Material Handling
By Gretchen Salois, Senior Editor

Combilift telescopic Straddle Carrier entering the Steel LLC building.

Side loading and off-loading capabilities speed up processes and eliminate bottlenecks

ess than 20 miles outside of Atlanta, a massive collection of trailer beds once canvassed six acres of land. Each trailer bed held wide flange (I-beams), channels and HSS tubing, ranging from 40 to 50 ft. long and weighing 15 to 600 lbs. per ft. Overhead cranes were the only way to maneuver the bulky steel pieces, and the rented trailers were a necessary expense.

Steel LLC fabricates structural steel components for commercial and industrial buildings as well as airports and offices. “We fabricate massive columns and beams that make up the skeleton of a building,” says Dan Smith, vice president of operations. “It’s like an erector set. We send the contractors the instructions (drawings) and they can bolt it all together while in the field. It’s ready to go.”

It became clear that overhead cranes limited mobility and it was worthwhile to invest in a new way to move metal. After visiting with Combilift representatives at a trade show, Smith was convinced the C10,000XL would provide a more efficient way to move materials.

The ability to access and move items from the side proved invaluable to Steel LLC’s daily operations. “Combilift’s side-loading ability allows the operator to travel with the length of the material,” Smith says. “With a forklift, the material is out front and you can only drive forward.”

Steel LLC still uses its 18 overhead cranes to maneuver bulky steel pieces throughout its facility to pick up pieces and assemble structures, such as trusses, within the shop. “But for smaller beams and columns and everyday materials, it’s complicated to try and move those with overhead cranes or a front-facing forklift,” Smith says.

We can now feed our saws and drills by bringing material straight into our shop.
Dan Smith, Steel LLC
Combilift machine side profile

The majority of Combilift machines are four-directional allowing them to work in narrow environments.

Now, the company is no longer limited to overhead cranes and the added expense of rented trailers to store materials outside. “It was just too time consuming to try and forklift materials off of truck beds,” Smith says. “We don’t need those trailers anymore because the Combilift straddle carrier allows us to live-load material from the ground. No more rented trailers.”

Easy access

The majority of Combilift machines have the ability to travel in four directions, allowing operators to navigate narrow aisles. The C10,000XL can travel sideways in a 10-ft. aisle, carrying long loads down the center of the building. “The C10,000XL also is designed to work in rough terrain,” says Kieron Holmes, divisional sales manager GA at Combilift, headquartered in Ireland with a U.S. location in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Steel LLC later purchased the SC3, which can load an entire tractor trailer bed all at once. “Due to the machine being telescopic, it can go through a low door as well as lift the load up and over trailers and other loads,” Holmes says. “This allows greater product density in the customer’s facility as well as the ability to pick any load the first time.”

Steel LLC’s SC3 uses hydraulically operated folding forks. “These reduce the amount of manual handling and operator interaction with the load, increasing safety and reducing man hours,” Holmes says.

A few months later, Steel LLC purchased the C17,000, can unload inbound trailers in two runs, allowing the vehicle to transfer loads directly indoors and outside through narrow doorways. “This benefited Steel LLC by reducing double/triple handling,” says Holmes.

Combilift C17,000 off-loading at Steel LLC in Scottdale, Georgia.

Combilift C17,000 off-loading at Steel LLC in Scottdale, Georgia.

“With side loading capability, we can move up and down the aisles much easier,” he continues. “Being able to side load versus front load makes a huge difference when moving around 40- to 50-ft. -long materials.”

Steel LLC’s operators move the material to work stations faster so operators can weld or bolt pieces efficiently. “We don’t have to spend time fastening chains around bundles and then slowly move them using multiple cranes and operators lined up to move the material around,” Smith says.

“Combilift custom makes all their pieces of equipment so they made it to our specifications,” Smith says. “We got a straddle carrier that allows us to pick up and move an entire truckload of material at one time.”

Steel LLC can create a load on the ground using operator-driven overhead cranes, “which is much safer than having men up on trailers,” Smith says. “Then we can bring the straddle carrier inside the building over top of the stack of steel and pick up the entire load and move it out of the building without ever having to use a trailer.”

The SC3, for example, can pick up 55,000 lbs. at once. Instead of taking two hours or more to load or unload a truck, it now only requires 30 minutes. “We use it after everything is fabricated and completed,” Smith says. “We take the completed pieces and load them onto the trailers.”

With significant time-saving improvements, Steel LLC decided to purchase a third machine from Combilift to manage material normally stored outside. “With the Combilift C17,000, we can quickly off-load material from the mill and suppliers while having the flexibility to feed our saws and drills by being able to bring material straight into our shop.”

Unencumbered by rented trailers, Steel LLC now has access to a wider network of brokers. “Brokers that own their own truck and trailer can come in the same day to pick up material and we’ll have them loaded and ready to go within the hour,” Smith says. “Before, when we needed cranes and rented trailers, it would take hours, and after a certain amount of time, you have to pay the driver to wait. We don’t need to worry about these types of expenses anymore.”

Combilift USA
Greensboro, North Carolina, 877/COMBI 56,
Steel LLC
Scottdale, Georgia, 404/292-7373,