Great Lakes Power Group

Have you ever fixed something and wondered why it couldn’t have been manufactured better? That’s what Great Lakes Power did with a straddle carrier that was designed in the 1960s and was last manufactured in 1991.

Straddle carriers are used to move large loads around ship and logging yards, military bases, steel mills, oil refineries and steel erectors. Great Lakes Power was remanufacturing a legacy straddle carrier, and it was this experience that went into the design of its new ST35 straddle carrier, so named because it can carry up to 35 metric tons.

Great Lakes Power is a distribution company that also offers manufacturing, engineering and repair service. It repairs and reengineers vehicles like straddle carriers and other drive train equipment for its customers. Besides manufacturing the ST35, Great Lakes Power also is a short-run parts house, manufacturing metal parts in volumes up to 5,000 pieces, although most runs are less than 50 pieces.

“We’re a repair center, we’re a diagnostic center – we become an extension of our OEM partners,” CEO Harry Allen Jr. explains.

So it is a bold, multimillion-dollar investment for the company to introduce the first of a planned three-vehicle line of straddle carriers. “We have a lot riding on this new product,” acknowledges Allen Jr.

Travel Safely

One of the most important things Great Lakes Power realized about its new straddle carrier in the design stage was that it would not maximize its utility to its owners if their employees didn’t want to sit in it for eight or more hours per day.

“We spent a tremendous amount of resources to look at the operator’s environment in detail,” says Harry Allen III, vice president of sales for the family-owned company. “The typical machine for us might accumulate in some applications 6,000 to 8,000 operating hours per year.”

Zones of comfort, instrument placement, visibility and other factors were examined in detail. One major improvement is the relocation of gauges and displays to an overhead panel, which gives operators a nearly unobstructed 360-degree view.

“We made cab climate control standard,” Allen III points out. “It all falls back to the concept that if you make the operator’s environment the most comfortable place to be, he’ll tend to want to stay in that environment, which also translates into taking better care of the equipment.”

Although auto companies know it often is the stereo and leather seats that sell a truck, Great Lakes Power also realized its ST35 straddle carrier had to do its job more safely, efficiently and cost-effectively than any other vehicle in its class. Among its unique features are that the operator need not look over his or her shoulder to back up. The seat rotates 180 de­grees front to back so the driver can always face forward when traveling in either direction. “All those controls automatically adjust, so everything follows the position of the operator,” Allen III notes.

The ST35 also features crab steering, with which all four wheels turn parallel to each other so the vehicle can travel on an angle to one side or another without rotating its frame. “When you’re using this type of carrier, you’re using it to position large loads in yards or laydown areas or in parts of a process,” Allen III explains.

Flying by Wire

The ST35 incorporates the latest technology for drive-by-wire systems, in which control is through electronic devices rather than mechanical components. “In the ST35, we steer, drive, brake and operate by wire,” Allen Jr. points out. “Also included are the backup systems and redundancy to enable the machine to safely operate in an industrial environment.

“Harry Allen III is a professional engineer and dedicated his career to this product, to figuring out how to do it better,” Allen Jr. asserts.

“One of the reasons the ST35 is attractive to us is that we understand this market and our customers’ needs,” Allen Jr. maintains. “This is a niche product. This is not a product we are going to build hundreds of a year, but for a company of our size, it represents an opportunity that was one of our key rationales for going forward with this product.”