Material Handling
Monday | 18 January, 2010 | 5:22 am

Roll with the punches

By John Loos

January 2010 - Preparing for the unknown is difficult. In business, a new piece of equipment may be ideal for the present day but become unneeded as a company’s market focus shifts.

Because of this, one potential pitfall to purchasing a material handling solution is the unforeseen changes to a company’s business. The material handling needs of a company when it implements a system may not be the same a few years down the road, as market conditions, business models and materials handled evolve.

Knowing this, Gorbel Inc., Fishers, N.Y., an overhead handling solution manufacturer, designed its freestanding work station bridge cranes to be adaptable to a user’s shifting material handling needs. "There are many companies that build a lot of support structures into their ceiling, and what we find with freestanding cranes in particular is that once somebody starts looking at the crane system as independent from the building, there’s a lot more flexibility," says Jeff McNeil, marketing manager for Gorbel. "They can move a crane from one area to another area without thinking about the roof joists, how much support steel they have to put in the ceiling or [whether] the ceiling can handle the load. And with companies that are renting or leasing buildings, they don’t want to attach a whole bunch of equipment to it."

With that in mind, Gorbel’s main focuses in engineering its work station bridge cranes have been to provide flexibility and ease of use. The system’s modular design allows not only for a company to tailor it to its specific applications, but it also allows the system to grow and change as new uses for it arise.

"There’s a lot of modularity," says McNeil. "[Work station bridge cranes] are easy to install; they bolt into a 6-inch reinforced floor. But they’re modular, so when you put one in that’s, say, 23 feet long, and you add another work bay and you want your crane to be 43 feet, you can buy another two pieces of runway, and you’ve just doubled the capacity of your crane. So its modularity provides a lot of flexibility to a user."

Easy moving
Gorbel’s work station bridge cranes feature capacities from 150 pounds to 4,000 pounds, with a standard rectangular coverage of a 34-foot bridge and a 124-foot runway. Standard support distances are 20 feet, 25 feet and 30 feet.

"There’s a lot of engineering and science that goes into the track and the way the wheels are designed and all that, but the user benefit is that they’re easy to use," says McNeil. "They don’t take a lot of direction. They’re intuitive. The operator basically pushes on the load and [depending on] how hard they push and what direction they push, the crane follows. There are no complicated controls, there’s not a pendant, there are no buttons, you’re not driving anything. The cranes essentially work at the pace the operator wants to work at."

McNeil says that for every 1,000 pounds the crane handles, only 8 pounds of force are needed to move it, making it an ergonomic choice for operators.

"Some customers either have applications, or they have work areas where only stronger men can work, so it really limits their flexibility," says McNeil. "You put a crane system in, and anybody can use it."

Changing over
Ease of use and reconfiguration potential made Gorbel’s work station bridge cranes a logical choice for Professional Fabrications Inc., Denmark, Wis., a metal parts supplier with a continuously evolving business.

"I went with the bridge crane because it seems like our shop changes yearly," says Brian Moeller, manufacturing engineer for Professional Fabrications. "We have to adapt somehow. With a jib crane, you pour a slab, put bolts into the slab and it’s pretty much there forever. With the bridge crane, I can move it around or adapt it."

Professional Fabrications purchased its first Gorbel crane system roughly seven years ago, adding a second and a third in the following years. In that time, two of the cranes needed to be moved to different work stations, one of which has been moved multiple times.

Moeller explains that when his company incorporated new laser cutting capabilities into its operations, requiring a crane be relocated to accommodate the new work, the company "picked the crane up and cut it down heightwise. We made some different alterations on it, just putting some bolts in certain places. And once again, we were up and using it ... I wasn’t locked into having it in one position. I could move it around and change it and use it for something else."

Not only was the crane able to adjust to a different workload, but also by using the crane, Professional Fabrications was able to free up the forklift formerly dedicated to moving material.

"We used to load sheets with the forklift," says Moeller. "No. 1, you’re tying up a forklift to our laser. No. 2, it wasn’t safe. It was a two-guy procedure where a guy would drive in a plate with a forklift, and then somehow he’d have to shake it off, and the second guy would have to help him try to get it off the forks. And you could never get a line perfect on a laser, and because you couldn’t get a line perfect on the laser bed, you were wasting material. With [the Gorbel] crane, we can adjust it and put it right where we want it in the bed. The crane is nice and smooth. It works really well. We can align things where we want them. And it’s a one-person operation instead of a two-person operation with a forklift. Now, we’ve got a forklift we can use in other places."

Another factor in many material handling decisions is maintenance costs. Gorbel’s work station bridge cranes have no complex electronics or robotic parts, meaning no outside expertise or obtuse software is needed to use them. And considering there are no easily wearable parts that would normally accompany computerized components, the cranes need little maintenance outside of regularly scheduled inspections.

"The cranes are just as smooth as the first day I bought them," says Moeller. "We laser stuff and weld stuff, so I imagine there’s some dirt and grime and things getting into some areas that could wear them down. But we’ve been using these for a while, and we haven’t had any issues." MM

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