Moving heavy machines through a production process by traditional methods such as cranes, conveyors and forklifts is time-consuming and often costly. Contact pressure from wheels, rollers, forklifts, or the load base can damage flooring due to excessive point loading. Costs to repair or replace can be considerable. Epoxy coated flooring, commonly used in industry, costs from $5 to $10 per square foot—a significant expense for a 50,000-square-foot shop floor.
While cost-efficiency is an ongoing issue with cranes, conveyors and draglines, another drawback is that all three are subject to limited flexibility due to their fixed position on the factory floor. If throughput requirements are increased or the production flow needs to be changed, these solutions are limited by their fixed location and speed. Compounding the problem is the tight design of factory floors. With minimal investment and zero downtime, air casters provide a workable alternative, which can be expanded to accommodate changes to production flow and throughput.
Company supervisors and owners have increasingly turned to air caster hovercraft technology to provide a low cost and flexible conveyance for heavy machines through a production process with less manpower, often in the form of a single operator.
Explaining Hovercraft Technology
Air caster hovercraft technology literally floats the equipment or load on a film of air. This technology has been around for many years, the most notable examples being the air hockey table and, of course, hovercrafts. In industrial applications, use of air casters provides ultra-low friction, allowing movement of loads weighing thousands of pounds to be controlled by hand.
Basically, an air caster is a torus shape bag that captures air to lift and move objects. The air pressure requirement for them is less than 60 psi, which the overwhelming majority of factories already have in their compressed air systems. Air caster technology provides omnidirectional load movement adjustments, meaning the casters can move in any direction without increasing force as is the case with wheeled casters. Omnidirectional movement allows more maneuverability and precise placement of equipment and loads that is not feasible with fixed transport systems or rollers.
Air casters work best on smooth, flat surfaces found in most manufacturing plants as well as epoxy coated flooring, tile, metal and vinyl. Although surfaces including asphalt, gravel and dirt are considered unacceptable, use of a temporary overlay will enable the technology to do its job and successfully complete the move.
The Experience of an Engine Rebuilding Facility
Among the many facilities relying on air caster technology for flexible moves is a diesel engine rebuilding facility in the U.S. Southwest. Air caster systems transport a variety of components weighing several thousand pounds each throughout the plant. The company describes the operation as “effortless load movement for technicians,” and relies on air caster technology to provide efficient production processes.
The company still uses cranes for large sections and subassemblies, but has had issues with battery-powered wheeled vehicles, which it says lack the mobility and flexibility inherent with air casters.
Among the benefits senior management attributes to the technology are precise load control, reduced damage to the shop floor and an increase in productivity. The firm said its employees required only minimum training to become proficient.
While air casters require an initial investment, short and long-term financial calculations will offer a clear picture of return on investment. They cost more than traditional wheels and rollers, but certainly far less than cranes. Users cite several compelling benefits of this technology. Among them:
- Considerably less injury exposure than with wheels.
- A reduced need for costly repairs and replacement of floors.
- For industries considering expansion at their location, air casters can easily relocate an assembly line—a capability fixed moving systems are incapable of duplicating.
- Improved manpower efficiency as many air caster systems need a single operator for tasks formerly requiring multiple personnel.
Adopting the Technology
It’s little wonder that hovercraft technology is finding a home in heavy industry. A technology often associated with recreation at its inception more than 50 years ago has been significantly advanced and upgraded. From eliminating floor damage to more effective use of time and manpower, air casters are gaining greater acceptance as efficient, agile, safe and cost-effective tools for moving heavy equipment.
About the Author:
John Massenburg is president and chief executive officer of AeroGo Inc. of Seattle, Wash. AeroGo manufactures heavy load equipment utilizing hovercraft technology for moving heavy, awkward or delicate loads in factories. Tel: 866-537-0153. For more information, please visit www.aerogo.com.
As the manufacturing environment evolves, executives must evaluate and consider all costs, including workers' compensation insurance. By John Rosmalen
For the last 11 years, manufacturing in the United States has been slowly moving toward a path to recovery. Based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it can be viewed as a rebirth, albeit a gradual one. As the restoration of American manufacturing brings more jobs to the labor force, manufacturers will face a plethora of financial considerations to address including various laws and regulations, none the least of which is workers’ compensation insurance.
To understand the current milieu, here is a brief historical perspective on the evolving manufacturing environment and the challenges that will come with it. In the first decade of this century, American businesses were establishing partnerships with China to bring goods to the U.S. Production costs were significantly below manufacturing expenses in the U.S., and chief financial officers focused more on risk management since there was no reason to be concerned about workers’ compensation costs and compliance. Then came the global financial crisis, which brought all of these problems to the forefront—poor product quality, safety issues, copyright and information theft.
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DeWys Manufacturing is involved in all aspects of its custom metal fabrication projects, from beginning to end.
By Jim Harris
DeWys Manufacturing’s customers need not look to other companies to meet their metal fabrication needs. The Marne, Mich.-based company prides itself on being a “one-stop shop” for metal components used in a variety of sectors.
“We make it easy for our customers to write just one purchase order and have one invoice for the components we manufacture for them,” President C.T. Martin says. “If you want a custom metal component, we can take care of all aspects of that for you.”
The company’s diversified services – which it refers to as its “circle of companies,” includes precision sheet metal, machining, powder coating, contract manufacturing and product assembly. DeWys also offers engineering expertise. “We can help our customers engineer costs out of a product and make it more manufacturable,” he adds. “There are not many fabrication companies offering engineering in-house.”
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How do Manufacturers Decide to Integrate New Technology?
By Perry Sainati
It’s referred to as “Manufacturing 4.0,” the latest in a long line of wrinkles in our ever-changing world of heavy and light industry, a seismic marriage of technology, automation and computerization that is causing more and more manufacturing functions once done by human hands to be performed by sophisticated machines.
I will write more about Manufacturing 4.0 in the months ahead, especially from a human perspective. But this issue I’d like to offer one quick take on the concept as a whole. And to do that, let me first take you back a few decades.
Economic advisors to the first President Bush, witnessing a phenomenon that was already well underway in the world marketplace – namely the globalization of trade and manufacturing – urged the president to prepare for a virtual sea change in the very idea of macroeconomics. Among the first things the United States should do, they told him, was to consider a strategic alliance/open trade policy with Canada and Mexico.
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KME CNC solved an internal problem with innovative equipment that have now made it a bigger success.
By Chris Petersen
Many of the biggest success stories in manufacturing come about because someone found a creative way to solve a particular problem about found that the solution could be applied elsewhere. That has certainly been the case for Irvine, Calif.-based KME CNC, which found a creative solution to an internal problem and has turned that into a highly successful business solving the same problem for its manufacturing customers across the country.
As Director of Sales Robert Reynolds explains, the company’s path to success arose unexpectedly. KME CNC’s original focus was on contract manufacturing for equipment used in a variety of applications. The company wasn’t satisfied with the accuracy it was seeing from its existing equipment, so it explored the possibility of investing in five-axis systems. However, Reynolds says, the five-axis machine tools on the market at the time were prohibitively expensive. The solution, he adds, was for the company to create its own.
In time, KME CNC designed a five-axis system that could be built directly into an existing tombstone, making the existing system capable of machining five faces of a part in a single cycle and creating greater productivity and accuracy. A local distributor stopped by the company’s facility and saw its five-axis equipment, and Reynolds says the distributor offered to buy the company’s tombstones on the spot. Ever since, KME CNC has specialized in offering manufacturers five-axis systems built right into the tombstone. Reynolds says the company’s customer range from small mom-and-pop manufacturers to some of the world’s biggest operations. “Because of our particular product line, our customer base is pretty broad,” he says, adding that the company’s five-axis systems can be found in the automotive, aerospace and medical manufacturing sectors, among others.
The diverse nature of KME CNC’s customer base is testament to the versatility and utility of its systems. The company’s equipment can convert three-axis vertical machining centers or four-axis horizontal machining systems into five-axis production machines. According to the company, its standard five-axis tombstone comes standard with four platters, but can be customized to include more platters based on the customer’s needs. This allows customers to machine multiple five-axis projects in a single setup, with the option to drive each platter independently or all at once. The end result, the company says, is reduced setup time, less waste, greater accuracy and more productivity overall.
One of the most important elements of the company’s five-axis systems is that all of them utilize transponders to communicate with the tombstone wirelessly. Reynolds says the across-the-board wireless capability is one of the strongest advantages KME CNC’s equipment has because of the added flexibility it gives customers. “All of our devices have brains in them,” he says.
Another significant advantage KME CNC has working in its favor is that it is an American-based manufacturer, and all of its equipment is made in the United States. That means the company not only has a better grasp of what its customers require than an overseas manufacturer would, but Reynolds says the proximity to its customers also gives KME CNC greater flexibility to fulfill custom requests. Reynolds says the company is able to build systems to suit each customer’s specific requirements. “I don’t know that a lot of other tool builder do that,” he says.
With the innovative solutions it provides, Reynolds says KME CNC’s biggest challenge is making sure it stays at the forefront of the industry and keeping potential customers aware of the many advantages its systems provide. “Our real competition is evolution,” Reynolds says. “For us, the biggest challenge is just getting the word out, more than anything.”
Fortunately, the manufacturing sector is changing in such a way that KME CNC’s five-axis systems could be the solutions needed for a growing segment of the industry. As more manufacturers institute lights-out CNC machining and pallet-pool machining into their operations, the need for flexibility and quick-change setups becomes more prevalent. Reynolds says this is where KME CNC can bring a lot of value to such operations, and the company is hard at work keeping its name and its products out in front of those potential customers.
Additionally, KME CNC is always looking for new ways to improve upon its forward-thinking equipment. Reynolds says the company’s goal is to push wireless technology forward in the marketplace to anticipate customers’ needs before they even know what those needs are themselves. “We’re always looking for what the next need is in our environment,” he says.
J-tec Industries Inc. designs and manufactures the patented CarryMore® Tugger Cart System to deliver materials to manufacturing work and assembly stations in factories and reduce or eliminate the use of forklifts.
By Russ Gager
Lean manufacturing methods have proven effective in speeding factory production, but sometimes they require specialized material-handling equipment to realize their full potential. This is the specialty of J-tec Industries Inc., which can custom-design carts that can be pulled in a train, turn in tight spaces and mate with auxiliary carriers handling specialized equipment.
J-tec Industries’ flagship product is the patented CarryMore® Tugger Cart System. With the mother cart moving the weight and the daughter cart carrying the parts, the carts’ tandem “mother/daughter” design reduces costs and improves delivery times to production lines.
“It is unique in the simplicity, functionality, maintenance and operation of the system itself,” co-owner and President Jon Peterson says. “That is what our customers say they like the most when it comes to the product and the way they use it.”
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In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced proposed changes to its regulations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regarding the export and import for recovery operations of hazardous wastes from and into the United States.
EPA’s regulations regarding the transboundary shipment of hazardous waste are found at 40 C.F.R. Part 262, Subparts E, F and H. Part 262, Subpart E applies to exporters of hazardous waste and is designed to ensure that hazardous waste is not exported to a foreign country without that country’s prior consent. Part 262, Subpart F contains the regulations that apply to importers of hazardous waste. Part 262, Subpart H contains the regulations implementing the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Decision Concerning the Control of Transfrontier Movements of Wastes Destined for Recovery Operations. The proposal would modify the requirements under Subpart H and expand the jurisdictional scope of the Subpart to include shipments now subject to Subparts E and F.
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According to recent research by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and environmental nonprofit As You Sow, large brands waste $11.4 billion every year because of poor packaging policies.
Although it is easy to point the finger at large corporations that use more resources, companies of all sizes must do a better job of managing the way that they approach environmental and sustainable packaging policies. Not only will creating or improving your sustainability agenda better the environment, it will help your brand and its bottom line in the long run.
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