There are plenty of material handling options available for factories with machining centers. Manipulators, fork trucks, and overhead cranes are all viable solutions for moving heavy materials in and out of machines and transporting them to other areas in the facility. But, fork trucks can be cumbersome and difficult to use on tight factory floors, and manipulators just don’t cover enough ground to be a practical option for most machining areas. So where’s the middle ground?
Freestanding Workstation Bridge Cranes are gaining a strong reputation in manufacturing facilities that need coverage for their machining centers. That’s because freestanding systems are so versatile, with the ability to cover large portions within a facility, and link together over time for more and more coverage as needed. That was the case for a well-known manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, Caterpillar, Inc.
Caterpillar, Inc. operates multiple manufacturing facilities throughout the U.S., including a 275,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Sumter, South Carolina, where they produce hydraulic cylinders. For years, their hydraulic facility was used to manufacture small hydraulic cylinders, but a 2012 expansion allowed them to increase their plant operations.
Before the expansion, Caterpillar, Inc. used manipulators in their machining centers. The machining centers take up a large fraction of their overall production space and are equipped with everything from barring machines and vertical machines to wash stations and friction welders. Workers used the manipulators to pour materials into mixers and to transfer heavy parts from one machining center to another.
The 2012 expansion allowed Caterpillar, Inc. to develop an entire facility dedicated to hydraulic manufacturing. This transition also provided the opportunity to update old systems and prepare their production space for a large operation. The expansion meant adding 175,000 square feet to their facility, rendering their old material handling system useless. While manipulators can be used to lift bags and pour their contents into mixers or for precise movements required for small measurements, Caterpillar, Inc. realized that they needed a solution that would cover a much larger work area.
When CAT’s manufacturing team reached out to a local Spanco distributor, he was able to visit their plant and recommend a more efficient material handling solution to meet their expanding needs. After reviewing their manufacturing process, the distributor felt that the use of manipulators in their machining center did not provide the flexibility and coverage consistency necessary for such a large operation. Manipulators are generally used for specific applications and often as an accessory to a more complete material handling system. Caterpillar, Inc. needed a solution that would cover their entire machining center and provide a higher capacity lift for multiple loads. The distributor recommended that they install Freestanding Workstation Bridge Cranes for unlimited coverage and quick installation.
Caterpillar, Inc. installed a total of eight Spanco Freestanding Workstation Bridge Cranes in their newly expanded facility. All of the workstation bridge cranes are interconnected to create one fluid system that covers their entire production area. This system allows workers to move materials across a much larger workspace. According to distributor John Fleckenstein, “While the manipulators didn’t have enough reach to achieve their goals, the new workstation bridge cranes have given them a larger footprint, thereby increasing efficiency and improving overall productivity.”
All of the workstation bridge cranes are floor mounted, but many of them vary in specifications. In total, Caterpillar, Inc. installed four 2,000-pound capacity workstation bridge cranes and four 1,000-pound capacity workstation bridge cranes from Spanco. The four larger cranes include bridges spanning 30 feet with two separate hoist trolleys for multiple loads, along with 34-foot runways with 2-foot cantilevers on both ends. While these four systems provide more than enough overhead crane coverage to supplement an expansive workspace, their production process required four more systems to cover their entire facility.
The next four systems needed the capacity for heavy lifting, but they also needed to fit into tighter spaces and provide pinpoint accuracy. Three of the four 1,000-pound capacity systems include bridges ranging in span from 18 feet to 30 feet, and runways ranging in length from 20 feet to 33 feet. The system with the longest runway includes 2-foot cantilevers on both ends, while the other systems include 18-inch cantilevers on both ends. All eight systems include a festooned cable system, while only one of the four smaller systems includes a 4-bar conductor system on the runways and collectors on bridges. That system is unique among the rest, because it has two 500-pound capacity bridges and air hose festooning.
After installing the workstation bridge cranes from Spanco, Caterpillar, Inc. noticed a total transformation in their manufacturing operation. Even without the additional 175,000 square feet of workspace, the manipulators lacked the versatility and coverage necessary for their machining center. Now, workers do not have to transfer loads from one system to another, and having an overhead system makes material handling easier than ever. Workers were surprised by the precise positioning capabilities of Spanco Workstation Bridge Cranes, and with added lift, they can quickly move even the heaviest loads.