Space Exploration Technologies is a privately owned company that designs and manufactures advanced spacecraft and rockets. It is the only private company to return a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit. In October 2012, Dragon delivered cargo to and from the space station, in the first official cargo resupply mission for NASA.
SpaceX designs its own rockets and spacecraft, and 80 percent of their vehicles are manufactured in house. This allows the company to develop quickly, test rigorously, and maintain tight control over quality and costs. Their main manufacturing facility is located in Hawthorne California and includes more than 500,000 square feet of production space. The facility is comprised of several work areas dedicated to avionics-, rocket-, and capsule-fabrication, quality control testing, and a glass walled mission control center for monitoring spacecraft in flight.
The fabrication area is divided into large workspaces with machining, construction, and assembly cells. Additionally, each type of vehicle they manufacture requires its own fabrication area. When the facility began its operations in 2002, engineers installed permanent overhead material handling solutions to assist their enormous production line and assembly areas. However, in 2012, engineers at SpaceX began searching for a material handling solution that would enable them to move heavy loads throughout their facility with increased accuracy and precision.
After speaking with a local Spanco distributor, Engineers from SpaceX decided to purchase and install a two-ton T Series Gantry Crane from Spanco. According to James Allen, a sales associate with Ingersoll Rand, SpaceX needed a system with enough lift and maneuverability to handle garbage collected from outer space. After they gather images from space, they collect and package materials, equipment, and whatever else is left floating in the atmosphere into capsules and bring them back to Earth. Once the material is recovered, SpaceX processes it using the Spanco T Series Gantry Crane.
The gantry crane allows them to lift baskets of heavy materials from space safely and effectively. The crane also allows them to lift and install engine components for rockets, which are used to propel satellites into orbit. The gantry crane transports materials through the end of the leg and unloads them to a work area. Because the T Series Gantry Crane is adjustable, workers at SpaceX can maneuver heavy loads through doorways and aisles in small spaces.
Adjustability was an important feature due to frequently changing size requirements within the SpaceX facility. The T Series Gantry Crane is three-way adjustable, manually operated, and portable. It also features a true A-frame design, which allows for greater stability and eliminates the swaying motion common to other adjustable gantry cranes. This design also allows the I-beam to pivot independently from the legs and to self-center over a load.
All of these factors have helped to improve production time and ease of processing. According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, streamlining their manufacturing process allows them to produce vehicles that are cost-effective and efficient, and the sum of their initiatives has led them to a (roughly) three to four fold improvement over the cost of other rockets in the United States. Finding the right material handling solution to meet their evolving production and processing needs was an important factor. The Spanco T Series Gantry Crane offered the perfect combination of flexibility and precision without sacrificing lift or cost efficiency.