NITCO Solutions: Custom-Built Straddle Carrier for Casco Bay Steel

Even for a company that has spent nearly 50 years helping customers across a wide range of industries find the ideal materials handling equipment for the job — from forklifts of all sizes and capabilities to heavy-duty straddle carriers — our recent collaboration with Casco Bay Steel proved to be an extremely challenging project.

After all, it’s not every day that you’re called upon to help devise a custom solution that enables the Northeast’s leading bridge fabrication company to effortlessly unload 80,000-lb. steel girders, move them through a relatively small warehouse opening to undergo precision fabrication and then back out into a busy, bumpy steel yard — in a fraction of the time the job used to take. But in reality, that’s just another day in the life at NITCO.

World-Class Materials Handling Solutions for All Industries

straddle carrier

Casco Bay Steel of South Portland, Maine, is a longtime NITCO client whose business grew a lot faster than President and CEO Bryon Tait ever dreamed it would when he founded the company in 1997 after working for many years as a bridge welder.

As business boomed, Casco Bay’s beams got bigger and bigger. Their challenge involved moving long, heavy steel around their worksite and loading the finished girders for transport by rail and barge to highway bridge projects throughout New England and beyond. The job required an ever-evolving fleet of rugged, durable materials handling equipment.

Years earlier, NITCO had provided two 30,000-lb. forklifts to load and unload the massive girders. Next came a 52,000-lb. lift truck, and then another. For a time, the innovative owner was using two heavy-duty lift trucks to muscle loads as large as 80,000 lbs.

“These guys are unbelievable,” said Jim Shafer, a sales engineer stationed at NITCO’s Lewiston, Maine, location who has worked with Tait and Casco Bay Steel for many years. “These steel plates come in flat and when they come out they have a huge arc in them.”

Bending and shaping these gargantuan structures also demands incredible precision and the ability to meet strict specifications (sometimes within 1/10,000th of an inch, according to a Portland Press Herald article about this amazing company). As the jobs kept getting bigger and his needs evolved, Tait was very innovative in creating specialized equipment and infrastructure needed produce and move the beams.

Not too long ago, he wanted to find a way to more efficiently move beams into a warehouse whose entrance was 20 feet wide and 20 feet high — where he and his team work their magic — and then haul the shaped steel back outside onto the unevenly surfaced dirt yard for storage and delivery.

The Solution: A Custom, Heavy-Duty Straddle Carrier by Combilift

straddle carrier

Most traditional forklifts are simply not designed to haul 170-foot-long girders back and forth across the rough surfaces of an industrial steel yard, and Tait was considering options that included renting a crane. Upon returning from a structural steel conference in Florida, he described seeing a small replica of a straddle carrier and showed Shafer a brochure from its manufacturer, Combilift. He was eager to learn more and Shafer went right to work.

Combilift, founded in Ireland in 1998, describes itself as “the acknowledged global leader in the long-load handling market.” One of its signature products is a line of straddle carriers built to easily handle shipping containers and other long, heavy loads.

Shafer brought in the regional Combilift rep to give Tait more information about the machines (lifting capacities 44,000-180,000 lbs.) and to help brainstorm an innovative solution for this unique challenge. The Combi’s all-wheel-drive, multidirectional capabilities — enabling each wheel to move, and turn, independently — makes it well-suited for rough terrain. However, factory models were not designed to fit through a 20-foot-high space.

Exact measurements were taken, aerial photos of the yard were produced and, ultimately, a senior Combilift engineer flew out from Ireland to collaborate on a custom design for a machine that collapsed down from a height of 30 feet to just barely squeeze through the warehouse’s 20-by-20-foot opening.

Shafer also put together a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to justify how the new investment would pay for itself. “We had to prove it to him and we also had to adapt (the equipment) to his operation,” he said.

Shafer was able to demonstrate that one aspect of the job that was taking multiple employees 4½ hours could be accomplished in a fraction of the time with the new machine, which could be operated from a driver’s cab or controlled remotely. In addition, NITCO has expert technicians stationed nearby to provide regular maintenance and any service needs that should arise. Shafer recalled that Tait closely examined the opportunity and concluded, “this is a no-brainer.”

Fast-forward to several months later and the custom-built Combilift was on the job at Casco Bay Steel. When Shafer stopped in again to visit the South Portland site, he noticed that the man who produces massive highway bridge beams was practically beaming. “He had a great big smile on his face and I said ‘So you like it?’ He said, ‘I love it. It pays for itself.’ ”

What is Your Biggest Logistical or Materials Handling Challenge? NITCO Can Help

straddle carrier

Most companies will never have to worry about hauling 80,000-lb. loads of precision engineered bridge girders. But the solution NITCO put in place for Casco Bay Steel is another powerful example of its ability to leverage ongoing relationships with world-class partners in all areas of materials handling and logistics, storage and distribution, systems design and engineered solutions to help customers improve efficiency and profitability.

“We’re a solutions company,” Shafer said while describing NITCO’s successful and ongoing collaboration with Casco Bay Steel. Contact NITCO — problem solved.

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