Materials in Motion

Overhead Cranes for the Aeronautics Industries

Aeronautics companies are often in need of a very specific type of overhead lift system for their manufacturing facilities to help perform tasks like building flight components and performing maintenance and service. While other types of lifting solutions, like forklifts and monorails, may meet some of their material handling needs, companies like Lockheed Martin Aeronautics are finding that these systems just don’t cut it in the grand scheme of things.

For instance, at one point, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics used multiple 5-ton monorail cranes in their plants to facilitate their production process. The cranes were used to move and install plane parts, and they required the help of multiple production workers to function correctly. But, over the past several years, Lockheed Martins’ Aeronautics facility began to upgrade their production process, thereby replacing many of their monorail cranes with custom freestanding jib cranes.

Custom Freestanding Jib Cranes

Using freestanding jib cranes in the field of Aeronautics provides production teams with enough lift power to manipulate and assemble satellite parts, large rocket and jet components—like the fuselage—and even parts of the wings.

Along with the fuselage, freestanding jib cranes at Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics facility are used to machine and assemble wings for the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Workers use the jib cranes to lift big blocks of aluminum, which are transferred to the machining center where they are shaped and eventually drilled and bolted. After the wings are prepared to receive rivets and screws, workers also use the jib cranes to assemble the wings to the fuselage.

Freestanding jib cranes, which are foundation mounted, provide enough lift power to transfer loads up to 15 tons. Customizing the crane allows them to use it to their advantage, and often times, at a distance. For example, the production team at Air Force Plant 4 uses freestanding jib cranes to manufacture and assemble their F-16 and F-35 fighter jets. In the F-16 production process, workers use these jib cranes to make the fuselage, or the main body of the plane. The production team needed to install cranes that could lift the enormous fuselage from a very small workstation area before transferring it to the CNC machining center.

The machining center is used to shape the fuselage and other massive parts, all of which are assembled using the freestanding jib cranes. Each jib crane is fitted with a jib drive assembly for motorized rotation, which improves handling and ensures total control over load positioning in an area that is generally inaccessible to material handling equipment.

Workstation Bridge Cranes

Workstation Bridge Cranes are also an effective choice for Aeronautics companies because they’re lightweight enough to ceiling-mount, yet strong enough to lift heavy parts. They are also flexible enough to reach into small workspaces.

In fact, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics also installed Freestanding Workstation Bridge Cranes in their Fort Worth, Texas and Marietta, Georgia facilities. The bridge cranes are used to manufacture parts for their new F-35 Lightening II Fighter jets. According to Ken Ross, Lockheed Martin’s Director of Communications & Public Affairs, their production team needed a bridge crane that was lightweight and specifically designed to meet their unique applications. Ross explained, “Clearances were very tight, and Spanco provided a very low-profile, lightweight bridge crane for us that also cantilevered out into the aisle so that we could unload components. This was a pretty unique application.” The bridge cranes are used to produce the center wing build-up sections of the F-35 in a very tight workspace where they have to squeeze parts in beneath a mezzanine. The workstation bridge cranes are lightweight enough to fit into the small workspace, and yet durable enough to move heavy parts.

Freestanding Jib Cranes provide the lift power necessary to assemble the heaviest parts, while the retrofit drive makes motorized 360-degree rotation possible from practically any location.

For Lockheed Martin’s Aeronautics facility, this has greatly increased their productivity while also providing a safer environment for workers and their production team. Furthermore, the Freestanding Workstation Bridge Cranes provide highly effective, cost- efficient lifting and moving solutions, with more than enough overhead crane coverage to supplement a large work area and the precise accuracy to function in small spaces.