Twenty-four bridge cranes keep Tremcar’s production lines rolling.
Over 100 times a shift someone does something with a bridge crane at Tremcar’s tank trailer manufacturing plant in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Workers and a third-party crane maintenance company maximize uptime.
Walking around Tremcar’s 100,000 square-foot production area, two dozen tanker trailers in various stages of manufacture provide plenty to occupy the senses: tank barrels taking shape in huge sheet metal rollers, tall racks of metal stock, bulkheads, barrels sprouting bright red chassis, piping, exposed insulation, catwalks, and the blue crackling of welders.
Then you look up and notice a bridge crane, then another, and another. There are yellow bridge cranes everywhere, poised on runway beams running lengthways and crossways under the ceiling: KONE, REM, Pont Roulant Protech Inc., ½ tonne, 2 x 2 tonne, 2 x 3 tonne, 38-foot, 40-foot, and 58-foot bridge girders.
The company has assorted other cranes, a jib crane here, a halftonne monorail crane there, a three-tonne drive-through gantry crane out in the yard, but the bridge cranes rule the plant, without which its five production lines could not function.
Two bridge cranes and slings stabilize a bulk tanker in midair. Another lowers a huge round end cap that will be welded onto a 48-foot long barrel in the process of becoming a tanker. A worker guides a sheet of stainless steel, attached with suction cups to a device attached to a bridge crane, through the air. Others are poised to simultaneously reposition several tankers further along the production lines.
All these bridge cranes are in the service of moving tanker trailers in ever-increasing levels of assembly 460 feet and through seven production line sectors from the plant’s west to east ends, to where gleaming machines exit into a market extending across the North American continent.
Tremcar ranks itself as the largest family-owned tank trailer manufacturer in North America. Last year, Tremcar delivered over 959 tank trailer and 217 truck mounts designed to transport products ranging from milk, juice, and chocolate to dry bulk such as cement, lime, sugar and flour, and acids and petroleum products.
Just over 12 years ago, when Maintenance Manager Marcellin Bélanger joined Tremcar, it was rolling five or six tankers out the doors a week. Now it is around 20.
“A lot has changed. We used to have four sectors. Now we have seven. We want to optimize the production lines, and that puts more stress on the bridge cranes, because we use them more often,” said Bélanger.
Pont Roulant National Inc., Tremcar’s bridge crane service company, came in a few years ago, did deflection tests, and beefed up a few bridge girders to harmonize them with the hoists they carry, two per girder, so their total load capacity did not exceed that of each bridge girder. Pont Roulant National brought other bridge cranes up to modern health and safety norms.
When Bélanger began at Tremcar, there were no spare hoist controllers. Now each hoist has one spare on the floor and a second in a big black box beside his desk in the maintenance shop. Controllers tend to take a beating, and lots of spares keep downtime because of broken controllers to bare minutes.
The plant workers all receive training from Pierre Gaudreault, the plant operator responsible for health and safety training, on how to use the bridge cranes and to keep their eyes and ears open for irregularities.
Before I visited the plant, someone told Bélanger that one of the hoists had a kinked cable. Bélanger called Pont Roulant National for counsel. Was this a pressing problem or one that could wait until their next visit? He makes notes of any issues that workers report. If the issues are sufficiently minor, they become part of a to-do list for Pont Roulant National during their next visit. “We have a list of non-pressing things for them to do to try and optimize their visit and time,” said Bélanger.
Some fixes can be taken care of in-house, like uncrossing a cable in a hoist take-up reel, or clearing debris from a bridge drive. Workers use a scissor lift to reach and fix small issues. Since work safely at height is part of their everyday work, they are equipped and trained to rise up a few more feet. Blocking off sectors when using the scissor lift is among the safety precautions they take.
(Unbroken runway beams run the length of the plant, but there are safeguards and green and yellow lights that indicate that a sector is blocked off and that bridge cranes from other sectors are unable to enter it.)
The bridge cranes are reliable; Pont Roulant National makes about 10 unscheduled visits a year to fix problems. Otherwise, they send down a team during the two-week annual construction shutdown at the end of every July. They do a plantwide inspection (a checklist for a single crane runs to at least 48 items) and perform any maintenance and repairs that are required. That work usually takes three weeks.
“Good crane maintenance is not so much about laws. We are driven by health and work safety. This is why we deal with a firm that specializes in these types of equipment. They are the experts. This is why we make sure we have a maintenance report prepared by a firm every year,” said Melanie Dufresne, Director of Marketing and Communications, at Tremcar.
Every year, Pont Roulant National sends Tremcar a letter outlining things such as how many employees it has, their specialties, and their service rates.
What does Bélanger look for in a crane maintenance provider? “We like to see a low turnover of employees. We got a reference [as part of] choosing Pont Roulant National. When we call, if [a company] says, ‘We’ll come tomorrow,’ that is not acceptable. They have to come today.”
Carroll McCormick is an award-winning writer who has been profiling plant maintenance and safety training for Machinery and Equipment MRO magazine since 1998. He is based in Montreal.