperature rating of the
cover. For most PVC covers, this is around 70°C. This is a standard rating of 40°C rise over 30°C

Intermittent duty ratings are applied in the same manner except the current is not continuous. The
current is energized for a period of time and then de-energized for a period of time – a duty cycle. An
intermittent duty rating may be based on any duty cycle but a 50% duty cycle is most common. This
is usually based on one minute on and one minute off. An intermittent rating based on a 50% duty
cycle may be sufficient for the majority of cranes in use today. Since a crane cannot lift continuously,
the current is not at maximum for long periods of time. This allows the conductor to dissipate the heat
generated under maximum current flow. Most cranes do not operate above a 40% duty cycle.
However, cranes that see heavy duty may exceed intermittent ratings, especially Class D and E cranes.
It is important to know if the rating of the conductor is continuous or intermittent, and if intermittent,
at what duty cycle it is rated.

Keep in mind also that these ratings are under “normal” ambient temperature conditions, usually
30°C. The normal operating ambient temperature for a particular crane may be much higher. It is,
therefore, necessary to add the conductor bar temperature due to current flow to the highest ambient
temperature under operating conditions to get the maximum bar temperature. Let’s put this in real
terms. Say you have a Class D crane working in an operating ambient temperature of 120°F. The
temperature rise of the conductor bar due to current flow may add another 50°F. The conductor has
PVC cover effective to 70°C (156°F). Even though the ambient is well below the rated cover
temperature, the combined ambient and bar temperature is now more than the cover can withstand.
The result will be cover deformation or even melting, which can cause interference with collector
tracking and interruption of power to the crane.

For expansion and contraction calculations, ambient plus bar temperature would be the high end of the
temperature range. The low end would be the lowest ambient temperature the conductor could see,
say, during a shutdown in December. This is the temperature range that must be taken into
consideration to properly account for maximum expansion and contraction.

There is also a large difference in the effects of ambient versus radiant heat. Ambient heat is easy to
measure and the effects are consistent with measured values. Radiant heat can be difficult to measure
and its effects can be hard to anticipate. Any heat source needs to be considered and evaluated for its
effect on the conductor bar and cover. Typical heat sources that may affect conductor bar components
are furnaces, billets, slag, etc. Radiant heat will affect cover directly but has a more pronounced affect
on metal components. Cover itself may withstand the radiant and ambient heat but the metal hangers
may heat up considerably more and melt the cover. Heat shields are usually an effective way of
minimizing the effects of radiant heat. If heat shields are not practical, higher temperature rated
covers are required.
The primary application consideration is whether the system will draw maximum current while
moving or while stationary. Most crane applications are considered moving applications. The
collectors are drawing current as the crane moves up and down the runway. This allows the heat
generated during current flow to be dissipated over a wider area of the conductor bar. Stationary
applications may include welding or testing equipment. The collectors are moved to one spot where
they may draw maximum current for hours at a time. Heat generation is confined to a small area so
heat dissipation is minimized. This consideration may be applicable to cranes where repeated lifting is
done in the same location for long periods of time. For stationary situations such as these, the
collectors are derated and/or the bar rating is verified to be able to handle the stationary current load.

This applies to any element in the operating environment that may affect the conductor. This includes
any chemicals, water, dust or radiation that may be present. Certain cutting oils have a negative effect
on polycarbonates. Acid or base fumes may require the use of stainless steel hardware and
components. Radiation requires the use of non-PVC and non-galvanized or plated materials. Water
and some dusts require the use of insulated hangers to ensure adequate insulation between the
conductors and ground. Any element present in the operating environment of the conductor system
that is not present in your office should be communicated to the conductor bar provider for

Sometimes the space available to mount the conductor bar system may be limited. A typical bottom-
entry mounting configuration may not be practical. Alternative mounting methods are usually
available, including laterally mounted conductor or staggering collectors to minimize conductor
separation. These need to be discussed with the conductor bar provider. Alternate mounting methods
may present problems with regards to environmental conditions. For example, laterally mounting
conductor in outdoor, wet conditions is not advisable. Lastly, the user needs to take into account that
the crane will move relative to the conductor bar. Most collector arms are designed to accommodate a
certain amount of movement. But it the movement is excessive the collector could disengage from the

Although not a factor in selecting the best conductor bar system for your application, it is the most
important factor in determining how well the system will perform. It is imperative to strictly follow
the manufacturer’s installation instructions in order to optimize the system’s performance. Like
anything else, even the best equipment, poorly installed, will not work as intended.
Choosing the correct conductor bar system for your application is the first step in preventing
downtime due to conductor bar failure. A few minutes reviewing your needs will save many hours
down the road. Accepting the lowest bid without thoroughly understanding what you’re getting can
mean a maintenance nightmare for the life of the system and overall greater expense. When searching
for a conductor bar supplier, solicit multiple bids and compare them. Pay particular attention to
conductor bar size, number of expansions and cover material. If there are discrepancies, call all of the
bidders and ask them how they arrived at the quoted bill of material. They should have sound reasons
for their choices. Did the supplier consider all the factors discussed above or are they merely trying to
sell a “canned” system? Remember, it’s your money. You have the right to the best value.