Materials in Motion

Don’t Overlook Simpler Solutions

Integrating material handling solutions into process flow can be complicated. The facility manager and the material handling specialist come together to determine the most critical aspects that the proposed equipment must address, then draw up a plan of action to connect the process nodes throughout the setting. The influence of technological advancement, automation, and lean manufacturing practices have created a whirlwind of modern solutions for an age-old dilemma. At times, the complexity of the industrial process may be so great that the specialist and facility manager are left feeling that the solution must be of equal complexity to be valid. However, this is not always the case.

Spanco offers a robust line of jibs, gantries, and workstation cranes for what is considered light lifting solutions, or lower capacity requirements, by industry standards. The majority of systems offered in the light lifting segment of the material handling market are manual systems. A fantastic example of industrial complexity, in harmony with simplified material handling solutions, is the aerospace industry. In recent years, there has been massive expansion in aerospace, much attributed to the Starlink initiative and the US Department of Defense’s massive investment in upgrading IT infrastructure, as well as commercial space travel interests.

Motorization VS Manual Movement

(Photo Credit: The Spaceship Company)

Spanco has provided crane systems for a multitude of applications in spacecraft manufacturing and cutting-edge jet propulsion development, for the purposes previously mentioned. One of the most impressive examples of simplified solutions is The Spaceship Company’s (Virgin Galactic) use of two manual gantries (with exception of the hoist on the PF), for the assembly of “Space Ship Two” in the Mojave Desert. Onsite, they employ the use of a five-ton Spanco PF-Series Gantry Crane with a 50-foot span and 30-foot HUB (height under beam), and a standard one-ton fixed height Spanco A-Series Gantry Crane; both manual. Time-lapse footage of the assembly can be found on The Spaceship Companies LinkedIn page.

Nylacron Casters (Photo Credit: The Spaceship Company)

Because many of the components are large and heavy, motorization might seem like the best options. However, the precise placement of fuselage segments and propulsion units required a level of finesse which, at the time, could not be attained with the use of motor drives. Instead, Nylacron™ casters were incorporated with the PF to improve mobility. Nylacron casters allow a manual system to be moved with approximately one percent of the system capacity, so even a five-ton load could be moved with as little as 100 pounds of force, making them an excellent, simple alternative to motorization.

Bridge Cranes VS Gantry Cranes

With these examples in mind, let’s bring this notion back down to ground level and consider a common application found in general industry. Most steel fabrication facilities employ the use of CNC cutting tables to fabricate steel plate. A common recommendation would be to offer a Freestanding Workstation Bridge Crane, allowing the worker to move steel plates from a rack within the work cell to the CNC machine and alleviating the unnecessary use of forklifts. For purposes of this example, the work cell will accommodate a Spanco TR-12-40-700. This is a 2,000-pound capacity system with a 10-foot HUB, 12-foot bridge length, 40-foot runway, and freestanding supports. Often, the options for motorized bridge and trolley travel would be offered, with the intention of creating optimum ease-of-use for the worker, while showcasing the potential of the system.

In certain situations, offering the system fully loaded with options may be the best solution.  However, in some situations, offering the fully loaded system without an explanation of simpler options and solutions may put the system over budget.  Consider the following system in place of the freestanding TR system previously mentioned: Spanco E-Series Gantry Model F2000-VG.  This E-Series model is also a 2,000-pound capacity system with a 10-foot HUB and a 12-foot span, and incorporates 40’ of travel on V-groove track.

This second option is a manual gantry system with similar dimensional specifications, while accommodating the same cubic footprint of hook coverage.  There are some differences.  The end-trucks of the bridge system run overhead, within the enclosed track, whereas the gantry end-trucks move along the floor-mounted track.  The forces required to move the gantry under full capacity load on V-Groove track is approximately 60 pounds of force, compared to approximately 20 pounds of force with the freestanding bridge system.

But the most significant difference between the two systems is the price.  The E-Series Gantry cost (for the system alone; no freight, no labor) is approximately  73 percent less than the cost of the manual bridge option, and approximately 84 percent less than the freestanding system fully loaded with options. For an application with a tight budget, the gantry is clearly the better option.

Additional Considerations

One must also consider the addition cost of installation and shipping. More complex systems typically mean more parts to ship and install. Another critical comparison that should be accounted for is each system’s potential for versatility. Will the system remain a static fixture in the process flow, or is there a possible need for relocation in the future? In the examples above, the gantry cranes offer flexibility because they are easy to relocate. While the more complex systems can also be relocated, the simpler systems can make the process easier if any future changes to the facility are anticipated.

When solving complex material handling challenges, there are many choices. While there are many benefits to additional options, not every application requires all the bells and whistles. Often, with the right options, the simpler solution can be the best choice. For more information, contact your Regional Spanco Sales Manager for quality material handling solutions so we can help you maximize the value of your budgetary dollars!


About the Author

Shaun Hyland is the Spanco and Rigid Lifelines Regional Sales Manager for the Central and Rocky Mountain States, Pacific Northwest, and Western Canada. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration, and has 20 years’ experience in business development, management, and distribution spanning the hospitality, durable goods, and material handling industries. He is one of our Spanco Academy Las Vegas instructors and has been with the company since 2016