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Material Handling
Wednesday | 15 February, 2017 | 1:26 pm

A secure savings

By Colin Linneweber

Above: The Straddle Carrier ensures maximum security, spaciousness and stability while maneuvering long and bulky loads with speed and precision.

Carrier helps make building products maker’s operations both safer and more profitable

February 2017 - “I’m not a salesman for Combilift,” stresses Mike Nesbitt, an equipment manager at Hockley, Texas-based Schulte Building System (SBS). “I can tell you how things have gone since we purchased a Straddle Carrier from Combilift. I’ll tell you what went right and I’ll tell you if something went wrong. That’s how I like to roll.” 

SBS, a privately held manufacturer and distributor of pre-engineered metal buildings, steel framing systems, building components and accessories, was founded in 2005 by the late Johnie Schulte. Despite enjoying some success from the outset, the ensuing years proved to be trying for the start-up. As with most construction-related companies, the Great Recession was devastating for SBS. Worse still, Schulte died in October 2009. Fred Koetting, Schulte’s co-founder, was subsequently appointed president and CEO. Schulte was posthumously inducted into the Metal Construction Hall of Fame in 2016.

In late 2011, Koetting and Nesbitt began considering ways they could better protect SBS employees. Nesbitt researched Combilift’s Combi-SC (Straddle Carrier) in large part to strengthen shop floor safety. 

Established in 1998 in Monaghan, Ireland, by Martin McVicar and Robert Moffett, Combilift builds tailored material handling solutions. Nesbitt contacted Cody Holt, a Combilift dealer/sales specialist in Texas, who manages the Schulte account, and shared with Holt that the priority for SBS material handling personnel was to create a safer environment. 

FFJ 0217 material image1

Users can transport goods of all shapes and sizes through small and narrow areas that lack oversized doorways and conveyors.

“It’s an imperfect world and bad things can happen when someone is standing 13 feet off the ground,” Nesbitt says. “We weren’t willing to just sit around and hope that everything was going to be happily ever after. We like and respect our staff and it’s our responsibility to keep them safe.”

The Straddle Carrier, which operates indoors and out and is available in LPG and diesel, was designed to ensure maximum security, spaciousness and stability while maneuvering and/or transporting long and bulky loads with speed, precision and minimal waste.

Maneuverability

“The initial attraction of Combilift was based around efficiency and safety. The C-Series and CB-Series machines allow for safer and faster product maneuvering throughout Schulte’s plant,” Nesbitt says. “Because both models travel in four directions, they are able to carry long loads closer to the ground, making for a much safer work environment.” The Combilift equipment SBS was already using “exceeded expectations in these aspects.” 

That’s why SBS turned again to the vendor. Nesbitt says the Straddle Carrier dramatically secured SBS shop floors and yards. However, much to his surprise, the equipment also helped to reduce labor cost and boost profits. 

“What began as a way to build our loads safer by getting guys off a truck and onto the ground became a great money-saving and making-money situation,” says Nesbitt. “It’s rare that doing something the safer way ends up being the more profitable way, too. We’ve paid for our purchase by saving labor and time. Before, our employees were working 80 hours per week. Now, our people are working 50 hours per week and sometimes even less.”

Using the Straddle Carrier minimized unnecessary downtime and maximized uptime and productivity. “In the past, if your yard truck broke down, you were out of business,” says Nesbitt. “Now you don’t have to rely so heavily on your yard truck or fork truck because the Straddle Carrier is so versatile that you don’t have to move trailers around as much. 

“We load plenty of truckloads a day and we’re relying on multiple trucking companies. We can now do pre-loads in advance, get the stuff out of the building and spread it out. It’s just extremely versatile,” he says.

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Load management

Before purchasing the equipment, SBS “built all of their loads directly on top of flatbed trailers,” says Holt. That requires a worker to be on the flatbed while heavy material is being moved above and around him. Using the Straddle Carrier instead allows the shipping department “to build complete trailer loads of components at ground level. Once the load is built on the ground—using other Combilift equipment—the Straddle Carrier drives over the top of the load and picks it up as one piece,” and then places it on the truck bed to be secured for transport.

“The time spent building loads and loading trailers has been reduced by more than 50 percent,” Holt notes, while the process “eliminated the need for fall protection” at SBS.

The Straddle Carrier transports goods of all shapes and sizes undamaged through small and narrow areas without the need for oversized doorways or conveyors. Still, SBS reconfigured the 155,000-square-foot factory to accommodate their new way of moving raw and finished product.

“As soon as we realized the potential for what we bought, we modified our building so we could bring the Straddle Carrier in,” explains Nesbitt. “None of our loads are too tall or to wide to get in or out. This purchase revolutionized our world and how we do things.” 

The construction industry has a reputation for rejecting change and stubbornly remaining stuck in the past with technology. But SBS embraces change and Nesbitt urges his peers to adapt. “Our industry is slow to do things new,” he says. “I’m an old-timer now but I’m always willing to try things differently. I recommend that people don’t fight change.”

Over the past dozen years, SBS has grown to three locations employing more than 550 people. With such rapid expansion, it’s evident that SBS has benefited from welcoming variations to its processes. Embracing change is how Mike Nesbitt and his co-workers at SBS prefer to roll. MM

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