How Air Casters Protect Factory Floors When Moving Very Heavy Components

By Paul Jakse, Vice President, AeroGo

Floor surfaces in industrial settings are more fragile than many realize. For production and facility managers, preserving floor conditions will always be challenging. Material handlingsystems can cause extensive and expensive damage that impacts facility operators and operations. That’s why choosinga moving system will make a major difference, not just for the facility but for the people involved.

When choosing a solution that cost-effectively moves heavy loads and still protects flooring, one solution naturally floats to the top of the list: air casters. These load movers consistently stand out because, unlike other material handling systems, they hover above the floor instead of resting on it. This practically eliminates any impact associated with other systems.

Damage to floors

It’s surprisingly easy to damage floors in industrial environments, including those specially selected or prepared for heavy usage. All it takes is the weight of heavy machinery moving over the surface. Forklifts and similar large-wheeled vehicles can exert pressure over 1,000 psi. Wheeled casters and other systems can concentrate the load even more, up to 2,000-5,000 psi at each point of contact, depending on the load size.

Forklifts and similar large-wheeled vehicles can exert pressure in excess of 1,000 psi.

 

That force may be more than the floor surface can safely bear. Even concrete can crack and buckle under heavy loads. For example, a 6-inch concrete pad with compressive strength of 700 psi can only support slightly above 1,000 psi of pressure.More delicate surfaces that can only tolerate low floor loading, such as raised floorsin clean rooms, will undoubtedly fail under these conditions.

Add dust or other particulates (salt in winter or other abrasive substances) under heavy wheels, and the material handling system will slowly grind rough patches, gouges, and divots into the floor surface with every use.

Damage compounds quickly. Small cracks turn into dangerous gaps, and unsightly minor scratches become deep gouges. The result is a damaged floor that has become unsafe for personnel and machinery. It doesn’t take much. Consider normal cracks like joints between concrete slabs. Heavy material handling systems can exert “pull away pressure” on these areas of natural separation. When it does, the gaps inevitably expand. Floor “rocking” can then cause one slab to sink and the other to rise, creating unevenness that, under extreme conditions, can damage vehicles and lead to tripping and other safety hazards.

The impact of floor damage on operations

Damaged floors put productivity and safety at risk. They can incur unacceptable costs beyond repairs or flooring replacement. For example, many forklifts have very low centers of gravity with only minimal under-clearance. Suppose the rocking results in a large enough protrusion of one slab over another. In that case, the vehicle may not have sufficient clearance for the undercarriage, causing damage to the floor and the forklift. In extreme cases, shock loads from running over the jutting slab will transfer to and through the wheels, damaging the vehicle’s interior components or, worse, its load. The damaged floor is likely to accelerate overall wear and tear on load handling vehicles and tires, requiring more frequent maintenance and replacement costs.

Running equipment across undamaged floors increases throughput and cycle time.

 

Then, the imbalance caused by moving heavy loads over uneven and damaged floor surfaces can create a tipping risk. Imagine a pushcart that workers need to force over a large gap or up a step in uneven flooring. The force required could end up tilting the load until it falls. In some cases, these balance issues could stem from flooring with seemingly minor damage. Rough or bumpy surfaces can put delicate loads, the load mover, and its operator at risk.

Operators will likely try to compensate for floor damage, but instead of resolving the problem, their efforts create more challenges. Operators might opt to go slower or ferry lighter loads to decrease the risk of damaging the floor, material handling system, or load. Still, that approach slows operations, reduces productive capacity, and possibly incurs added labor costs. Alternatively, operators might opt to bypass the damaged areas of the floor, but that, too, has its downsides. Diverting the movement path can result in a lengthy route that adds more time, labor, and expense to the process of moving equipment or product.

The risk to operators intensifies under these conditions. In addition to safety, including tripping over cracks or having heavy loads fall on them, operators are likely to face ergonomic problems like strain and fatigue from trying to move equipment or material across damaged floors.

Air casters as an alternative

Not all load handling systems are equally prone to damaging floors. The most notable exception is air casters, which are fundamentally different from wheeled vehicles. Instead of rolling across a floor, they float above it, much like a hovercraft. They work when compressed air fills donut-shaped bags. Once these bags are inflated enough to offset the weight of the load, excess air leaks beneath them, forming a thin (0.003” to 0.005” thick), nearly frictionless film of air. The friction coefficient of this film is less than two percent, meaning a single operator exerting only 5 lbs. to 25 lbs. of force can easily move a load weighing as much as 5,000 lbs. Air casters can move much heavier loads, but additional operators are recommended for those tasks.

      

Epoxy-treated floor surfaces and air casters are especially perfect partners: air casters eliminate the friction and heavy surface loading that can damage such surface treatments, while epoxy-treated floors create the perfect surface conditions for air caster function.

 

Air casters distribute the load weight evenly across a large surface area, which is particularly important for preventing floor damage. Contrast that with wheeled vehicles, where the entirety of the floor loading is concentrated at only a few points. Wheeled casters might exert thousands of psi on the floor surface, but air casters offer extraordinarily low floor loading of around 25 psi, substantially reducing the risk of floor damage. That makes the casters suitable for extremely delicate floors, including raised flooring and specially treated surfaces.

In fact, air casters work exceptionally well with epoxy-treated floor surfaces. Their use eliminates the friction and heavy surface loading that can damage such surface treatments, while epoxy-treated floors create the perfect surface conditions for air caster function.

Air casters distribute the load weight evenly across a large surface area at an extraordinarily low floor load of around 25 psi which significantly prevents floor damage. 

 

Efficient air caster operation does depend on floor surface quality. Porous surfaces, cracks, and gaps can prevent the air casters from maintaining that wafer-thin frictionless air film. Some form of repair or remediation may be necessary in these cases, but the corrections can be as simple as a plastic or thin sheet metal overlay. Once those corrections are in place, the casters will effortlessly glide over floors, including rough or uneven surfaces, without causing further damage, all while reducing or eliminating the grinding associated with any heavy equipment on floor surfaces.

Prevent damage before it occurs

The weight of heavy machinery can damage an industrial floor surface. Here air casters are placed under the machine.  Because they float the weight of the load, they eliminate potential floor damage when moving CNC machines.

 

Manufacturing and other industrial operations are always hard on facilities, with even the strongest floors susceptible to damage given the traffic and conditions they must endure. Poorly maintained or damaged floors will necessitate increased maintenance, repairs, and replacement costs if the facility is to avoid operational and safety risks. Fortunately, one of the most effective ways to protect floors happens to be one of the best methods for moving heavy loads: harnessing the power of air.

About the Author:

Paul Jakse is vice president, sales for AeroGo, Inc. AeroGo manufactures innovative industrial equipment utilizing hovercraft technology to optimize assembly line production systems for factories. For more information, call 1 800 426-4757 or visit www.aerogo.com.

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