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GSE Engineering

Challenges in Service Equipment Development

By Zachary Chastaine

 

In the past, the team here at SGW Designworks have written about the challenges of developing ruggedized equipment.

 

In recent years our team has established relationships with companies whose products depend on holding up to very harsh conditions in an industrial capacity.

 

Cargo equipment has to hold up to repetitive abuse that can mean holding hundreds of pounds of weight, being deployed, retracted and moved to a new spot dozens of times in a day.

 

The wear and tear that comes with just operating on a daily basis over time can wear down even the toughest metals. Just as one example, a sign of a well-used forklift is worn down forklift forks. After hundreds of uses over a few years, everything just starts to wear down.

 

This doesn’t mean performance can also wear down. Industrial equipment needs to perform well even after it has been in use for a while. The bottom line is this specialty equipment can be expensive, and by thoughtfully predicting wear during development, it can still operate effectively even after it has been in use for a long time. This saves money in the long run.

 

One example is airport ground service equipment or just GSE. Anytime you have been to the airport, the simple white tugs you can see driving around cost anywhere from $40,000 to $200,000. When an operator at the airport can have a fleet of tugs for their operations at just one airport the cost of tugs alone can really add up. For major operators such as airlines, these GSE costs represent a significant expense. Delta Airlines, for example, has thousands of pieces of GSE supporting its aircraft.

 

Although the purchase of GSE represents an expense initially, the place where the quality of equipment really comes into play is in the ongoing maintenance. For airlines, GSE does not just aid in the day-to-day operation of the business. The equipment is critical for operation.

 

To put this into perspective, a small Cessna 175 aircraft is small and light enough to be pushed around an airport by hand. One person can push the plane around if need be. But a DC-11 aircraft, cannot be pushed by hand. It weighs close to 250,000lbs or more when empty and needs to be pushed around with a special piece of equipment.

 

Another critical piece of GSE which is often overlooked is ladders and gangways which enable people to get on and off the plane. The ease of boarding a plane at the airport can make it easy to forget that most aircraft are high enough off the ground to make boarding very difficult without special equipment.

 

Another key factor in creating longevity in a product is simplicity. Or at least as much simplicity as can be afforded for that particular equipment. Going back to the tug, its frame is basic, the drivetrain is simple and it has only the systems it needs to operate. The controls, in some cases, only show fuel levels. There’s not much to it.

 

This all makes the tug easier to maintain and harder to break. The easier the tug is to maintain, the faster it is to fix, and if you can fix one tug faster, you can get to the next tug in line all that much faster.

 

The SGW Designworks team specializes in adding value to a client’s product. Whether it supports hardware, or if the equipment itself is doing the work, our staff focuses on finding ways to save money that can be incorporated into the design of the product.

 

There are endless ways this can be accomplished whether it is optimizing a design or picking components and materials that will be better suited for the job.

 

GSE for airports is just one example of an industry that is dependent on dozens of pieces of support equipment to function. Other examples of industries with lots of support equipment include farm equipment, locomotive applications, freight loading and unloading, and even warehouse automation.