ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- The depot replaced the three mini-load cranes in the Automated Storage and Retrieval System building during the last two months.

The cranes, which extend 40 feet up to retrieve small bins of items stored in the warehouse, were approximately 30 years old.

Replacement of the cranes was necessary because they had become outdated, from a maintenance perspective.

"The cranes were having parts issues," said Grant Greenwood, explaining that it was becoming extremely difficult to locate replacement parts.

"Once a machine becomes a maintenance liability, it has to be replaced," he said.

Dematic Corporation, which installed the original cranes in the 1980s, was contracted to manufacture and install the new ones at a cost of $1.8 million.

The cranes were installed one at a time, ensuring there were always two functioning cranes able to pull parts and equipment.

Removal of the first crane took less than an hour and the first replacement was in place and operational April 23.

The remaining two went online in May.

The new cranes have advanced technology that aids in operations.

Cross-over platforms with fall protection from the ladder to the retractor enables safe maintenance of the cranes.

Overheight sensors on the retractors give an alert if products or boxes are too high, posing a potential problem in the rack system.

The new cranes also have camera systems which enable operators to see issues in the racks from the ground.

"The new mini-load cranes definitely have the latest in electronic controls," said Ron Woodward, senior project manager for Dematic Corporation. "The new controls make them more reliable. They run longer without much interaction and are easier to maintain and get replacement parts for."