A case for industrial-grade loaders

By |  December 13, 2013

Industrial material-handling equipment, such as wheel loaders and forklifts, are typically planned for short lifecycles due to the severe environments in which they work. From mining and metal smelters to glass plants and fertilizer operations, extreme temperatures and corrosive elements take a heavy toll on machinery.

With many facilities running continuous multi-shift schedules, light-duty, commercial-grade, material-handling equipment wears out prematurely. This is partly because much of today’s industrial equipment is not actually industrial grade, but rather commercial-grade, light-duty equipment intended for farming, landscaping or construction. This equipment is sometimes repurposed for industrial use.

“If you need material-handling equipment that will last and don’t want to keep taking it out of service to repair or replace it, look to severe-duty industrial equipment,” says Bill Barns, a project manager at Langeloth Metallurgical Co. (LMC). “If it’s built to last like our severe-duty wheel loaders, you’ll put it to work and not worry about much other than routine maintenance.”

Minimizing downtime

At LMC’s plant in Langeloth, Pa., six multi-hearth furnaces called roasters can operate at temperatures up to 1400°F to provide flexibility in processing various metal-bearing materials. To keep the plant operating 24/7 and year-round, a fleet of wheel loaders on LMC’s fifth floor must continuously scoop up concentrated mine ore and dump it into the roasters’ feed hoppers, which process the ore into finished product.

“Our Waldon 4500B loaders have to feed the roasters continuously without fail,” Barns says. “Light-duty, commercial equipment cannot reliably do that because they’re not intended for hard 24/7 industrial use in confined areas.”

A growing number of managers in harsh industrial environments like Barns are finding that by lengthening the life of material-handling equipment and increasing its reliability with severe-duty designs specifically intended for industrial use, they can reduce capital costs and improve production. This approach can not only eliminate premature equipment repair and replacement costs, but also minimize production downtime due to unscheduled equipment breakdown.

While ordinary soil weighs about 60 to 80 lbs. per cu. ft., LMC’s ore weighs about 150 lbs. per cubic foot, according to Barns.

“With our heavy loads and continuous use, we’re putting more stress on the frames,” he says. “If we used light-duty, commercial equipment, we would be breaking a lot of lift cylinders and main frames.

“When a vendor brought some light-duty, commercial loaders for us to try out, our operators looked at them and said, ‘They won’t last a week.’ The minute we saw them we knew they would require excessive repair, and we can’t afford the downtime or early replacement.

“We rely on Waldon front-end loaders because they can take abuse and keep performing,” Barns says. “We typically get about five to seven years of continuous, 24/7 use out of them before we resell them for light-duty, commercial work. They’re virtually indestructible and require little other than routine maintenance.”

A wealth of benefits

Fairview, Okla.-based Waldon Equipment, a manufacturer of heavy-duty industrial loaders, lift trucks, forklift attachments, and a mini backhoe, has specialized in material-handling equipment for harsh environments for more than 45 years.

According to Barns, Waldon’s loaders’ extra-heavy-duty frames, 2-in.-thick articulating frame plates, and simple drivetrain contribute to their longevity in tough industrial environments.

“Our fleet of seven severe-duty loaders does the work of a least 10 to 12 light-duty commercial loaders because we would probably need that many light-duty units to keep our roasters reliably fed,” Barns says.

Still, space restrictions within the plant building, which was built almost a century ago with low ceilings, multiple columns and narrow access points, make having compact, low-profile loaders capable of tight turns and fitting into a maintenance elevator a must.

“Since light-duty commercial loaders are typically made for outdoor use with higher cabs, bigger tires and bodies, many wouldn’t clear our fifth-floor ceiling or fit in a maintenance elevator without lengthy disassembly,” Barns says. “With our roasters’ feed bins in different positions, there’s also a need for better maneuverability than they can provide.”

According to Barns, even skid steers, known for their small size, lack desired maneuverability in this setting. This is because their fixed frames don’t turn quickly, and their wheels tend to lock up and skid, which is less than ideal for maneuvering in confined spaces.

Because the severe-duty loaders are low profile with articulated frames, however, they have more ceiling clearance and a lower center of gravity than typical light-duty, commercial loaders or skid steers, which improves their turning and maneuverability, according to Barns.

“The Waldon loaders put operators closer to what they’re scooping,” he says. “Since they steer like a car, they can articulate around corners and between columns with greater control and safety than typical joystick-style controls allow.”

In the end, Barns concludes that the choice between light-duty commercial equipment and severe-duty industrial equipment should be easy for production or operations managers to make, as it all comes down to longevity and reliability.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, Calif.

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