ground support equipment at airport

Developing Service Equipment (That Lasts)

In recent years, SGW has established relationships with companies whose products and equipment must hold up to incredibly harsh conditions in an industrial setting. Frequently, we are tasked with developing service equipment such as GSE (ground service equipment) for airports — which depend heavily on dozens of pieces of support equipment to function. Other examples include farming, locomotive applications, freight loading and unloading, and even warehouse automation.

Below are some of the challenges we face when developing ruggedized equipment, along with specific ways we address these obstacles during the development process.

Wear and Tear: Not Necessarily the End Game

Cargo equipment has to hold up to repetitive abuse. That sometimes means it must hold hundreds of pounds of weight, then be deployed, retracted and moved to a new location — dozens of times in a single day. Over time, even standard, daily operation can cause wear and tear on even the toughest metals. (As an example, one sign of a well-used forklift is worn-down forks.) It’s unavoidable — after hundreds of uses over only a few years, things just start to wear down.

However, wear and tear doesn’t necessarily mean a piece of service equipment’s performance suffers. Industrial equipment should be designed in a way that it will continue to perform well even after it has been in use for a while. The bottom line: specialty equipment can be expensive. But, by thoughtfully predicting wear during development, we can ensure effective operation over time. This saves a client money in the long run.

Developing Long-Lasting Ground Service Equipment

When developing service equipment for airline operators, there are unique considerations we must keep in mind. (Again, airport ground service equipment is referred to in the aviation industry as GSE.) Think of your most recent experience at an airport. The simple white tugs you see driving around cost anywhere from $40,000 to $200,000 each. So, when an operator has a fleet of tugs at just one airport, these costs add up. For instance, Delta Airlines has thousands of pieces of GSE supporting its aircraft. These GSE costs represent a significant expense for major airlines.

Although the purchase of GSE represents an initial expense, equipment must also undergo ongoing maintenance to ensure quality and performance. For airlines, GSE doesn’t only aid in the day-to-day business operations; the equipment is critical for operation.

To put all 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 nearly 250,000 pounds (or more) when empty and must be moved with a special piece of equipment.

Another critical aspect of GSE which is often overlooked is the ladders and gangways which enable people to board and disembark the plane. Most aircraft are high enough off the ground to make boarding very difficult without special equipment.

Developing Service Equipment with Simplicity in Mind

Another key factor in creating longevity when developing service equipment is simplicity — or at least as much simplicity as can be afforded for that particular piece of equipment. Going back to the tug, there’s really not much to it. A typical tug’s frame is basic, the drivetrain is simple, and it contains only the systems it needs to operate. The controls, in some cases, only show fuel levels.

These features all make the tug easier to maintain and harder to break. The easier the tug is to maintain, the faster it is to fix. And, when many tugs are in operation, the time savings is exponential. This also helps a business save money on maintenance costs.

Whether it’s support hardware or the equipment itself is doing the work, we focus on finding ways to save our clients money. There are many ways we do this, whether it means optimizing a design or selecting components and materials that will be better suited for the job. Contact us if you’d like to learn more about how SGW Designworks can add value to your service equipment.